Now that I finished the final draft Woman in a White Coat I’ve been scouring Waterstone’s and Foyles for ideas for the cover. Also looked at covers by designers who entered for The Academy of British Cover Design awards.
I know I’d like to have a white shiny cover and I’ve seen quite a few that I like, but unfortunately mainstream publishers rarely include the name of the cover designer.
Herewith a taster – the beginning of Chapter 3 of Woman in a White Coat
A Country at War
We were tired and hungry, my sister Hannah and I, as we stood waiting in Littleport Village Hall, waiting to be chosen by someone, anyone.
‘Don’t snivel,’ Hannah said. ‘No-one will take us in if they see you crying.’
She pushed my hand away.
‘You’re too old to hold hands Abby, and anyhow your hands are always wet and sticky.’
‘Operation Pied Piper’, the plan for the evacuation of children from areas likely to be bombed, was in place long before World War 2 was declared. People in safe areas with spare bedrooms were urged to take in evacuees. They would be paid 10/6d a week for the first child and 8/6d for each subsequent child. Nearly a million children were evacuated on Friday September 1st, 1939. London railway stations were packed with children and whole trains were commandeered.
Parents had been given a list of clothing to pack. Girls needed 1 spare vest, 1 pair of knickers, 1 petticoat, 1 slip, 1 blouse, 1 cardigan, a coat or Mackintosh, nightwear, a comb, towel, soap, face-cloth, boots or shoes and plimsolls.
Hannah hadn’t yet started at the local grammar school, Central Foundation School for Girls, so she came with me to my school, Jews Free Junior School. She carried the brown cardboard suitcase we shared. Our teachers marched us to Liverpool Street station and onto the train to Littleport. Many mothers and a few fathers came to the station with their children. Hannah and I were alone.
‘You’re old enough to go on your own,’ my mother said. ‘I’ve put a stamped and addressed postcard in your case for you to send me your address as soon as you’re settled.’
I was seven, nearly eight and Hannah was thirteen. She wore her new school uniform and I was in my dark green skirt and jumper and my navy serge coat, the one with the collar that rubbed. Our gas masks in their square brown boxes hung on tapes around our necks and we had identity labels printed with our names and evacuee numbers tied through our buttonholes.
We waited and waited. Maybe no-one wanted to take in two sisters from the East End of London. Then, when we were beginning to dread that no-one would ever choose us, a young couple beckoned us over. The husband, a big man with a bushy red beard, lowered the tail-gate of an open-bed lorry and put in our suitcase.
‘Jump in girls. The farm’s only a couple of miles from here. You can sit on those potato sacks. Don’t mind the straw. It’s this year’s and quite clean.’
We clung to the side of the lorry as he hurtled through the narrow country lanes. Empty fields stretched for miles, right up to the horizon. The harvest had been gathered in, and most of the fields were brown, though the verges were still green. Ripe purple blackberries hung from brambles at the side of the road.
They ushered us in to a large brick-built farmhouse. It was completely surrounded by fields and there were no other houses in sight. Back home in Petticoat Lane, there were tightly packed buildings wherever you looked.
We had a fried egg on toast for tea and at 7.30 they shooed us off to bed in a little attic bedroom. Horses snuffled in a nearby field and there was a herd of cows in the distance. I was scared when I heard an owl hooting. I crept closer to Hannah and pulled the blankets over my head. When dawn came, the birds woke us. It was so noisy and different.
After porridge for breakfast, they took us in their lorry back to the Village Hall. We were to spend the day there with the other evacuees from our school. The farmer and his wife were going off to a wedding.
‘What’s that horrible smell?’ Hannah asked the farmer, as we climbed into the lorry.
‘Don’t you worry your little head, miss. It’s only Fred’s piggeries.’
I hoped no-one would expect us to eat pork. Jews weren’t allowed. We’d been taught that pigs were filthy animals, non-Kosher, traife.
It was Saturday, Shabbat, so we had a short service, lunch and some games. After tea, we were sent back to our billets.
One of the teachers pointed out the way.
‘The farm is straight along that road. They said you can’t miss it.’
We trudged back to the farmhouse and knocked on the door but no-one answered. We went around the back but the back door was locked. We peeped into the kitchen but no-one was there. As the blood red sunset gave way to night, we cowered in a corner of the porch away from the huge Alsatian that strained at his chain, trying to get at us, snapping and barking. We were terrified, alone in that vast expanse. Finally, the farmer and his wife came home.
‘Sorry we’re late. We forgot all about you.’
They gave us milk and biscuits, and sent us up to bed.
The next day the farmer’s wife said it wouldn’t work.
‘We can’t be baby-sitting you every night. You’re going to have to stay with my mother. She lives in the village and she’ll take you in.’
Once again, we climbed into the back of the lorry. They didn’t talk to us or smile. We never knew their names.
* * *
Mrs Hopwood, a tiny white-haired woman, not quite as tall as Hannah, was waiting at the door of her stone cottage. She had bright blue eyes, lots of wrinkles and a big smile.
‘Come in. Come in,’ she said, giving Hannah and me a hug. ‘I’ll show you around. My little cottage is tiny compared with the farmhouse.’
On the ground floor at the front there was a parlour. At the back, there was a kitchen and a pocket-sized garden with an outside toilet at the far end. Butterflies hovered over borders ablaze with colour. The lawn was smooth and bright green. We could smell newly cut grass.
On the first floor, there were two bedrooms. Mrs Hopwood took us into the front bedroom.
‘This will be your room, my dears. I’ve no need for it now that Mr Hopwood has passed away.’
A big brass double bed, a tall mahogany wardrobe and a dressing table crowded the room. A porcelain bowl with a border of roses and a large ewer stood on the dressing table, while a matching chamber pot peeped out from under the bed. The wallpaper was pale pink and decorated with tiny roses. It was all lovely and cosy.
‘We don’t have a bathroom, my dears. I still use my tin bath. We’ll have a big coal fire going in the kitchen, and you’ll be warm as toast. You can leave your things for now. Come on down and we’ll have a bite to eat.’
We had scones still warm from the oven, as much butter as we liked, strawberry jam and strong sweet tea. When we’d eaten all the scones, Mrs Hopwood wiped the crumbs and jam off my face with a damp flannel.
‘There now,’ she said. ‘That’s better, isn’t it?’
She took us over to a large sepia photograph on the wall. There were two rows of children with a man and a woman in the centre.
She pointed to the man with a long white beard.
‘That’s the late Mr Hopwood, God Rest His Soul, with his hand on my shoulder, and there are all the children – had 22 and raised 19. We had to eat in shifts, we did. There was never enough room for us all to sit down at once, save at Christmas, when we all squeezed up.’
I’d never heard of anyone having that many children. The Old Woman who lived in a Shoe, popped into my head.
I smiled at my thoughts. Hannah dug me in the ribs.
‘Don’t be rude. What are you laughing at?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘That hurt.’
I couldn’t imagine Mrs Hopwood whipping her children or not giving them any bread.
When it was bedtime, Hannah and I snuggled up underneath the patchwork eiderdown and were soon fast asleep.
The wail of an air raid siren woke us up. We jumped out of bed, found our gas-masks and pulled them on. We were sure we were about to be bombed or gassed. Maybe the Germans had already landed.
Mrs Hopwood came to check that we were OK. She stood in the doorway trying to catch her breath. She was laughing so much that tears ran down her face.
‘You should see yourselves, my lovelies, looking for all the world like a couple of monsters. It’s only a practice. Do take those nasty things off. I’ll tuck you in and you must go straight back to sleep. You’ll want to be up bright and early in the morning.’
Next day was Sunday September 3rd. Mrs Hopwood had the radio on in the kitchen and we listened to Mr Chamberlain’s speech.
‘I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we hear from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany. ‘
Mrs Hopwood put her arms around us.
‘I never thought there’d be another war in my lifetime. Our war was the war to end all wars. Those Jerries. They’ll never learn, but we’ll beat them again like we did last time.’
The few weeks we spent with Mrs Hopwood were all sunshine. On Fridays, she gave us the money to go to the fish and chip shop on the corner for cod and chips and a bottle of Tizer. I’d never tasted Tizer before. At home, my father sometimes bought me a glass of the red, slightly sour drink, sarsaparilla, in Petticoat Lane market. It tasted like hot, sweet medicine and was supposed to be good for you. Tizer was quite different – fizzy and very sweet. It dyed your tongue bright orange.
Then it was decided that it wasn’t sensible for the CFS girls billeted in Littleport and other villages to catch the bus into Ely every day. Hannah and I were to move to Ely. We would be billeted with Mr and Mrs Stonemartin and I would go to the local junior school.
Next day a slight man with a small mousey moustache drew up.
‘Have you got them ready?’ he asked Mrs Hopwood with a shy smile.
Hannah and I were both crying as we kissed her goodbye and got into Mr Stonemartin’s small black car. A wire-haired terrier sat on the front passenger seat and we squeezed into the back.
‘Must be nice people, if they have a lovely little dog like that,’ Hannah whispered.
Mr Stonemartin turned around.
‘She’s called Jill. Mrs Stonemartin dotes on her.’