The Girl on the Beach

The Girl on the Beach by Mary Nichols Page A

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Authors: Mary Nichols
rising panic, which set her heart racing and made her want to scream to get out, was the desperate need to get home. She strained her ears for the all-clear, but all she could hear was the drone of aeroplanes, the high-pitched whistle of high explosives and the heavy crump as they hit the ground. She could feel the earth shaking and lumps of plaster came off the underside of the arch and rained down on everyone. Children were sobbing and screaming, people were being sick and the heat was stifling. She could see nothing, except those closest to her, and not even those when the electric lightssuddenly went out. She was too terrified even to scream.
    ‘Damn,’ one of the women said in the sudden silence that followed. ‘I’ve gone and dropped a stitch.’
    ‘And I’ve dropped my false teeth,’ said one of the men, which raised a half-hearted laugh. It was cut short by the terrifying scream of a high explosive which had every one of them holding their breath. They never heard it land.
     
    ‘Damn those Huns,’ Rosie said. She was in Julie’s kitchen heating some milk for George’s tea. He had been hauled reluctantly out of the water, been dried and dressed and compensated for the loss of his pool with bread and jam. ‘I had better take you to the shelter.’ She turned off the gas and carried him out to the Anderson shelter. The sky was thick with German planes and she could see the bombs as they left the aircraft, hurtling downwards one after the other. Already dockside buildings were on fire with flames shooting high into the sky. Fire engines were tearing along the road, bells ringing. ‘It looks like a bad one. I hope your mum is not out in it.’
    She went down the steps into the shelter and settled down in one of the deckchairs with George on her lap, where she began crooning to him, trying to drown out the frightening sound of explosions and the debris rattling on the corrugated iron of the roof. It was too close for comfort but she had to stick it out until the all-clear went, praying that Julie was safely sheltering somewhere.
     
    Just before they left Canada, Harry and his colleagues had heard news on the Canadian wireless of severe raids on the London Docks and that there had been substantial damage and loss of life, but the report gave no details. It would notdo to let the enemy know the extent of the damage, nor deflate the public’s morale. That didn’t stop the rumours of dreadful carnage as half of London burnt and its citizens fled in terror to the surrounding countryside. He hoped the tales were exaggerated but it didn’t stop him worrying. Where had Julie been at the time? Had she left London with his parents as he had urged her to do? Or was she still in Bermondsey? If there was a letter in the post telling him she had moved, he had left before he could receive it, which resulted in a miserable seven-day crossing, every minute of which was torture. He could not eat and could not sleep for thinking of her in the Anderson shelter she hated so much.
    Looking about him as they docked in Liverpool on the afternoon of Friday the thirteenth, he saw evidence of raids, ruined buildings, glassless windows, craters in the road. If London was anything like Liverpool, it was bad. His thoughts were with Julie and not on where he would be taken on leaving the ship. Harrogate, he had heard, and after that a posting to an operational squadron.
    ‘Anyone here got folks in London?’ their group captain asked them as they assembled ready to disembark. Several men put up their hands. ‘Right, you can fall out and go home. Report to Harrogate seven days from now.’
    They did not need telling twice. They collected their passes, ran down the gangplank, grabbed a taxi and were taken at speed to the station where they boarded the first train going south.
    It was packed with troops and civilians, many of whom had horror tales to tell about the raids, which might or might not have been true, of bits of bodies being

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