The Girl on the Beach

The Girl on the Beach by Mary Nichols Page B

Book: The Girl on the Beach by Mary Nichols Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Nichols
found in strange places like roofs and people being burnt out of all recognition, which did not make him feel any easier,though there were also stories of miraculous escapes when people had been brought out alive from seemingly impossible situations. He tried to block the conversation out and listened instead to the wheels repeating ‘Julie, George, Julie, George’ over and over again. His comrades were in the same state as he was and they had little to say.
    The train seemed to be going at the pace of a snail and spent hours in sidings while armaments trains rattled by and it did not arrive in Euston until the following morning. He was out before it had come to a stop and running for the barrier.
    The devastation in Southwark and Bermondsey was unbelievable. There were huge craters where once houses had stood and they were half full of water. A whole side of one road had collapsed. The railway arch over Linsey Road had gone; factories had been destroyed and wisps of smoke drifted up from the ruins. There was an acrid smell of burning tar, leather, fermenting beer and glue from the bombed factories which caught in his throat. Nearer home, two adjacent houses had lost their whole front walls, revealing the interiors: beds perched precariously on the edge of upper floors, dressing tables with smashed mirrors, curtains snagged on broken window frames, and downstairs the crushed furniture was covered in rubble from above. Harry wondered if the occupants had survived as he rushed on towards his own home.
    At the corner, he came to a sudden stop. Where his house and garden had been was a gaping hole. He stood staring at it, unable to take in what his eyes were telling him. The home which he and Julie had cared for and loved was gone; there was nothing there but a hole in the ground and a heap ofrubble and broken glass. Numb with shock, it was a moment before he could ask himself what had happened to his wife and son. He clambered over the debris, some of which he recognised as their broken furniture. The gas cooker lay on its side, its door lying open. A battered saucepan lay beside it. The Anderson shelter was no more than a twist of metal and the rockery he had so painstakingly built was under a heap of rubble. He bent to move some of it. It was almost as if he were searching for his loved ones in the ruins, and yet if he had stopped to think he would have known they could not be there. His foot struck the garden gnome lying on its side; the tip of its pointed hat was broken off and one of its arms was missing but, covered in dust as it was, it was still grinning happily. He picked it up.
    ‘Looking for someone, Sergeant?’
    He whipped round to see a warden approaching him. ‘Yes, my wife and baby son. They lived here. Do you know where they’ve gone?’
    ‘Would you be meaning Mrs Walker?’
    ‘I’m sorry, sir.’
    ‘Sorry?’ he queried, not quite understanding.
    ‘Yes. The house took a direct hit. They wouldn’t have known a thing about it. I’m very sorry, sir. If there’s anything I can do …’
    ‘Do?’ he repeated dully, clambering back onto the road. ‘No, there’s nothing you can do. Where were they taken?’
    ‘I don’t know. Go to the ARP post, they’ll have records.’
    His feet took him there, but his mind was on another plane altogether. He did not even notice he was still carrying the gnome.
    He sat on a hard chair in the warden’s office, drinkingtea and smoking while the man on duty searched the records. ‘There were so many and we could not identify them all, so most of them were cremated,’ he said, flicking through files.
    This brought Harry out of his stupor long enough to ask, ‘You mean they haven’t got a proper resting place? I can’t go and see where they’re buried?’
    ‘Ah, here we are. Mrs Julie Walker and son, George Walker. Their bodies were taken by Mr Donald Walker for burial. Is that your father, Sergeant?’
    ‘Yes.’ Why couldn’t he wake up, why

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