It was Saturday, still early when I opened the curtains. I could hear you playing with that wooden train I got you for your birthday, George. I thought we’d feed the hens, then walk down to the paper shop, see if Alf had any sweets under the counter for you, and your mam could have a lie-in.
It was odd; Jack was digging in his garden, a string line around a rectangle about six by twelve feet. I put a jumper over my pyjamas and went out in my slippers, to see. He said he was levelling the base of a greenhouse. He had a wheelbarrow of bricks from the rubble on the south field, and there were lots more already in a heap. I came back in, because my slippers were soaked, but I was puzzled though; I couldn’t see Jack with a greenhouse, and I didn’t know where he would get the money from for the glass anyway. He never had nowt! I made your mam a cup of tea and she said don’t be out too long. She had some bacon for our breakfast; I don’t know where she got it, and I didn’t ask.
He was still labouring when we got back; he never worked that hard for me. The younger lads in the squadron tried to get away with it, because he did; WO Beamish knew he was my brother-in-law and had started to be a bit sharp about it.
After breakfast, we took your mam to Newcastle, to get her Christmas present, then to our Lizzie’s at Felling, because I had a pair of stockings for her. It was dark when we got back. The next day was Christmas Eve, and when I looked down the garden, he had laid all the bricks.
Your Aunt Doris was a bit quiet that Christmas; I put it down to her being young and pregnant. Jack and her were only married a couple of months, and they were never right, from when she said they would need to get married. Well, his mam was never married, and I think if I hadn’t been for the war, and me being his Corporal, Jack would have run off.
Our Ruth was supposed to stay at her friend Sylvie’s house that Friday night after Chapel, but she didn’t. Sylvie’s dad came in drunk, and started on her mam, so Sylvie went to her sister’s. There wasn’t room for Ruth, so she said she’d walk home. Well, she’d walked over the dene hundreds of times, in the dark. By eight o’clock the next night she still hadn’t come home so we got the Police Constable. We went out looking for her: Albert the constable, Sergeant Thompson, me, Jack, and some lads from the street. But it was theblackout, and the torches were weak, shaded with brown paper. We searched again Sunday, calling and calling, but we never found her. Sergeant Thompson searched her bedroom and found nothing. Poor lass, she had nothing!
Doris said Ruth wanted to join the WRAF as soon as she could; we thought she probably had, under a false name and age, and we’d see her in uniform in a few months. Thompson sent a notice to the recruiting stations, but we never heard anything. You were heartbroken; she was more like your big sister than your cousin. I remember saying she’d be back in a few weeks with a present, to stop you crying. Thing is, she was seventeen, and there was a war on; finding her wasn’t top of anybody’s list.
Jack and me went back to the squadron between Christmas and New Year. It was my last leave before VE Day. Doris miscarried a fortnight later, while we were in Belgium; Jack didn’t even ask for compassionate leave. By the time we got home in August the greenhouse was forgotten about. Well, we’d been through half of Europe by that time; who was thinking about greenhouses?
I thought Ruth would be back home when we came back to England with the squadron. I got the first letter for months from your mam; she still hadn’t heard from Ruth. The thing is, so many people went missing in the war that we didn’t have a hope of finding her. Jack was reading the letter over my shoulder, and he said she wouldn’t be coming home.
That night, in the pub, Jack was drunk, and he said things about Ruth: she thought she was something special but she was asking for it and she’d got it all right. I asked what he meant, and he said she’d wanted it, and she hadn’t put up much of a fight. By this time, I was thinking that he’d forced himself on her and she’d run away. I got hold of him and dragged him out into an alleyway, and I hit him. I kept asking and hitting him. I messed him up; his mouth was so swollen he could hardly speak, but he told me. He laughed, George, and he spat a tooth and a big gobbet of spit and blood on my boot. He said he’d had Ruthie that night, there was an accident, and she fell and hit her head. I knew, then. I asked was she under the greenhouse base. He said that’s where he’d put her, and he wasn’t going to swing for a little tramp like her. I hit him again, and again. He couldn’t see out of one eye, and he was still laughing. I told him I was going for the MPs, and he said I shouldn’t unless I wanted everybody to know about me.
I felt sick. I looked at him, and what I’d done. I knew he was talking about, that lad that died in that fight in Brussels, and I was no better than him. I wouldn’t be able to bring Ruth back, even if he did hang for it, and I knew I would lose your mam and you, if he talked. I couldn’t even hit him again. I wanted to put my hands round his throat, and squeeze, and squeeze. I couldn’t. I just stood there, sore from hitting him, blood on my fists, on my shirt, on my boots, and I just stood there, George, sobbing.