Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence by Fran Abrams

Book: Songs of Innocence by Fran Abrams Read Free Book Online
Authors: Fran Abrams
crying children.Inanely, I asked Mamma: “Where will those children sleep?” And inevitably, purposefully, Mamma replied:
“There’s plenty of room for them to lie down on the lower bunk in here.”’ Back in London, they found the house shuttered and cold, and repaired to the Ritz for
breakfast. 25
    Meanwhile, in Salford, Elsie Oman’s father had arrived home on leave from the merchant navy, full of excited anticipation: ‘He had brought plenty of money home . . . he spoke about
Germany, France and Belgium. The men seemed to be enjoying the thought of war . . . they thought it would be a picnic away from this dull life. They would be sure of good food and a uniform and
sixpence a day and their wives and children would get an allowance, so everything in the garden would be lovely. So the men were all clamouring to join up, and it was said that as long as you were
“warm” you were passed A1. They even took little men in and called them “bantams”. The men soon found their mistake. We were no more prepared for war than Soft
Nick.’ 26
    The fathers go to war
    ‘One wonderful evening we brought home a Shetland pony in the back of the car; it was four months older than me. The next morning we were brought down early from the
nursery: Our Father was standing in the hall dressed in a tunic with gold buttons, riding breeches and tall, shiny brown boots. He hugged and kissed us, and our mother – and then he drove
away. It was August, 1914.’ 27
    For Hermione Llewellyn, born into a wealthy mine-owning and brewing family and watched over by nannies, this absence might have made little difference in practical, everyday terms. Yet all over
the country, in all kinds of homes, similar scenes were being played out. Fathers were departing to join up, dashing in their new uniformsand apparently destined for great
adventures. The departure of so many men from so many homes left a deep impression, and letters home were anxiously awaited.
    Hermione’s father was stationed in Norfolk with the South Wales Mounted Brigade, and the family was even able to rent a house nearby for a time. Yet the mood darkened when the men sailed
for Egypt in the autumn of 1915: ‘It was dreadful – we’d never before seen our mother cry.’ 28
    In the early days of the war, most children were sheltered from the dread their parents must have been feeling, and letters home were usually upbeat. The letters of Private A. F. Uncle, written
from Morn Hill Camp in Winchester to his daughters, Daisy, Ivy and Rosie, in London were typically cheerful: ‘Don’t worry about me, I am with a lot of jolly fellows and get plenty to
eat. You would like to be a soldier – they give you DRIPPING on your bread for breakfast and tea nearly every day.’ 29 And then,
slightly more pensively as he departed to take part in the action: ‘You will no doubt have received the parcel of togs and so know that I am now well away. I know you will be wondering what
has become of me. Whatever happens its no use grumbling – here I am and here I must stay, so I shall endeavour to make myself as comfortable as possible.’
    Elsie Oman in Salford, now a parentless teenager, for her mother was dead and her father away in the navy, followed developments along with her best friend, Vera, avidly but without any deep
sense of fear: ‘It made life much better for me. Vera and I had a good natter in the playground. Her mother used to buy papers and let Vera read them and her Mam and Dad would let her join in
the conversation, so she had lots to tell me about the situation and it was becoming a new interest in life.’ 30 And with the men gone, the
world began to become a more feminine place: ‘People seemed to come alive and as the men disappeared the women took over. They became tram drivers, conductors, postwomen, land army women on
the farms, helped inthe army, air force and navy – wherever there was a man shortage, the women were there, even on munitions,’

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