Category Archives: Creative Writing

Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Nine

Here at last is the next part of my story! If you’ve come to this story for the first time, you can begin here, or read this post to learn how it all began!

When Archie went to see his wife the following evening, he was told that she was being made ready for surgery the next day. The consensus of opinion among the doctors who had examined her was that it was likely she had gallstones. He was advised not to visit on the next evening, but the evening after that, he found his wife in good spirits, despite some post-operative pain. Things seemed to be going the right way. He was therefore somewhat taken aback when, on the Friday evening, he was met by the ward sister as he left after bidding Jenny good night. “Mr. McGeoch – could I just have a word with you?”
In the office, they were joined by a doctor. Together, they explained gently; the report of Jenny’s surgery had come through. The surgeon had, indeed found – and removed – gallstones. Sadly, he had found a lot more besides. Jenny had cancer of the pancreas. No further treatment was possible. Archie swayed at the news. After a few moments, he mustered up a whisper. “How long has she got, d’you think?”
The young doctor sighed. “It really is very hard to say. Sometimes it’s just weeks, but maybe several months. I should add that we haven’t said anything to your wife about this, at present.”
Archie just felt sick. A nurse brought him a cup of tea, which he accepted gratefully. Stunned, he thanked the ward sister for her care, and for her consideration in waiting to the end of the visit to talk to him. “Not at all, Mr. McGeoch… I can only say again how sorry we are to be giving you news like this.” This was a part of her job that never got easier with practise, Sister Symmonds thought.

Archie made his way home in a daze. He realised he needed to tell Muriel the awful news, and so headed first to his son and daughter-in-law’s home. She was devastated. At once, she promised to get word to Leslie as quickly as possible. Then, returning home and feeling the need of male company, and knowing of his concern, he knocked on his neighbour’s door. Jim Hamilton beckoned Archie inside. He noted the anguish written on Archie’s face, and motioned him towards a chair. At the news, he covered his face with his hands. Lizzie, who had listened too, gasped with shock. “Archie, laddie, I’ve nae words…” Moving to his sideboard, he quietly found a bottle, and poured each of them a dram…

In the days that followed, Archie’s life became a kind of blurred routine. Friends and neighbours, as well as Muriel, helped all they could. By day, Archie threw himself into his work to occupy his mind. Each evening, he visited Jenny, who, in the short term, was gradually feeling better. Leslie was given brief compassionate leave to visit his mother; she was moved almost to tears at the sight of him in uniform – he was now promoted to Wing Commander. For his own part, a lump rose in his throat as he thought of the years of motherhood that she had given him. “I’ll be back soon, Mum” he called out, as he left the ward before his eyes filled.

It was some days later, just as there was a suggestion of Jenny being allowed to go home, that her condition took a turn for the worse. In the weeks that followed, she had good days and bad days, but was clearly deteriorating steadily. One evening, she whispered to Archie as he sat beside her. “Archie, love… I’m not going to get better, am I?” In reply, Archie just squeezed her hand. Jenny squeezed a reply. Nothing more needed to be said.

It was a wet Saturday evening in November when, with Archie and Leslie at her side – miraculously, Leslie had been given leave that very weekend – Jenny slipped away. Even after this, with the support of family and friends, Archie remained calm and composed. It was not until after the simple funeral – a burial in the grounds of the little church they had often attended – that his nerve broke. He sank into a morose state, fluctuating between tears of anguish and silent, sullen anger. Anger with himself, for being alive. Anger with life itself. He’d come through ‘the last lot’ against all odds, with hardly a scratch; as an auxiliary fireman, he’d only sustained a few bruises and scratches. Those two fateful nights, just eight months before, had claimed over five hundred lives, but not his, or Jenny’s. And now, this devil illness had taken her. It wasn’t fair!

Only one person seemed to be able to give Archie some measure of relief and comfort: his grandson. “Grandpa?” Ross said one day, “Can we go for a walk again soon? We might see a butterfly tree.” Archie turned away for a moment, half grinning, half weeping. Oh, the innocent optimism of childhood, that didn’t let a simple thing like the imminent onset of winter spoil the chances of seeing a shrub in bloom…

You can now read part ten here:

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Eight

My story continues… For an explanation of how this story came to be written up to this point, and a link to the beginning, go to my post here.

When Archie arrived home from the shipyard the following evening, he sensed immediately that something was wrong. Usually, he would hear the sound of the back door being unbolted and unlatched – and, in summer, opened, unless the weather was bad. From the open kitchen window, he would catch the enticing aroma of home cooking. Even in these days of wartime rationing and austerity, Jenny managed incredibly well. But today, there was nothing like this. Not even the least sound of domestic activity from inside.
Leaning his bike against the wall of the outhouse, Archie tried the back door. It was fastened on the inside. He knocked. No response. Perhaps Jenny had run out of something, and had gone on a message? Not likely, though; she always planned the evening meal carefully, in advance. He fished in his jacket pocket for his latch key, and walked back through the alley to the front door, and let himself in. Still no noise… and then, a soft moan from the next room. He walked through.
Jenny half sat, half lay on the sofa, clutching her tummy, grimacing with pain, and gasping for breath. Her face looked drawn, her eyes yellow. Archie gasped, himself, as he looked at her.
“Jenny, love… Whatever…?”
“The pain, lovie. It… just came over me sudden… this morning… Went to… baker’s… and then…”
Archie didn’t wait for more. With a gesture of reassurance, he ran back out of the front door, and knocked on the door of their neighbours, Jim and Lizzie Hamilton, who’d been good friends for as long as both families had lived in the same street.
As Lizzie answered Archie’s knock, she could see the anxiety in his face at once. “What is it, Archie? Is it your Jenny?” With a shout to Jim, who was just home, she followed Archie back to Jenny’s side. Quickly, they agreed that Lizzie would wait with Jenny, while Archie ran to the corner shop, to use the telephone.
Jack Duggan was just slicing bacon for a customer, and sorting out the coupons for it, as Archie ran in, breathless. He sensed what Archie wanted, almost before he managed to stammer out a few words of explanation, and led him through to the back of the shop. Archie was thankful that his fire service training meant that he knew how to call an ambulance quickly.
A few moments later, back at the counter, the shop was empty. Jack waved away Archie’s proffered payment. “Och, Archie, if I couldna dae that for a loyal frien’ an’ customer when they’re in trouble… Let me know how she is though, won’t ye?”
Local folk were the salt of the earth, Archie thought. He half smiled, half shook his head in thanks as he made for the door and headed back to Jennie. It was some fifteen minutes later that he opened the door to Fred Wilson, whom he knew well from the past few months. “Hello there, Archie. Hardly recognise you without a tin lid on! What’s to do?”
Fred’s assistant went to fetch a wheelchair as Archie explained what little he knew. Then, as he gently lifted his wife into the chair in response to Fred’s nod, he got a further fright; he realised how much weight Jenny had lost lately. He kicked himself inwardly for not being more observant, then kissed his wife gently. “See you soon, love. Behave for those nurses, won’t you?”
Jenny could only just smile. Archie thanked Fred and his mate for their care, and watched the ambulance drive away. Only then, back indoors, did he succumb to tears. It was the first time he’d wept since the night he visited the children’s ward, back in March.

Lizzie had made tea. Jim came round a few minutes later, carrying a plate of dinner. “Archie, lad, I know you won’t feel much like it, but get this down your inside. Only veggie pudden’ an spam, mind, thanks to Adolf, but ye need to keep yersel’ glued together!”
Archie responded to the squeeze on his shoulder. Truth to tell, he was hungrier than he realised, now. And he’d be cycling up to the hospital as soon as he could.

Later that evening, after he’d been up to the hospital and seen that Jenny was comfortable and being cared for, he visited his warm-hearted neighbours to thank them again, and Jack and Sally Duggan, too. Then, for the first time in years, he went to bed alone.

You can read part nine here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Seven

With this part, my story enters a new phase… but you can start at the very beginning here.

It was a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in August. There had been no serious raids for a while, now. After their mid-day meal, Archie suggested to Jenny that they might go for a walk. However, Jenny pointed out that, with some birthdays not far away, she had some knitting to finish.
“But you have your walk, love. I’ll be fine here. Would you just put me a chair in the yard?”
As Archie did this, he tried, out of kindness, not to seem too enthusiastic. But in fact, this was what he had hoped for. He needed to clear his head, in every sense. So, with Jenny safely ensconced in her favourite chair, he grabbed his small ’emergency’ rucksack, and set off.

Alone with his thoughts, Archie reflected on his life over the last few months. Twenty-five years back, he’d been in the thick of the action as a fighting airman. Miraculously, he’d got away with no worse injuries than a few wood splinters from when a machine-gun bullet hit the cockpit instrument panel. But in the last few months, he’d seen war from a different angle; in a way, this had sobered him more. And now, as well as this, he was getting increasingly worried about Jenny’s recurrent tummy-aches. She didn’t care to see a doctor; just a bit of indigestion, she said. Archie was not so sure; they were better off than many, and he could afford the fee. Maybe he’d have to be a little more insistent…

Almost subconsciously, his walking route took him closer to Trafalgar Terrace. He felt it keenly that, that March night, fire had beaten him. Somehow, he felt he had to go back and look, to clear his mind about this, even though he couldn’t explain why.
As he reached the terrace, he could see that it was completely derelict; this was no surprise. The usual warning signs had been put up. Archie took his tin hat from his rucksack as he approached the end house. Number fifteen. You could still read the painted figures on the brickwork, close to the boarded-up front door. Putting on his hat, he walked through the alley to the back. The back door, of course, was boarded up too. A low wall enclosed a tiny yard.
And then, two things happened almost at once; first, Archie caught a whiff of a heady, floral scent. Just as this began to stir his memory, a plane flew overhead. He looked up at the red, white and blue roundels of the RAF, and mentally compared the plane with those he had flown. Hell, those things had been overgrown kites with an engine, at the side of that machine up there…
As the plane passed over, Archie glanced across the yard. There, blooming in complete and absurd indifference to the bombardment of nearly five months before, was a buddleia bush. Two peacock butterflies had settled on it. Archie smiled to himself as he remembered that, when he had recently taken young Ross for a walk, they had seen what Ross now always called a ‘butterfly tree.’

And then his memory took him back: in his flying days, in France, he’d made friends with one of the lads on the repair team. They’d got talking, and Archie had learned that they’d got something in common: originally from Scotland, this fellow had trained as a ship’s carpenter in Northern Ireland, then volunteered for the RAF. When it became clear at his medical that his sight and hearing weren’t A1 (he’d had measles badly, as a kid) he’d begged to be allowed to do something, anything, in the service. That was how he’d finished up in the repairs section of Archie’s squadron. What was his name, now…? Ah, yes, Iain Ellison. He wasn’t married, but he’d had photos of all his family in his wallet. A good-looking lot; one of the aircrew took up writing to one of his sisters…
One day, Archie had ventured to Iain that he was amazed at how the repair team managed to check all the wire bracings on a biplane. Now, the airfield had been in a country area, and Iain had replied facetiously. “Och, laddie, sure, an’ it’s easy… D’ye see that bush over there, the one with purple flowers? Well, we just grab one or two of they wee butterflies that come to it, and let them go inside the wings, so we do. If they get out quick, we know there’s one or two more wires to mend!”
The next day, there’d been a call over the field telephone, from another nearby squadron. They were desperate for an airframe fitter, they’d said – some sickness in the camp, evidently. Could Archie’s squadron spare a man? Iain had been detailed…
Eager as ever, Iain had gone off, joking that he’d show them how it was done, then he’d soon be back. Then, a couple of nights or so later, a German aircraft had ‘slipped over to lay a few eggs’ as they said. One bomb had fallen scarcely ten feet from where Iain was struggling to take cover, and he was killed instantly. That was war…

Archie shook himself back into the present day. He thought again of those poor twins. Of how, in another world, a world without a war, they might have been snoozing in a pram, out in this yard, on an afternoon like this, while the butterflies fluttered around them…
He glanced absently about him and entered the yard, randomly kicking small pieces of rubble. Then, quite by chance, he noticed, just protruding from under a few bricks, what looked like a leather belt or strap. Bending down, he pulled it gently. His grip met with resistance, so he stopped to lift away some of the rubble. This uncovered a small, well-used, and now very battered, leather satchel such as a school-child might have used.
And then, Archie’s heart thumped as he remembered: on that terrible night, he’d caught his foot in something, then kicked it free as he emerged from the back door. This had to be what had almost stumbled him!
Undoing its two buckles, he looked inside for a moment. It appeared to contain some personal papers and letters. Oh well, he’d take it home, and drop it in at the police station tomorrow. With one last glance around, he headed homewards.

Back home, he was glad to find Jenny in good spirits, having enjoyed her knitting session. Putting the kettle on to make tea for them both, Archie told Jenny about his find, and how it would mean a trip to the police station nearby. Jenny then ventured that she could do that herself, the next day.
“Oh, thanks, then, lovie. I’ll just leave it on the shelf at the cellar head. Tell them what I said – fifteen, Trafalgar Terrace. And remember me to Charlie, if he’s on duty.” Sergeant Charles Mahon had been at school with Archie many years before. Archie grinned as he reflected that, had he been a gambling man, the very last thing he’d have bet on was the chance of Charlie finishing up as a police officer. But, there you go, he thought…

Part eight is now published here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Six

My story continues. You can start at the beginning here.

Archie pushed back his empty plate. “That was great, lovie. How you do it on rations, I don’t know. How’s the tummy been today?”
“Ee, no worse love, no worse. Are you still wanting to go and check on those wee children?”
“I reckon, lovie, I reckon… You be OK?” He hadn’t told Jenny that the mother, who had probably wanted to fetch something for her children, had been killed instantly by the blast.
“Course I will.” Jenny sighed. “But you know what George Baird’s always telling you. I dunno, something about getting – or not getting – what is it he says?”
“Oh, yes, I know what you’re getting at. ‘Emotionally involved’ he says. But I can’t help it, you know that. It’s just me.” Archie rolled his eyes at his wife of nearly thirty years. “I got ’emotionally involved’ as George says, with a pretty girl, once. Jenny Randall, her name was…”
Jenny playfully slapped the back of her husbands hand. “Well, you better be going, so you can get back in time for some sleep. That shipyard needs romantic men like you.”
Archie kissed his wife and grabbed his coat. A few moments later, the ting of a bicycle bell signalled his departure.

Archie reached the children’s ward just as the sister was passing the door. “Ah, Mr. McGeoch! Always glad to see you, even if we’re off our feet, as usual, only worse. Give me ten minutes, all right?”
Archie raised his hand in ready acceptance. “Thank you, sister. Appreciate your trouble.” By now, he knew Helen Anderson well, but maintained formality in public. He watched thoughtfully as the nursing staff battled on…

“Nurse Jamieson, keep an eye out for a few minutes, will you? I’ll be in the office if you need me.”
“I’ll do that, sister. Is Nurse Fraser around?”
“I sent Annie to get herself a bite to eat. She’d been going non-stop since three. She’ll be back any time. Can’t keep herself away from the action for long. But if anyone collapses on this ward, it’s got to be me.” With a weary grin, she made for the ward office door.

“Nursie Jamieson! My leg hurts again. Ow!”
“Yes, sweetheart, I know. We’ll get Nursie Fraser to look at that bandage when she comes back. Brave girl.”
“I like Nursie Fraser. Are both of you going to make me all better? Will I walk again by myself soon?”
Oh, help. Nursing school didn’t tell you the answers to these kind of questions. The poor kid didn’t even know about her twin baby sisters yet.
“Well, yes, pet, but it might all take a wee while. All right?”

When Archie tapped on the door of the office and entered in answer to the response, Sister Anderson had just finished using the tiny spirit stove in one corner to boil water for tea. She paused to rub her eyes with her fingers, then nodded towards a chair.
“Well, Archie… I suppose you were on duty two nights running?”
“Couldn’t very well do anything else, could I? We could have used many times the men, and many times the equipment. But there you are. That’s a war for you. And it’s the same for you anyhow. I don’t suppose week-ends off are going to be a big part of your menu, are they?”
The sister shrugged. “I’d only worry about what was and wasn’t happening in here. Half the staff just about out of nappies. Mind you, Evie Jamieson’s just twenty, Annie Fraser’s nineteen, and although on paper they’ve still got stripes to earn, Evie can near enough run the ward, and she’s about trained up Annie by herself. An old school chum, evidently. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

Hell, woman, you know why the man’s here. Face it.

“Just wanting the up-to-date on those three from Trafalgar Terrace.”
“Well, the four-year-old’s doing fine. A few bangs and bruises, a nasty gash on the right leg we’re keeping an eye on, and one or two tiny burns. But… she’ll be fine…”
“And what about the wee twins?”

Pull yourself together, woman. You’re a trained nurse since that last lot, for any sake.

Helen quietly put a cup of tea in front of Archie and looked down.
“Archie… I’m sorry. The human lungs will only stand so much hot smoke. We did what we could with oxygen, but it didn’t work. Not this time.”
Archie sipped his tea in silence for a whole minute. He knew what the poor woman had gone through. You did your best. You forgot about yourself. And sometimes that just wasn’t enough. And it got to you. Because you wanted a happy ending every time. He didn’t need to say any more about the two poor mites he’d carried out to an ambulance crew, one in each arm, two nights before. And he knew Helen would know about the poor mother.
She shook herself sharply and looked up. “What?” she murmured.
“Those two you told me about, out there on the ward. You mother them, don’t you?”
“You don’t miss much, do you? Trouble is, they’re me. Twenty-five years ago, in France, in the last fuss. I see myself. All eager. Wanting success, every time. Like I still do. So what do you expect me to be like?”
Archie nodded slowly. Then he smiled his thanks for the tea as he got up…

The first six parts make up the first main section of my story. Part seven begins a new section; you can read it here.

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By the Butterfly Tree: An Explanation and Acknowledgements

For ‘Prose for Thought’ this week, hosted by Vicky at Verily, Victoria Vocalises, I am introducing my story entitled By the Butterfly Tree which is appearing on this blog in small instalments. I would like to explain how this story came into being, and thank those people who have motivated me.

You see, I should say first that, at school – all those years ago – there were some subjects I enjoyed and got quite good at. Science, and stuff. Maths. Now, when it came to English, I was a mixture; comprehension and descriptive writing I could handle, the odd poem, even. But writing fiction was a nightmare for me; as Winnie-the-Pooh would say, it didn’t. It just didn’t. So, when I get complimentary comments on here, about my writing, I feel both honoured and humbled – in a good way.

Well now, first came ‘The Twitter Key Project’ conceived, organised and hosted by Josie aka @porridgebrain on Twitter, which she explained here. Along with many others, I submitted an entry, which Josie kindly wrote on a label and added to the project here, with a photo.

Next, as you will see below the photo, Julia (That retired, but not retiring, woman, who blogs at Julia’s Place and tweets as @jfb57) left a comment – that got me thinking…

And then, more recently, Helen, who blogs at All at Sea, came up with a concept she called ‘Summer Of Words’ which she explained here. She personally invited me to take part.

The story in many parts, now unfolding on this blog, is the result. Many thanks to Josie, Julia, and Helen. And to all of you who may care to read By the Butterfly Tree. 

Here is a link to the beginning. More links will take you from one part to the next. I hope you enjoy the journey…

Prose for Thought

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Five

My story continues… You can read it from the beginning here. The ‘Summer of Words’ writing initiative was started by Helen at All at Sea.

When the sirens sounded on that mid-March night, the general mood was not so much of alarm as of weary resignation to ‘another raid’. It soon became clear, however, that to classify the night’s activity in this way was on a par with suggesting that Chopin, say, wrote some natty little tuneful numbers. For this was no mere raid; it was a blitz.

As Jenny made for the shelter, Archie cycled to the fire station, where he joined his team to face the toughest night’s fire-fighting they had known so far. Tenements with roofs like tinder-boxes were being hit with incendiaries, and then high-explosive bombs followed. Rescue work went on as bombs fell perilously close. After a relief team took over at three a.m. Archie arrived home in a daze. Jenny was safe, but their house had several broken windows, and a crack had appeared in the back wall. Archie joined his wife in their shelter until the ‘all clear’ finally sounded, snatching at sleep a few minutes at a time. Later, he cleaned himself up as best as he could (without hot water, owing to the gas-mains having been damaged) satisfied himself that there was no risk of the house collapsing round his wife, and headed for the shipyard.

When he returned home later, he ate almost mechanically, then fell asleep – until the sirens sounded again, announcing the start of another night of terror. Once again, he headed for the fire station, where calls soon flooded in. Archie and his team were soon sent to assist with fighting a spreading fire in a small row of terraced houses in a narrow side street.

Almost as soon as they arrived, they heard the spine-chilling whistle of a falling bomb, and then the ear-splitting blast from just yards away. Men scarcely had time to protect their faces from flying glass and debris. Just after this, one of the men noticed that smoke was coming from the ‘coal hole’ of the end house, and then heard a child scream. Quickly, the front door was opened with an axe. A little girl half ran, half limped out of the house and was lifted to safety by a defence volunteer and taken to an ambulance. She yelled something about ‘baby sisters’. Archie grabbed a mask and went inside. As he reached the cellar door, he smelt burning paraffin. He guessed that a lamp had been blown over by the blast, and broken. A cellar would be the obvious shelter for babies, though. Diving down the cellar, by the light of his helmet lamp he could just make out the outlines of two babies in a cot. Grabbing them, he climbed the steps as fast as he could. As he did so, he stumbled as his foot caught in something… The strap of a bag, maybe, he thought… he couldn’t see, just scrambled on, fearful of falling as both his arms were full. Somehow, he made it. When he reached the top of the cellar steps, he felt cool air; George Baird had broken down the adjacent back door that led into a tiny yard. Once out of the doorway, he was able to kick whatever it was off his foot. Ambulance crew relieved him of his two armfuls…

You can read part six here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Four

My Story continues; you can read it from the beginning, starting here.

That July morning, three people were killed, and about thirty injured, by the bombing. What became clear, however, was that it would take more than Hitler’s bombs to break the community spirit; more raids followed, mainly at night. Archie, and all those like him, were put into a rota; the jokes about fire practice had now stopped. Across Britain, it wasn’t just a matter of ‘keeping the home fires burning’ (the ones in fireplace grates) but of putting out those started by air-raids.
As a fire-fighter, Archie soon became known for his cool head and amazing bravery; his RFC and RAF discipline seemed to kick in instinctively. He would make decisions based on need and safety (not always his own) in a split second, and work in co-ordination with others. Many victims of the raids owed their lives to him. And then, there was a part of his ethos for which some admired him, others criticised him: he could never just ‘walk away’ at the end of a gruelling night’s work. In his own time, in the following days, he would visit the hospitals, inquiring after the injured or burned victims he had helped to safety, especially children. It was a part of him; in the shipyard, or out of it, every job was his baby.
Official policy, of course, discouraged this; but how could a ward sister snub a man who had taken his life in his hands for the sake of one (or several) of her patients, probably several times on the same night, when he had scarcely had time to swill the smuts from his face?
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, war-time austerity was biting hard, but community spirit and resourcefulness ran high. A lot of presents were home-made; Archie’s friends and relatives did well, because he could make toys and other items from the ‘firewood’ he was allowed to bring home! He would joke, too, in an affectionate way, about the steady clicking of Jenny’s knitting-needles. They managed a little family party when Leslie got a few days’ leave, shortly before the end of the year.
And so life went on…

You can read part five here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Three

My story for Summer of Words continues… You can read it from the beginning, starting here.

The July morning began unseaonally cool, grey, blustery, and showery. Archie cycled to work as usual, for an early start. He met up with the two men who were to work with him, and then headed below decks. Today’s job was to set up the water-tight doors for the engine-room. George Baird was down there, too, ready to commission the lighting that would enable the engineers and greasers to work easily on every part of the enormous engines.
An ethos of industry prevailed until the supervisors called for a break at ten-fifteen. Men scrambled up stairways, eager to enjoy a few minutes of daylight and a drink. But as they chatted and joked in the open air, a drone of engines could be heard to the North. One of the mechanics frowned. “That’s nae one o’ oors, Archie…”
The roar of the plane increased, then faded. A minute or two later came the sound of four ear-splitting blasts. Men turned pale and gripped the handrails. Conversation was hushed, almost in whispers. After another minute or two come a further four explosions.
Men looked at Archie and the other supervisors inquiringly. No air-raid warning had sounded; what were they supposed to do? Stand by the fire equipment? Go back to work as if nothing had happened? As Archie himself considered the situation, the vessel’s ‘tannoy’ system crackled into life.
“Attention, please: We understand that enemy action has taken place nearby. More information will be announced as it becomes available. It is believed that there is no continued threat at present. Normal work should therefore continue.”
Work resumed, although hardly a word was spoken. The war had suddenly become vivid and very personal. More details were announced some time later. Many of the men lived near to the areas affected. What would they find when they went home? More to the point, who would they find – or not find?

You can read part four here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Two

Here, I am continuing my story for Summer of Words. The first part is here.

So war had come, as Archie’s old dad would have said, ‘as sure as Christmas’. On that score, the main difference was that it came in early September. But, for most people, life seemed much the same. True, most of the young men were away, like Archie’s son, Leslie. But then, he had been away already. Like father, like son, he’d joined the RAF as soon as he could, and loved the life. But everyone knew it would be different for young men like him, now that war was ‘for real’ – and especially so for those who, like Leslie, had a wife and child back home. But what was the point of worrying? The best cure for worry, everyone said, was to keep busy, which, mostly, they did, with women working in the factories in the area, making aircraft parts, engines, and, of course, munitions. Muriel, Archie’s daughter-in-law, went back part-time to her job in the drawing-office in a car factory, which had switched over to war work, sometimes leaving Ross, his three-year-old grandson, with Jennie, Archie’s wife, who was under strict instructions from Muriel, not to ‘waste’ him. Jennie didn’t think a few stories and ball games in the back yard could be called ‘wasting’.
Mean time, Archie and George – and many more middle-aged men – were auxilliary firemen. So far, they hadn’t had much opportunity to practice their new skills. Indeed, the station officer at the fire station where they had both trained, a somewhat dour man originally from Perthshire, had been heard to comment that it only took ‘a bonfire in some wifey’s back yaird’ to get ‘a wee mite ower fierce’ and there’d be ‘twa dozen o’ they mustard-keen aux laddies’ in attendance ‘afore ye could wave a stirrup-pump’. Subsequently, Andy Harris, the leading fireman in red watch, had observed to Archie that this was about the nearest that Jack McGregor ever came to joking with anybody.
And so life went on – for the latter part of 1939 and the first half of the following year. But all that was about to change…

You can read part three here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part One

I know I’m late to the party, but I’m going to have a shot at Summer of Words hosted by Helen at All At Sea. Here is the beginning of my story:

As soon as the buzzer sounded for the mid-day break, Archie McGeogh headed for the washroom, and then the canteen. It had been a busy morning, as was now usual. The yard was at full stretch. The pressure was on to get as many vessels in the water as quickly as possible. Not that the men minded. Those recently taken on were glad of their jobs, and those who had been there longer were glad of the overtime. Wives who had struggled were eager for a little extra in the housekeeping budget.

As a master joiner, Archie was kept busy checking over the fitting-out of the vessel he was assigned to; he was thorough but fair, and mostly, the men got on well with him, from apprentices to the bosses who trusted him.

Sometimes Archie brought his ‘piece’ from home, as many of the men did all the time, often stopping to eat in small groups, not leaving the vessel. But today, he was working late, so the aroma of bangers and mash was welcome, even though it wasn’t quite home cooking. But on the way in, he glanced for a moment at the works notice board. That thing about fire brigade training was there again. Well, it hadn’t moved since he’d last looked. It had made him think. Its message made sense. In principle, in the event of war (who were they kidding? War was a racing certainty in the minds of most people by now) the regular fire brigade would be unlikely to be able to cope. This was an appeal for older men to train as auxilliary firemen.

Archie thought of women like his daughter-in-law. Bairns like his wee grandson. Then he heard footsteps come to a halt beside him. He looked round and saw that George Baird, the electrical supervisor he knew well, was reading the same notice. The two men nodded to each other.

“Friday, then, Archie…? The fire station instead of the Crown and Anchor?”

He’d said it all…

You can read part two here.

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