In late 1944 we were living in one tiny furnished room in the port of Lowestoft. We had lost all our belongings months early when our London flat suffered a direct hit from one of the first V1 flying bombs. We had only the clothes on our backs and Lily’s husband was now in the Far East. Christmas promised to be a bleak time.
Walking to school each day, I passed a shop window displaying a fabulous handmade jeep complete with its own garage. I often stopped for a brief moment to admire this beautiful toy. Having lost everything in Seven Kings, I had no toys. Lily walked me to school and met me again in the afternoons. I tried to stop her at the shop window in an attempt to interest her in the jeep, and I’d ask if she thought Father Christmas might bring me one. But always I received the same answer: “Who knows what you might get if you’re good.”
By mid-December, Lily was aware she was pregnant, and immediately a much greater dilemma loomed over us. With Ben gone, expecting a baby, looking after me, and living in a furnished room were hardly practical. Options were limited . Possibly, we could have moved in with Ben’s parents, but that was probably a last resort. The only other option was to return home to Belfast. With Christmas almost upon us, Lily decided for the moment to remain in Lowestoft. She wrote to Ben telling him the good news, and no doubt to seek his advice. She also sent a letter to Pop exploring his feelings about the two of us returning to Northumberland Street. Mail in wartime was very slow, so she had to patiently await answers to both letters.
On December 25th I awoke at the crack of dawn to find that fabulous Jeep and garage waiting for me by the fireplace. The same jeep I had eyed in the shop window for so long was mine at last. Christmas morning of 1944 was indeed a very happy time. I had no inkling of the disaster looming over my life, or the events that would shatter everything I believed.
Just a few days after Christmas, the postman delivered a parcel. It was wrapped in brown paper and secured with string; it had at least a dozen foreign stamps above the address. A thrill of excitement ran through me as Lily placed the mysterious package on the kitchen table. Looking back many years later, I often think of the song “Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String”. In 1944, it was, without a doubt, one of my favourite things.
The parcel was from Ben, now stationed in India, and had taken almost three months to reach us. Opening it was very exciting, just like Christmas all over again. Lily began removing the string and paper, careful to save both items for later reuse. Under the wrapping was a large, square biscuit tin with an oval shaped lid. Using a knife to pry it open, she revealed a banana, the first I had even seen or tasted. The skin was black rather than yellow, which I knew from pictures that bananas were supposed to be. It was overripe it was almost beyond use, and the best Lily could do was to spread it on two slices of bread. Small details like this didn’t bother me. A banana was still a banana, and regardless of the colour, it tasted delicious. There were also two very mouldy oranges, so green and smelly we had to throw them out, and two 1/4 lb. packages of Indian tea, which Lily was delighted to find. Unable to remember the last time she’d tasted a real cup of tea, she immediately put the kettle on. Also enclosed was some silk material, thread and needles, a can of meat, and a jar of jam. “Wow!” I thought – this was even better than Christmas Day. Opening the parcel was a happy event, and one I’m sure cheered Lily up, perhaps helping her forget her problems, if only for a brief moment. Smiling, she settled down with a cup of tea to read Ben’s enclosed letter.
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