If you’re reading this somewhere where you have proper weather, be it winter or summer, then let me apologise, because I know I’m spoilt living close to the sea which evens out the temperatures. But we in England have been having a heatwave after the sort of cool summer that I love, so it’s hot, and sticky and none of us have been sleeping well and we’re all grouchy. It’s too hot for me to have the long walks I love, and to concentrate, which annoys me because there’s so much that I want to do.
But I know that it will break on Sunday and by next week I’ll be back in jeans, t-shirt and cardigan and walking down along the side of the Harbour and then on down the Quay to look at the ships and try to project myself into the past while I see what Esther and the Professor would have seen when they parked the WRVS van there back in 1941 when the world looked far bleaker than it does now.
I can look across to Hamworthy and watch the trains go past and remember a trainload of women who went across to work at the cordite factory near Wareham each day. (It’s got something to do with explosives and one of its main ingredients was acid so it wasn’t safe to begin with.) Yet these women prided themselves on their cheerfulness and their hair and makeup so the special train that took them to and fro was fondly known as the Glamour Puffer. And I can imagine times when the Women's Royal Voluntary Service might have been very glad that the Professor was an honorary woman…
It’s so peaceful along there now that it’s something of a shock when you see the gun emplacements at low tide, but I see the results of that long ago bomb damage every time I walk up my road when I look at the houses with the long cracks down their side walls. And I smile to myself because they are still standing all those years later and I remember the Boy Scouts who helped to save what was then our local hospital and is now the site of the maternity hospital where I had my children. And I remember a childhood living in Germany where we did every bit as much damage and am so, so grateful that we aren't facing what people on all sides had to during the Second World War because there were lovely people there too, and the fault lay squarely with the Nazi's, who, as my father firmly said, were not representative of the Germans. He asked us to ask ourselves what we'd do if standing up for what we thought was right would mean the death of our family; and I'm still incredibly glad that I've never had to face that decision.
I remember the Cockleshell heroes who drank in the pubs along the Quay as they prepared for a daring mission. (You can find out more about them here https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news/operation-frankton-story-cockleshell-heroes ) I think of the times when the harbour was so crowded as they prepared for D-day that you could walk from one side of it to the other just by stepping from ship to ship.
And there’s so little trace of it left now, just as there’s so little trace of the British Airways flying boats that were our only link to the world, and so few people know about their amazing pilots and the boat girls who ferried passengers and freight across a harbour that was filled with mines and sometimes under enemy fire.
On Thursday, my last Lavender House for now, Love Always, publishes and so much of it is the story of those times and some truly incredible men and women and it seems very important to me that the stories are remembered. Some of them were told to me by my lovely elderly neighbour who died a few years back, others by people we met in the park when my children were young, and still others are documented in Audrey’s collection of local history books, most of which are out of print now. She left them to me because she wanted the stories to live on and she was a lovely, lovely lady. Down to earth, fierce, and one for actions not words. When I had both children and my husband went back to work, she’d turn up at lunchtime bringing me a plate of food (including the best fish and chips ever) then take over the children so I sat down, ate properly and stopped. She used to be a ward assistant at the hospital and she was convinced that post-natal depression happened because no one looked after the mums and I think she was right.
So Love Always and the new Esther and the Professor are my attempts to weave a good story with a happy ending while making sure these men and women aren’t forgotten because we’ve got so much to learn from them.
Today’s picture is of the PS Waverley which is a paddle steamer that we watched sailing on the tide in another eerie moment. She was built in 1946 and is the last seagoing passenger ship in the world. All that history. All those stories waiting to be told, so what stories do you have to tell? What history lies beneath the surface where you live? Let me know…