Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

This is chapter three in the second outstanding Round Robin story from Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Its authors are, Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 3

‘Sit down Mrs. Coleman; I have a question to ask? Would you kindly come out to dinner with me one evening after work, I have something serious to discuss with you about your late husband Stan.’

Arthur managed to get the sentence out in one breath. Ada went all hot and she felt her cheeks burning.

‘Why on earth would you want to see me out of work, Mr. Giles?’

‘Because, Mrs. Coleman I knew your husband, Stan. We were in the same unit; I have a letter for you.’

Shock struck Ada; tears started flowing and she searched for her handkerchief. Pushing the chair back as she desperately tried to make her escape to the ladies toilet, caused a screeching sound from her chair. The girls in the typing pool turned and stared through the glass partition as they watched Ada come dashing through the door.

Mr. Giles followed to the door and asked Miss Blanchard to go and see that Mrs. Coleman was all right.

Mr. Giles returned to his office to calm himself down. A knock on the door announced Marion Morgan with another cup of tea for him, awaiting his response before she enter entered.

She asked if there was anything else he required?

‘No. No, thank you, Miss Morgan; the tea will do fine.”

Breathing deeply he decided a trip to the Gents would be the place to calm himself. Eyes stared from above the typewriters as the girls in the office continued their assignments.

It had never occurred to Arthur Giles that this lady, Ada Coleman could be the wife of his friend Stan Coleman. They had served together in Bomb Disposal during the war and had been lucky to escape with only a scratch, until that day when the bomb they were attempting to defuse exploded. The blast knocked Arthur Giles yards away and he was told Stan had been killed.

They had exchanged letters to send to their next of kin if they were killed,. Usually the Officer in-charge would accept them, but he had been killed in action. There was no one else to take on the responsibility of collecting such letters. Arthur Giles had tried in vain to find the address of Stan’s next of kin, but with no luck. He had kept the letter safely for two years and hoped that one day he may be able to forward it to her.

After demobilisation, he had moved to Bolton, finding work at Ledbetters Printers. He had been a proof-reader before he was called up for the War Service.

After his trip to the Gents he continued to work until six o’clock. The typing pool finished at five-thirty so he had the office to himself for half an hour. Hearing a tap on the door, he looked up to find Ada Coleman staring at him through the glass. He beckoned her to enter; she seemed flustered and anxious, but that was to be expected after the way he had, less than tactfully, invited her out for a meal.

Arthur stood as she entered. ‘Mrs. Coleman, I am so pleased to see you. I am sorry I was so tactless in my announcement of my association with your late husband. Please forgive me. The cleaners will soon be in the offices and I would like to take this opportunity to finish what I messed up before. Please would you join me for dinner at a venue of your choice where you will be comfortable?’

‘Yes, I would like that Mr. Giles. I’m sorry I was so silly, but it was such a shock. We have not had any information about Stan’s death from the War Ministry, just, “missing in action”. They did not even give us a country or area. Your news was music to my ears: someone knowing my Stan.’

‘Where would you like to eat Mrs. Coleman?’ Arthur asked.

‘How about the Black Bear on Middleton Street?’ Ada suggested. ‘They have a varied menu even in rationing’.

They left the office together, getting stares from the cleaners coming into work.

Ghosts of the Railway

A wartime farewell. The statue at St Pancras Station

This is the second chapter of the writing group’s excellent Round Robin Story, Ghosts of the Railway written by Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. We hope you continue to enjoy it.

Chapter 2

Ma had been sobbing quietly but now she let out such a wail of despair, her only child gone. Ada and Ma fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried.

Later when they had managed to quieten their sobs, Ada put the kettle on and began to tell Ma how she thought she had seen Stan at the station. It was so real to her, she couldn’t quite believe the news the telegram had brought. She was clinging to the hope that it was a mistake, she knew that could happen. After all Jenny Masterton had a telegram but later it was found to be a mistake. Her husband came home, injured but alive. It must be a mistake. Ada couldn’t bear it to be true.

As the days passed Ada went on with her life, going to work and coming home like an automaton. Time passed without her realising; she was just going through the motions of life. Living but not living, struggling every day with her loss. Stan’s Ma was struggling too. Ada tried to help her, but it was just too hard. Seeing her sorrow made everything real, and Ada wasn’t ready to accept that.

What made it even harder was seeing so many men come home to their wives. She was glad for them of course, but seeing their happiness made her pain so much worse. That is how it should have been for them; it wasn’t fair. They were just starting out on their lives together. She would regularly phone the number she was given at the war office to check if they had heard anything more. She needed details before she would believe Stan was gone.

Her sister May had come to stay with her for a while but, if anything, it annoyed Ada to have her there. She was sympathetic but impatient for Ada to accept what had happened. It was no good, and eventually she asked May to go back home. She tried to be tactful but May was obviously put out. She flounced out of the house without a backward glance. Although she was sorry to hurt May’s feelings, Ada didn’t have the energy to deal with it right now. It took all her energy just getting through the day.

As the days, weeks and months passed, Ada began to accept that Stan would not be coming home. She had no choice but to accept it. Slowly she began to rebuild her life. She still went around to Stan’s Ma’s house on a Thursday night to make sure she was okay. They would chat about when Stan had been a boy; Ma loved to tell her stories and she loved to hear them. For a short while they could both forget that the future was empty and enjoy the past, talking of the boy and man they both had loved.

She would occasionally go to the cinema with her sister, but most evenings she stayed home. Her only outings were to work or queueing at the shops to get her rations. The girls at work in the typing pool were kind and always asked her to join them on their girls’ nights out. After a while they stopped asking as she always said no. Her boss Mr Butterworth had said she could have time off, but she felt worse just sitting alone at home. At least when she was working her mind was busy and she didn’t have time to brood.

Almost two years had passed when Mr Butterworth retired and the company brought in a man from one of their other offices to run things: a Mr. Giles. The girls who were still single were ‘all of a flutter’. Mr. Giles was tall, dark and handsome; Lesley, the office gossip, had already found out that he was single. He was very polite and neat and tidy in appearance. Quite a change from old Mr. Butterworth who always looked a little dishevelled and had something spilled on his tie.

Mr. Giles was quietly spoken and had a slightly sad faraway look about him. The girls decided he must be a bit of a dreamer as he would often be seen in his office staring into space during the lunch hour. He soon had an impact on the office. Changes were made; most were useful and helpful to the staff. That didn’t stop some of the girls complaining though, with comments that Mr. Butterworth didn’t do that, or wouldn’t like that. Mr. Giles didn’t seem to notice and just got on with the job at hand.

Ada began to take on more responsibility in the typing pool. Mr. Giles would often ask her to hand out the day’s assignments to the other girls. Ada thought it was because he felt safer with her, she didn’t flutter her eyelashes at him and was not as made up as the younger girls were. The girls didn’t seem to mind, which quite surprised her, but then they didn’t want the extra responsibility of chasing up work which hadn’t been finished. When push came to shove, she was always willing to help if one of them needed to finish early – to collect a child or some other emergency. She never needed to rush home for family or to prepare for a date. She was grateful for the extra money; it was not a lot but it helped enormously.

Ada still took her turn on the tea-making rota for the afternoon break. She also shopped for the tea, milk, sugar and biscuits. She had just taken Mr. Giles his tea with two biscuits when he asked her to sit down a moment. Intrigued, she did so. He closed the office door and returned to his desk. He seemed very distracted and not his usual calm self.

‘Is everything alright Mr. Giles?’ she asked.

He took a deep breath and said, ‘No Mrs. Coleman, it is not.