Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

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

Chapter 5

As much as she longed to show the letter to Stan’s Ma, she resisted. It would complicate matters. Who was she going to speak to regarding this accusation?

Life continued at the office. No one suspected anything different in the relationship between Ada and Mr. Giles. It was natural to keep it quiet until they had got to know each other better.

During the second week after Ada was given Stan’s letter she received a letter from the Ministry of Defence. Could this be confirmation that Stan had really died? She opened it cautiously, not wanting to learn that Stan’s body had been identified. It read:

‘Dear Mrs. Coleman,

‘I understand that you have recently acquired a letter from your husband, Lance/cpl 2500673 Stanley Coleman. We would like to interview you and ascertain that this letter is genuine.

‘Come to the Dry Cleaners on Drake Street, bringing with you a coat you would like dry cleaned, and ask to see the manager.

‘It is vital you come to the shop on Saturday 18th at twelve-thirty. Please keep this information to yourself.

‘Yours sincerely,

‘Col. A. G. Marshland.’

Ada sat down suddenly, shocked by what she was reading. She made herself tea and re-read the Ministry letter. She must go for the appointment, but why a Dry Cleaners shop?

She felt very weary and went to bed early, which did not bring sleep. She kept going over in her mind all the intrigue from the Colonel’s letter.

Finally rising from her bed after such a fractious night, Ada once again read both letters. It was hard to believe that after two years she would have what should have been Stan’s last letter. She was sure it was from Stan, as he made a remark in his letter that only Ada would understand. It was a little secret code they had derived. She readied herself for work and left the precious letters safely at home.

She arrived quite early. Not many of the typing pool staff were there; only Phyllis.

‘My word, Ada, you look rough. Bad night?’

“Ye…yes.” She stuttered. “I think I have a cold coming.”

“Here, gal, have a Beechams. That will make you feel better.” She handed Phyllis a packet of powder.

“Thanks, Phyll; kind of you. Will take it into the canteen for a glass of water,” replied Ada, discreetly dropping the powder in her handbag.

Back at her seat in the typing pool she started to look into her folder that contained her day’s work. Suddenly Mr. Giles called her into his office. Picking up her shorthand book and pencil she headed to his office.

‘Ada, how are you getting on since you received the letter from Stan? You seem very quiet.’

‘I am fine, Mr. Giles, thank you. Just a cold starting, I fear. Have taken something for it. Will try not to pass the germs on,’ she ended.

She was not going to enlighten anyone about her forthcoming meeting.

‘Well, if you are sure you are all right… I feel guilty for giving you the letter but felt now I had found you it was most important that the letter reached you,’ Arthur concluded.

“Is that all you require at the moment Mr. Giles?” Ada enquired.

“Yes, thank you Mrs. Coleman.” With that he turned to answer the ringing telephone.

Ada left the office a little uncertain as to whether Arthur Giles had read Stan’s letter before he had found Ada. After all, to have something in your possession for two years might make you wonder what was in it, considering his involvement with the other side.

Saturday came, and Ada found an appropriate coat for dry cleaning. It was a luxury she rarely afforded herself, but that was her instruction. Walking into the shop, the bell over the door clanged to announce a customer. A lady appeared from the back room.

‘Good afternoon, may I help you?’

‘I have an appointment with your manager. I am Mrs. Coleman.’

‘Is that coat for dry cleaning?’ enquired the lady.

‘Oh, yes. Yes, it is.”

‘I will take it. Would you like to walk through and I will show you the manager’s office,’ the woman lifted the counter flap.

Ada followed as instructed. It all seemed so natural: the woman leading the way and knocking on a door. A deep voice called, ‘Come in.’

Ada proceeded to enter to be confronted by a tall gentleman, older than she had expected.

‘Good afternoon Mrs. Coleman. I am Colonel Marshland. I wrote to you.’

‘Ye-yes.’ Ada’s nervousness took over again.

‘Please sit down, Mrs. Coleman and I will explain why I wanted to see you.’

The Colonel explained further.

Yes, Stan was alive but at present Ada would not be allowed to see him. Stan’s work had just one more phase to go through then his duty to King and Country would be done for good.

Ada was overwhelmed by the knowledge that her Stan was alive and one day very soon they would meet up.  She really must concentrate on what the Colonel was asking her to do. A knock on the door heralded the lady with a tray of tea and biscuits. The interlude was welcome as Ada’s head was whirling.

Again, she was told not to repeat this conversation to anyone. Stan’s life depended on his ‘missing in action’ cover.

She tried to explain to the Colonel about Stan’s mother. He was sympathetic but insisted that she told no one. He would be in touch with her by letter when it was safe.

Ada thanked him and promised she would keep everything to herself. It would be hard for her, though, not telling Stan’s ma the good news.

Ada made a point of visiting Stan’s ma at the weekends; these were lonely times for widows. Leaving the Dry Cleaners shop with a receipt for her coat, she made her way to see her, but there was a crowd of neighbours outside the terraced house.

‘What’s happened, is Ma alright?’ Ada asked. A neighbour Ada recognised appeared from inside the house, beckoning her in. There on the floor lay dear Ma Coleman clutching Stan’s photograph. The glass had been broken as Ma fell, suffering a heart attack and dying instantly.

Ada was heartbroken; Ma had been a mother figure to her since her own parents died in a direct hit on her home while Ada was in an Air Raid Shelter. The air raid had begun as she came home from work. Now she did not have to worry about not sharing her news. Ma was dead.

The funeral went ahead, and Ada once again had the job of house clearing. At least this time it was not bomb damaged like her own parents’ home. Ada kept a few little items that she knew Stan may want to keep. The rest was left for the new tenants. Many people had lost everything in the raids.

Four weeks later, Ada was typing with the rest of the girls, when several policemen burst into the office asking where they could find Mr. Giles. Shocked and alarmed, they pointed to the office where Mr. Giles had jumped up in surprise. The moment had come; he had been found.

‘Are you Arthur Giles of Bonifield Road?’ asked the senior officer. ‘We are arresting you in accordance with the official Secrets Act.’

Arthur started to protest, but the officers handcuffed him and he was bundled out of the office. He cast a pleading glance to Ada for help. She ignored it and turned away.

Some weeks later Ada and Stan were reunited in a quiet Yorkshire hotel. This was to be the beginning of a new life for them both, getting to know each other again. Seven years had elapsed since they were married. It would be difficult at times, but they hoped they would succeed. They did not return to their little home but were rehoused in another district where they were unknown.

In view of the work Stan had undertaken, it was suggested that they may wish to resettle far away in New Zealand with new identities so that their previous lives were untraceable. They both agreed it would be a great start for their forthcoming family.

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.