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 war time Farewell statue at St Pancras Station

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

Part 4

The pub was not far from the office. As they walked, the conversation became easier. Arthur asked how long Ada had worked for Ledbetters and she told him she had worked in munitions during the war but went back to the print trade afterwards.

They were shown to a quiet table, and he asked her to call him Arthur outside office hours. She agreed, as long as he would call her Ada. Arthur told her how much Stan spoke of his wife Ada, and he felt he knew her already.

He convinced Ada to have an aperitif. She, being unused to drinking, was feeling rather sophisticated though a little out of her depth as the two friends, for they were comfortable enough with each other to consider themselves friends as well as colleagues, waited for their drinks to arrive.

After toasting lost friends and Stan, they took their time looking at the limited menu, neither one knowing how to proceed. Arthur chose a steak and kidney pudding, while Ada decided on a slice of corned beef and potato pie. The next few minutes were spent talking about their respective families, and how they coped, or not, after the war.

Eventually, and perhaps because of the sherry, Ada decided to take the bull by the horns.

“Mr Giles, Arthur. Why did you ask me here tonight? You did say it had something to do with my Stan?”

Arthur Giles loosened the top button of his shirt and coughed. He didn’t know why he felt so awkward about this. It should be a simple matter to tell a man’s widow that he knew how much she had meant to him and that her husband had left her a letter saying just that. He hoped she would gain comfort from his words and subsequently the letter he was about to hand to her. He also hoped that in some way she may find some comfort with him, in due course.

He drew a deep breath and looked at Ada, quickly glancing away again, as though embarrassed. She had beautiful green eyes and he didn’t want to get distracted from the matter in hand. Taking the unopened letter from his jacket pocket he placed it on the table in front of Ada and explained as best as he could how it had been in his possession.

Ada was so shaken by Arthur’s news that he had to take her home and forgo the trifle he had eyed up for dessert. Still, he would have it next time. He was sure there would be a next time.

Arthur had brought her home and made her a cup of hot sweet tea. He had left now and Ada sat alone at the table with the letter still in her hand. She let her tea go cold, she hadn’t wanted it anyway.

She read, and reread Stan’s letter, poring over each word.

It was clear that Stan had loved her with all his heart, as much as she had, still did, love him.

There was however something else Stan had written, which Ada found most upsetting. She could hardly believe it, but her Stan would never lie to her so it must be true.

Stan had asked Ada not to reveal any of the information in the letter to anyone. Something Ada knew she would struggle with, as her first instinct was to run to Stan’s ma’s house to share the letter. For the umpteenth time, she read her darling Stan’s letter.

In it, Stan told her that the man who had given her the letter, Arthur Giles was a spy. According to the letter, Stan was stationed with Arthur to get close to him and discover how and what he was telling the enemy. Stan in turn was to relay this information to his commanding officer. It became clear that Arthur Giles was becoming suspicious and so Stan and the officer in charge came up with a plan. They were to fake Stan’s death, and Stan would continue to work behind the scenes to stop Arthur.

In his letter, Stan explained to Ada that the Ministry’s plan was for him to go ‘undercover’ to trap Arthur, who they suspected was a ‘sleeper spy’, someone who blended into society until they were called into action, perhaps many years later. He would find a way to get back to Ada, but he hoped that she would understand, know that he loved her and that of course ‘missing in action’ meant that his body hadn’t been found.

How could it, when he was still alive?

Trying to understand, Ada began to wonder, if Arthur had anything to do with the death of the officer in charge all those years ago? Did he get suspicious?

Her mind in turmoil, Ada went to bed, but rest would not come.

There was so much to think about.

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.