Mara's story

It was 1940. We had been bombed out for the first time and were living in a school, my Mother and us five kids, because our home was in such a shambles. My Mother hated us being there because we girls had long hair and she was deathly afraid of us catching head lice. There must have been an epidemic at the time.

Somehow we got mail. I do not know how, but one morning my mother received a brown envelope with "On His Majesty's Service" insignia on the face of the envelope. She looked at it several times turned it over and made some attempts to open it; exclaiming many times in Irish dialect "Jesus Mary and Holy St. Joseph!" Probably thinking it was bad news about my father. At this time my Dad was somewhere in France or Belgium or wherever with the British Expeditionary force and we had no idea where he was.

The five of us looked on at this cameo of our mother in complete silence. All of us wondering what was to come. She finally tore the envelope open only to discover something that distressed her severely.. After exclaiming a multitude of times "Holy Mother of God" and several other Irish incantations she told us to get our coats on. When we were on our way I asked where we were going? "To the War Office." she replied, tersely.

 

We arrived at a very grand building somewhere in London and entered a huge hallway with a gentleman in military uniform seated at a desk. He directed us into a very large office with another desk. Behind the desk a man in uniform with more gold braid than I had ever seen, sat looking at us. My mother produced the letter and when he glanced at the contents he burst out laughing. I thought to myself "this is strange it did not make my mother laugh.' He picked up a phone and called somebody else in and after they read the letter they also fell apart laughing. Not knowing the contents of the letter we children were totally puzzled by this behaviour. My mother, never missing an opportunity, began to tell her story of her disenchantment with our billet. We were escorted out of that room into another sumptuous room by a young woman in military uniform. Her constant smile as she walked us through the halls of the War Office indicated that she also knew the contents of the letter.

 

Eventually we were seated in the lush surroundings of a large stately home type living room. They served us the most magnificent tea with oodles of chocolate biscuits covered in silver paper and cake that would have fed an army. We were served by delighful young women, all shaking their heads and smiling. By now I didn't care what was in the letter, hoping in my six year old mind, for this kind of a windfall every day. My mother was called away and we were left to finish the tea. I was holding the baby who was beginning to fret when my mother returned with a uniformed chaffeur. I helped the younger ones on with their coats and we followed the chaffeur down to a waiting limousine.

 

We were driven through London back as I thought, to that dreadful billet. However, we stopped at a large house on Kensington Park Road. not far from our own home. We tumbled out of the car and were shown into a large flat which took up the main floor of the house. Behind us the chaffeur brought a large food hamper and then left, evidently to collect our things from the school where we were formerly billeted. We never saw that place again. After exploring the private gardens for which we were given a key to the gate (I later let anyone in to play for which I got into severe trouble.) I believe this was before all the railings were taken down for the war effort. After we had eaten most of the contents of the food hamper we settled down before a roaring fire for the evening, hoping for an evening without a raid. We were in our in our night clothes and this was our other embarrassment. We always went to the shelter in this attire when everyone else was fully dressed. We hated it! But on this my mother would not budge. I got the book to read the story to the younger ones who were by now getting sleepy. (I could read when I went to school at three and a half.) After the younger ones were put to bed I cleared the cocoa mugs and my older brother Hector and myself sat with mother talking about the wonderful day.

 

It finally occurred to me to ask my mother "but what was in the letter anyway?" My mother (who incidentally was quite stunning to look at, although I didn't realize this at the time), smiled and said "they called me up and wanted me to join the Navy as a WREN. and how could I with five children to care for?" "Oh!" was all Hector and I said in unison, totally unimpressed by the response and not being old enough to recognize the repercussions it could have had on our lives. In later years, when we travelled on trains and other transport systems we recognized in retrospect no matter how packed the train or bus was, several men always stood to give my mother their seat, in spite of the fact she was always accompanied by the five of us who became six in 1943 when Pauline was born.

Mara (a recent picture)
11th December, 2000



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