Elizabeth Martins smiled a sad smile at the camera. Her bottom lip quivered as she held in her cries. Elizabeth was wearing her mother’s thick woolly cardigan, a knee length skirt and a grey wool bucket hat. A white label hung limply off a brown string from around her neck, as if she was a parcel. Her younger brother Tomas was terrified and crying and Elizabeth was unable to comfort him. Tomas was clutching his teddy bear and blanket, one in each hand. The youngest, their little sister Mary Lou, was excited to go to their new home.
Elizabeth was worried about going to the whitewashed cottage with red roses surrounding the front door, or at least this was how the house had been described to her. She felt that she should be responsible for her younger siblings as she was nine years of age but really she was scared as well as very upset. Elizabeth was unaware of how long they would be staying in their temporary home but she knew they would be gone a while.
Part of her however felt relieved to be leaving London as the memory of bombs being dropped from planes all day and night was only too recent. Since her three-storey Victorian townhouse had been bombed they had been living in the smelly, dark underground station of Paddington. Often Elizabeth would wake up to the noise of shelling and people whimpering. People were constantly getting sick, crying and sometimes even dying. She knew they were extremely lucky to have survived the bombing but often Elizabeth found herself wishing she had died instead of having to live with the constant fear. What she had seen in London was enough to frighten her for the rest of her life.
Elizabeth wanted to sprint back to her mother and stay in the station even though she had the opportunity of peaceful sleep and a safe home. She did not run home however as she thought it would make her seem like a coward. She had been told she would be staying near Brent in Devon but honestly she still felt very much concerned as to whether she was actually going to a safer place where they were kind to her or an awful orphanage like those she had read about in stories. She was also worried that her brother and sister would not remember their parents.
As she stepped onto the train she wondered how long they would be away without seeing their mother and father as well as whether or not the foster parents would treat them well. Yet somehow she managed to think of all the happy memories they would make in Devon.
Elizabeth and her siblings arrived at their new seaside home in Devon before midnight on the seventh of November, nineteen forty. A man in a grey suit and a white shirt and a woman wearing a beautiful blue knee length A-line dress with puffed shoulders and white stockings collected them from the train station.
They had been on the train for six hours according to the pocket watch her father had gifted her for her ninth birthday just before he left. He gave it to her saying ,”my big girl should have a watch”. Elizabeth had no idea he would be going to the war and even less of an idea why he was giving her his prized possession.
Elizabeth remembered being extremely confused the day he said goodbye to the family and walked out the door in a striking green uniform. She had no idea as to why he was wearing a uniform. There were green trousers, a green shirt and a green hat. He never wore a uniform for work so she wondered why he was suddenly wearing one.
After he left her mother spent a lot of time in her room. One day Elizabeth went up to her to see if she was okay. Her mother told her that she was but Elizabeth could sense she was not telling the truth. “Then why are you crying?” Elizabeth queried. “It has something to do with father, doesn’t it?” Her mother then told Elizabeth about her father going to fight in the war. She told her not to tell the others but Elizabeth stated that would be unfair. “They should know mother!” she protested.
Later that evening their mother sat them all down and told them of their father going to fight for England. The poor little ones did not understand. “At least they know,” Elizabeth had thought to herself.
Elizabeth then began to remember all the wonderful times the family had spent together before the war started. Surprisingly, she fell asleep easily in her new, strange bed as she persuaded herself there would be many more happy times like those once the war ended.
Elizabeth slowly opened her eyes. At first she thought she was in Paddington Station but then she heard the chirping bird chorus and felt the warmth of a bed under her. The room felt very dark but this was because of the thick black blinds which could only have been the blackout blinds that the people in school talked about. Elizabeth sat up with a jolt as she remembered everything that had happened only the day before. The delicious aroma of sausages frying in oil was wafting from downstairs. However, this also felt very odd as she could not remember what the adults who took them in looked like. 'These are complete strangers!' Elizabeth panicked.
Elizabeth slowly tiptoed to the room next to her where Tomas and Mary Lou were meant to be sleeping. Quietly opening their heavy brown door she realised there was no one in the bright yellow nursery. Her heart skipped a beat as she wondered where they could have gone. She decided to go downstairs, perhaps they were with the foster parents. Leaving their bedroom she noticed a cuckoo clock with the short hand at nine and the long hand at twenty five. 'Nine twenty five' she had thought to herself. That was most definitely the longest she had slept since before the war started.
As she padded downstairs Elizabeth could hear the voices of people in the kitchen. For a moment she thought she heard the sound of Mary Lou's high pitched laugh. Peering through the small keyhole of the kitchen door, she caught a glimpse of blonde curls like those Tomas had. Elizabeth opened the door and stepped into the large open plan kitchen. She felt betrayed as her two younger siblings already were cooking beside the grand aga, alongside the new adults. Elizabeth was surprised as usually her mother would cook while her father read the newspaper they had delivered each morning by the young paperboy, however here both parents cooked together.
The woman turned around and noticed Elizabeth before she could make her way any further into the kitchen. The woman hurried over to her and to Elizabeth's surprise enveloped her in a hug. Elizabeth couldn't believe her luck. She had escaped from the scary war to the countryside and would be staying with this kind family by the sea, not in a cold dark orphanage.
Suddenly, Elizabeth felt sad. She yearned for her mother and father to be there too. 'If only this was another one of our holidays by the sea,' she wished. A bizarre idea then came into her head. Maybe they could imagine these people were their mother and father. 'Me, Tomas and Mary Lou can pretend these people are mother and father and we have come on a family holiday', she thought to herself. 'This way we will still be remembering our parents without getting too homesick'.
The woman took hold of Elizabeth's small callused hand and led her over to the wide marble counter. The calluses on Elizabeth's came from the weeks of living in the rough conditions of Paddington and it seemed as though this kindly apron figure had noticed. Placing a whisk in Elizabeth's hand the woman gently passed a bowl and a basket filled with eggs warm to the touch to her. Amazed at such bounty, she asked the woman where the eggs came from. The woman smiled and told her that all would later be revealed.
Sitting down to eat, the woman introduced herself to Elizabeth and her younger siblings as Audrey and the man as Duncan. They said their prayers and began to devour the delicious array of food laid out before them on the rustic wooden table. Audrey then told Elizabeth that the eggs had come from the hens on their farm and announced that she would later be bringing the three children outside to begin helping as soon as possible. Elizabeth hoped there would be horses. She loved riding whenever the family went to the countryside and this would make it feel even more like the holiday she imagined.