“Damnit, they cannot do this to me!!” roared Meg Kelly smacking her fist on the table.
“Language, Meg!” said her mother sharply. “And you are flegging the bairns. What's happened?”
“I'm sorry, Ma - and I'm not shouting at you or Tina, Paddywhack.” She smiled at her nephew, who was looking at her in alarm, his spoon halfway to his mouth, and at Kate who looked ready to fly out at whoever had upset her beloved big sister. “Don't look so fierce, Kate, it's just the Army being the flaming Army!”
“What do they want now?” snapped Granny Kelly. “It was bad enough they hung on to you so long after the war finished but all this having you running off to camps and plestering about playing soldiers is a piece of nonsense.”
“It's not a camp this time, Granny, it's Berlin, first three weeks in May!”
“Berlin!” Ma and Granny both looked appalled.
“Oh Meg! You'll miss the Foundry Drive!” wailed Kate. “Can you not ask them to change it?”
“I don't think the RAMC cares that I'll miss going to Oban on a special train, honeybun! I'm more worried about missing my viva. Will the College give me an earlier date? Will they thump - misogynists every single one of them! ” She looked at Kate's disconsolate expression. “Tell you what, if you and Pat have finished your pudding, get your teeth cleaned and tidy yourselves and Tina in five minutes and I might find a copper or two so you can have an ice lolly – after school, mind!”
As the children rushed off to get ready for afternoon school, old Teresa Kelly spoke, “What the hell do they want to send you to Berlin for? The Russians could be marching in any day. Look what they did in Czechoslovakia! The laddie Johnston that worked in the library had his house and business stolen and him and his wife thrown out when the Communists took over!!”
“I don't think the Russians would be daft enough to try to march into the Allied sector of Berlin, Granny, there are far too many troops there.” Meg saw the fear in her grandmother's eyes and strove to reassure her. She knew that this brave old woman, having lost one brother in the Sudan, another in the Boer War, two sons and four nephews in the First World War and a much loved grandson in the Second, feared for her granddaughter. “They are making life difficult, and they'll probably go on doing that, but I'll be safely in a military hospital surrounded by soldiers, tanks, big guns and aeroplanes. I'm less likely to get hurt there than I am coming down the Conshie Brae on a frosty night!”
Talk of Berlin ceased as the children came back to be inspected. Kate and Pat went off happily with their promised coppers, little Tina sat quietly with a picture book waiting for Great-Granny to take her to the recently restored 'shoags' as soon as the dishes were washed.
“I'll get you up the road, Ma.” said Meg as her mother put her coat on. “I should be in for tea, Granny, unless the Bamstick wants to have another greetin meetin about the National Health Service. His latest bleat is that folk from outside the burgh will be entitled to be treated in hospitals that were built for the people of Dundee.”
“Surely they've always had patients from all the airts?” said her grandmother in a puzzled tone.
“Ah yes, but they were only admitted at the say-so of the Heid Polydacuses! Now, any common or garden G.P. will be able to send people to DRI, Maryfield or West Green purely on the grounds that it is the best place for them to be treated. The Old Guard are shocked, appalled and outraged at the very idea!”
“Why do they really want you to go to Berlin, Meg?” asked Maggie Kelly as she walked along the road with her eldest daughter.
“You're too smart for me, Ma!” laughed Meg. “Apparently, they are rebuilding as fast as they can go but in their haste they are getting old bombs going up and old walls coming down at the wrong time. They want to make sure we are up-to-date with the latest practice on battlefield casualties. Could be worse – they sent poor Bobby Gerrard to Palestine last year!”
BFPO mid air
Somewhere over Europe!
Apologies for the shoogly writing but I am sitting in a large vintage US transport aircraft on my way back from Berlin. I didn't get your letter, or any of the others sent by family and friends, until we refuelled in the British zone. Censorship was very tight. Not only did we have to hand over all address books, diaries and photographs before we left Britain, we were allowed to send one postcard only! All it could say was “Arrived safely” and our full first name. The family probably wondered who this 'Margaret' was!
To answer your first question, while I don't think it's either unusual or sinister that Hilda is still having headaches, particularly when she is tired or worried, it would be wise to consult a specialist. Jem Russell and the other San people are excellent doctors but this is not their field!
Do you remember Tommy “Sheets” Silk? He specialised in neurology so would you like me to ask him to recommend your nearest expert? Actually, he is presently in Newcastle but he does visit his parents in Worcester regularly so he might be able to examine Hilda himself. As soon as I get back home I'll drop him a note and ask him to telephone you.
As for your second question, “How fares Berlin?”, all I can say is that I have never been as nervous in my life as I have been for this past three weeks - not during the Blitz, not when we landed in Normandy and not even when we were running for our lives just ahead of the Panzers!
We flew into Gatow which was lucky for us. Our only difficulty was being buzzed by a couple of red star fighters as we came in but others travelling by the road or rail corridors were delayed for ages. One group was shunted into a siding and left for about ten hours. When they didn't turn up as expected it took a flurry of high level diplomatic coming and going to get them released.
The atmosphere is febrile with everyone waiting for something awful to happen. I am told it's not as dangerous as Vienna but it's horribly oppressive and there are all sorts of criminal undercurrents some of them tied up with the political and military situation. I thought I was just going to be repairing people who had been hit by falling masonry or damaged by bombs left over from the last shindig but not so. Last time I treated so many gunshot wounds was on Sword beach!
You will know that these days the British, American and French sectors are to all intents and purposes under joint administration, though the British and the French still do their changing of the guard routine several times a day, bless them. And compared to when I was there just after VE Day the city is a bit better with a lot of clearance of the bomb sites and some rebuilding though the Russian sector is still grim.
The Ivans seem to be really determined to get the Western powers out of Berlin and there are incidents all the time. I was sent over to their sector to treat some very high ranking commissar who had an 'accidental' and very serious gunshot wound. Apparently, there was not a Russian surgeon anywhere handy with the experience to operate and he refused to be treated by German surgeons. They wouldn't demean themselves to ask the Yanks who they see as THE enemy so they requested assistance from the French and British authorities. It caused quite a flap but in the end our lot agreed to send me and a French colonel.
It all had a definite touch of the seriously strange! The interpreter, who twitched even more than I did, insisted that the commissar's handgun had gone off while he was cleaning it. I might have believed it if the bullet hadn't appeared to turn a corner to hit him in the back and if it hadn't come from a standard US Army issue rifle! It was a long job but luckily, we were able to remove it without doing too much more damage, left instructions for his care and breathed hearty sighs of relief when we walked back through the Brandenburg Gate! To give them their due, the Russkies gave us a tin of borscht, one of those little nesting doll babushka things and a bottle of vodka each. We had to give them all to the bomb disposal bods to be checked in case they were booby-trapped so we didn't get the soup but I do have the nesting dolls and the drink! I also managed to snaffle quite a bit of chocolate so the children will be pleased!
Seems we are coming in to land so I'd better sign off. I'm promised a bed for the night and a flight to Leuchars early tomorrow morning, Home at last! Much love, Meg
PS Yes, I think an engagement for Mary is very likely! I only met Roddy briefly at Dolly's wedding but he seemed a decent bloke. If they do decide to stay in Aberdeenshire it will mean I have one of the old gang close enough for a day trip!
Author's Chapter Notes:
Meg finds herself in Berlin just before the infamous Blockade. By the way, 'shoags' are swings - many old style playparks had their metal roundabouts and chain metal swing ropes removed along with gates and railings in the early years of WW2.