Today I’m delighted to share chapter two of Christmas with the East End Angels with you. Last time we saw Winnie and Mac in Secrets of the East End Angels, they’d just got married, but now the reality of married life in war-time is hitting them hard.
‘You don’t need to wait until my train goes,’ Mac said as he and Winnie walked into Liverpool Street station, their arms around each other. ‘You should go or you’ll be late for your shift.’
Winnie shook her head. ‘I don’t care. I’m spending every last second I can with you, and if that makes me late for work, then so be it. I can make up the time later, or forgo my breaks.’
Mac grinned. ‘Aren’t Deputy Station Officers supposed to set a good example? Keep to the rules.’
She laughed. ‘Rules should have a little bit of bend in them, don’t you think?’
‘You are quite incorrigible; did you know that?’
‘I know, but you love me all the same.’
‘You know I do, very much.’ Mac stopped walking and kissed her, then pulled her into a tight embrace.
Winnie closed her eyes and leaned her head against his chest, breathing in the scent of him: soap and essence of Mac. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut to dam the tears that were threatening to spill over. She didn’t want to spoil what time they had left together by crying, she could do that in private later. Having Mac arrive home on a surprise forty- eight- hour leave had been absolutely wonderful, but it also had a bitter- sweet edge to it because he had to go away again, and saying goodbye was utterly beastly. It never got any easier, even though they’d done it several times now since he’d joined the bomb squad. Each time it hurt and she was terrified that it could be the last time she ever saw him.
‘Come on, I mustn’t miss my train.’ Mac loosened his arms, took hold of her hand and led her into the throng of people that were crowding the station: Londoners on their way to work, Winnie guessed, and service people in uniform, their heavy kit bags in tow.
So many people on the move to who knows where, she thought, leaving people at home waiting for them, missing them and worrying about them. This horrid war had torn up the lives of so many people, tossing them to different places far from their homes and families, those lives now governed by the services. She wished it was over and done with so that she and Mac could settle down into their married life and not be forced to live it in a few snatched hours of leave, with always the worry that it could be their last hanging over her like some dark cloud.
She’d got it bad, Winnie thought, she really was down in the dumps and now was most definitely not the time for feeling that way. She shouldn’t waste this precious time with Mac, so giving herself a mental shake, she pasted a smile on her face and worked on her chin- up and stiff- upper- lip attitude so that she’d be able to send him off with a smile and not tears.
Standing on platform ten beside the train that would take Mac back to his bomb disposal depot in Colchester, Winnie looked at her husband, trying to drink in every detail of him to last her until the next time she saw him: his beautiful blue eyes which were shot through with amber streaks; his dark blond hair, and the tall, solid, gentleness of him. Seeing him dressed in his khaki army uniform still gave her a jolt – it didn’t seem right after knowing him for so long in the navy- blue boiler suit he’d worn when he worked as an ambulance driver with her at Station 75. She would never be happy that he now worked digging up bombs instead, would never stop worrying about him, but she’d had to accept that it was what he wanted to do.
Winnie reached out and touched the red sleeve flash sewn on to his uniform, her fingers tracing the bomb embroidered in gold thread with royal blue detailing. ‘You will be careful, won’t you?’
Mac put his hands on her shoulders. ‘I always am. We don’t take unnecessary risks, so try not to worry about me.’
‘Impossible, I’m afraid.’
‘You be careful, too.’
‘Life at Station 75 is rather tame these days compared with how it was during the Blitz; we haven’t had a raid since May. If they hadn’t brought in that ridiculous rule, I might have left to do something with a bit more action.’
A new rule had been passed a few weeks before preventing ambulance crews from leaving the service now that the raids had stopped for the time being; there was always the possibility and fear that the bombers would return, and they needed the crews to be on standby if and when that happened.
Mac threw back his head and laughed. ‘My dearest Winnie, if your mother could hear you saying that she’d be delighted, her wish to get you to leave the Ambulance Service would come true. But you can’t and I’m glad, because if you did who knows where you’d be sent to. At least we’re not that far away from each other and I know that your friends at Station 75 look out for you while I’m not here.’
‘Well, it’s out of my hands now, but it’s frustrating sometimes to not have much to do other than keeping the station ticking over.’ She sighed. ‘I know that sounds awfully mad because in the thick of the Blitz we’d have liked nothing better than for the raids to stop.’
‘All aboard,’ a guard shouted.
Winnie’s stomach clenched. This was the bit she hated.
‘I’ve got to go.’ Mac’s eyes met hers and he kissed her, then pulled her into a tight embrace.
‘When will I see you again?’ she said as he released her. ‘Will you be back for Christmas, do you think?’
‘I don’t know. I will if I can.’ Mac put his hand on her cheek. ‘I love you.’
Winnie grabbed hold of his hand and swallowed hard, her throat painful. ‘I love you, too.’
Mac smiled at her and then turned and climbed into a nearby carriage, slamming the door behind him. He pulled the leather strap down to open the window, then leant out and took hold of her outstretched hand. ‘Look after yourself.’
The guard blew his whistle and waved his green flag, and with loud chuffs of smoke that billowed from the engine up into the ornate ironwork roof of the station, the train began to move. Winnie walked with it, still holding on to Mac’s hands, desperately eking out her last moments with him, but as the train picked up speed she had to let go. ‘Goodbye, Mac.’
She could still see his face looking back at her out of the window, watched it as long as she could, imprinting it on to her mind until the next time she could see it. Then the train was gone, leaving nothing but a sooty taint in the air and the background hubbub of station noise. Winnie stood, still looking down the empty track. Wrapping her arms around herself, she closed her eyes and sent up a silent prayer that Mac would keep safe. Then she turned and walked back along the platform, dashing away her tears with the back of her hand as she headed for Station 75 where her shift was now about to start. She was going to be late getting there, but she really didn’t care because being with Mac for as long as possible was far more important to her.
Thank you for reading it and hope you enjoyed it. I’m glad to say that Winnie hasn’t changed she’s still bending the rules!
I’ll be posting Chapter Three on Wednesday when we’ll catch up with Bella, do drop by to see what happens to upset her so much.