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Author's Chapter Notes:
Sorry, this meanders a bit! HMS Cressy was the wartime (and until 1959) name of the 190 year old Frigate Unicorn which has been in Dundee since 1874 and now resides in Victoria Dock. My father was in both the RNVR and British Legion so a bit of nostalgia crept in......the Frigate is open to the public and still has lovely Pirates Days, Family Ceilidhs and parties!

Hilda welcomed her old friends with delight. “I’ll just ring for tea..” she began.

“It’s on its way!” laughed Gren, making herself comfortable on the upright chair, and placing her walking cane handily over the back. “We came through the kitchen and if I am not mistaken….”

Meg re-opened the door to admit Megan with the tea tray. “Oh Megan, you angel - Welsh cakes!”

“I knew you both like them, Dr Meg, so I saved some currants specially. There’s two each for you and Miss Gren and one each for Miss Annersley and Miss Wilson!” And with that remark she left the room almost, on her way out, bumping into Nell Wilson.

“What were you all giggling about when I came in?” asked Nell when she had embraced the visitors and settled down with a cup of tea and her Welsh cake.

“It was just Megan reminding you and me of our place in the grand scheme of things!” replied Hilda with a smile. She repeated the housekeeper’s remark.

Nell laughed, “Let us be honest, my dear, we all know that Megan is in charge in this building and I can forgive her anything for her Welsh cakes! Now, before I expire from curiosity, tell me, Gren, just how on earth did you manage to persuade the Ministry of Fuel and Power to give you enough petrol to take the brake to Scotland?”

“Agricultural usage!” said Gren proudly.

“Agricultural usage?” queried Hilda in a surprised tone. “I thought you and Dougie had bought a garage?”

“We have but it’s on the outskirts of Glasgow and a lot of our clients are farmers. Where they do have tractors, they have been hammered both during and since the War and we are really busy repairing them. We do quite a bit for the Hydro Board too. They have diggers and buses that are forever breaking down in the most inaccessible parts of the hills. The brake was designed to get around moors and mountain slopes so eventually we got permission to move her. Meg has a book of coupons and a list of the garages en route which sell red fuel. She’s also promised that I can drive for a few miles but just on the flat, the spoilsport!”

“If you think for one minute that I am going to have you double declutching over Shap or Beattock Summit you have another think coming, young lady!” retorted Meg. “Time enough for that kind of adventure when you’ve modified the car as you intend. Still, there’s so little traffic on the road these days that I’m sure we can let you experiment somewhere!”

“Speaking of experiments, Meg,” began Hilda, “would you be happy to give your talk on the National Health Service to the Seniors in the Hall at 2.30? When I told Megan you would talk to the domestic staff about it, she suggested you meet them in their staff room at 3.30 when they have tea, if that is all right with you? Everything is a little earlier today as we are lighting the bonfire at 6o’clock so that the Juniors and Middles can attend. You don’t have to be there but Jo and Madge will be here with some of the little ones.”

“I wouldn’t miss it!” said Meg. “Do you think Megan could spare me a potato to roast? One of the joys of late autumn, almost as much as burnt neep and aipple dookin!”

“Excuse me, but would you mind translating the last part of that sentence into English?” Nell pleaded.

Meg laughed. “We scoop out turnips, or rather what you call swedes, and make faces in them for Halloween lanterns. The lit candle sears the flesh and it’s a very distinctive smell. Dookin for aipples just means bobbing for apples in a pail or tin bath.”

“We had a Halloween Party once and did that, in Tyrol. Our little monkeys managed to cover my face with soot, too!” commented Nell.

“I got coated in treacle at the British Legion Halloween Party on the Cressy last Saturday! The scones were hanging from the spars at different levels and as I was trying to bite into mine my pesky brother and nephew thought it was a good idea to swing the adjacent ones in my direction. I managed to make a mess of my face and hair entirely on my own account but I was splattered from top to toe before I realised what they were doing. Pat said if he could stop laughing long enough he would give them both a leathering for me but, ach, it was laddie-like, no harm done so they got away with it.”

………………

“So having scrambled over a large hedge and crawled under a rickety fence, we found ourselves in a pigsty. Fortunately, the pigs had recently been fed and were in a relaxed mood. It wasn’t exactly the sweetest smelling place I have ever crawled around but by that time we probably smelt a good deal worse than the pigs! Still the joint aroma of us and the pigs seemed to confuse the dogs and we just lay quietly under the sty there until the sergeant called them off and the patrol went on their way. Unfortunately, when we tried to leave we found that the biggest sow had taken a great fancy to Jules and was determined not to let him leave - or even get up! We were trying to pull her off him, she was alternately butting us and lovingly kissing him while other pigs squealed, rousing the farmer who came out, shotgun at the ready. Luckily, he was a patriot so he rescued Jules and took us to the barn. His wife brought food and we were able to make use of the tap to remove the surface dirt at least. But it was the first and, I hope, the last time that a couple of cows have looked at me as if I wasn’t nice to know!

The packed Hall rang with applause and laughter as Gren ended her carefully chosen anecdotes on this humorous note.

Madge Russell stepped forward. “Thank you so much for that wonderful and inspiring talk, Mrs Buchanan. Now, girls, are there any questions?”

A forest of hands waved wildly and Gren was kept busy for several minutes responding to queries about about codes, improvised explosives, her companions and other points of interest.

“Just one last question!” said Madge as the questions became a little repetitive. “Yes, Verity-Anne?”

The little girl with the ringlets said in her silvery voice, “Miss Linton told us that you were tortured but you didn’t tell your torturers anything. Please, how could you be so?”

Knowing how reluctant her friend was to talk about her time in Nazi hands, Meg looked in concern at Gren but she was as composed as the small maiden in front of her.

“That’s a good question, Verity-Anne, but I am not sure that it being brave had anything to do with it. I knew that the longer I could hold out the better chance my colleagues had of getting to safety and that helped. I had seen over many years what the Nazi regime was like, how ruthless and cruel its adherents were, how they had treated my friends and my compatriots. I hated everything they stood for with a burning hatred and that helped. I fainted from fear and pain several times and once or twice managed to do it deliberately and that helped.” She smiled a gentle, rueful smile, “But there were two things above all which stopped me from telling all that I knew. One was the allied bomb which tore down the prison wall and the other was the fellow prisoners who dragged me to safety and delivered me to sanctuary. Make no mistake, everyone has a breaking point and I was just lucky that I was freed before I reached mine.”

As she sipped tea in the study afterward, Gren apologised for the stark and serious note on which she had finished. “I just felt that as the girl had asked an honest question, she deserved an honest answer.”

“Your answer was perfect, my dear,” said Hilda firmly. “It was the truth. It is so much better for the children to know the reality rather than the false heroics which they read in comics and see at the cinema. I hope that when they wear their poppies they will always recall your particular brand of courage.”



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