Felicity’s War

Felicity’s War-Buy Now

AS GILES TURNED his burgundy-coloured Morris Eight into Wilton Road, Felicity Carmichael leaned forward and gathered up her handbag and umbrella from the footwell.

‘You know, you really don’t have to drop me at the station, Giles,’ she said,

as they trundled along the road. ‘Victoria’s only just over a twenty-minute walk from the flat.’

‘I know, darling,’ said Giles, briefly taking his eyes off the road to smile at her, ‘but with so much rubble in the street I don’t want you to twist your ankle or something along the way.’

He was right. After the Luftwaffe’s six-hour visit the night before, you could barely see the tarmac outside their flat on St George’s Drive for the chunks of brickwork, glass and personal possessions strewn across the road. Although the all-clear had sounded four hours ago, the ARP heavy rescue and Red Cross volunteers were still busy: digging out basements and bandaging heads respectively.

It was just after seven thirty in the morning on the first Tuesday in February 1941 and Felicity, or Fliss as she preferred to be called, was sitting in the front seat of her fiancé’s car.

‘Plus,’ continued Giles, pausing to let a line of school children carrying their satchels and gas masks cross the road, ‘the North London Women’s Co-operative Conference is very important, so I want to make sure my best reporter is there to get a scoop before the Workers’ Life or the Daily Worker.’

Fliss smiled. She didn’t need Giles to remind her that the conference was important.

And it was for that reason Fliss had forgone her usual slacks and box-shoulder jacket and instead picked her navy suit and cream blouse out of the wardrobe that morning. Despite the hard frost covering the rooftops of the Edwardian terraces on either side of the road, she felt a little warm glow in her chest at Giles’s unexpected praise. Suave and eloquent, Giles Cuthbert Naylor was halfway to his thirty-first birthday. With a lean physique, high broad forehead and straight aquiline nose, h was handsome in a rather cool and collected way. However, although he always said his height was five feet eleven, in truth, he was just over five nine and a half. As Fliss was only two inches shorter, out of consideration, since they’d become a couple, she wore low-heeled shoes.

Having been sent down from Oxford after the university’s Communist Society fought a pitched battle with the university’s British Union of Fascists, Giles was a hero of the Socialist League. Much to the disgust of her mother, Fliss had joined the Socialist League herself while at a Luton secretarial college, and she knew of Giles Naylor by repute before she actually met him. After working for two years as a junior reporter at the Bedfordshire Times and Independent, reporting on WI meetings and village fetes – certainly not activities in the vanguard of the socialist revolution – Fliss had answered an advertisement for a reporter on the Workers’ Clarion. Having got the job – and again, much to her mother’s irritation – she had moved to London. She’d only been working at the Clarion for a few months when Giles joined as the senior editor.

As the last school child stepped onto the pavement, Giles let go of the clutch and pressed his foot down on the accelerator. But as the sandstone edifices of Victoria station came into view, Fliss yawned.

‘Tired?’ he asked. Fliss nodded. ‘Well, it was after midnight before the gang left.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘Was it? I can’t say I noticed.’

The gang were a motley bunch of intellectuals and academics Giles had allied himself with, all of whom – like him – were fervently committed to the establishment of a socialist state. Exactly how this was to be achieved was something they had yet to agree on. After thrashing out the finer points of socialist revolutionary doctrine while consuming a dozen bottles of pale ale and several portions of fish and chips from the fish bar on Vauxhall Bridge Road, they had finally said their goodbyes at half past midnight. Unfortunately, as usual, they’d left the empty bottles and screwed-up greasy newspaper behind, and it had taken Fliss another half-hour to clear away the mess before falling into bed beside Giles, who had started snoring as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Pulling up alongside the station, Giles yanked on the brake then turned in his seat to face her.

‘Well, here we are,’ he said, resting his right hand lightly on the steering wheel. ‘Are you all set?’

‘I think so,’ Fliss replied, opening her handbag to check her notepad and pen yet again.

‘I don’t want you to be nervous, Fliss,’ he said, his grey-green eyes looking earnestly at her, ‘but the cream of the Labour Party’s intelligentsia will be on the platform today, including one of Labour’s big hitters Jennie Lee, which I’m sure you girls in the audience will be thrilled about, although I wouldn’t hold your breath for any cake recipes or knitting tips: by all accounts she’s a bit of a bluestocking. Even so, the Party’s Central Committee sent her as the main speaker, so you will really have to get down everything she says.’

Fliss raised an eyebrow. ‘Who came top in the Pitman shorthand class?’ He laughed. ‘I’m sorry. It’s just—’

‘I know,’ Fliss cut in, placing her hand on his tweed sleeve.

‘The Fleet Street press will be there, and you want to make sure a small newspaper like the Clarion doesn’t get squeezed out.’ He laughed. ‘You know me so well.’ ‘I should think so, after four years,’ she replied.

Strictly speaking, Giles wasn’t her fiancé. And not because he didn’t love her. Because he did. Just as much as she loved him. But Giles believed that marriage was an institution imposed on workers as part of the capitalist system, so wouldn’t subscribe to it out of principle. Anyway, what did it matter that she didn’t have a ring on her finger or a piece of paper? She and Giles were as married as any man and woman in the land.

‘So don’t worry, I’ll be sure to get every speech and answer to a question down, word for word,’ Fliss promised. ‘And I’ll do my very best to bag one of the platform speakers for an in-depth interview.’

Giles winked. ‘Just wriggle past a couple of the old fogeys from the National Executive Council and flutter your eyelashes. I’m sure you’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand.’

Annoyance niggled in Fliss’s chest. ‘I would hope, Giles, that they would be willing to talk to me about their vision of a democratic socialist society because I’m a serious journalist.’

‘Of course they will, sweetheart,’ Giles replied, giving her an adoring look. ‘But would it hurt to use your feminine wiles to persuade them?’

Frowning slightly, Fliss didn’t reply. ‘Come on, Fliss, don’t be a sourpuss.’

Giles’s lean face formed itself into a scolded-puppy expression. Fliss studied him for a moment.

‘So, are you going into the office today?’ she asked, forcing her irritation aside and putting on a smile.

He nodded. ‘I’ve got a pile of reports to read from the central committee. Not to mention sorting out the next edition.’

‘Well, the conference doesn’t finish until six,’ said Fliss, ‘so I can’t see me getting back to the flat much before seven thirty at the earliest. I hope you don’t mind a late supper.’

‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Giles, ‘why don’t we eat out? To celebrate your scoop interview.’

‘You’re putting the cart in front of the horse, aren’t you?’ laughed Prue. ‘I haven’t got one yet.’

‘Well, I have every faith that you will, my darling.’ He took her hand, raising it to his lips. ‘Every faith.’

They exchanged fond looks then, turning, Fliss grabbed the passenger-door handle.

‘Oh, before you go, I don’t suppose you’ve got a couple of bob I could have?’ Giles asked as she opened the door.

Fliss looked over her shoulder.

‘Just for a bit of petrol,’ he added, his scolded-puppy face returning. ‘I’m running on fumes.’

Fliss glanced at the fuel dial. Sure enough, its needle was hovering below E.

‘I wouldn’t ask,’ he continued, ‘but with articles and reports piling up on my desk, I won’t have time to get to the bank until this afternoon.’

Letting go of the handle, Fliss unclipped her handbag, took out her purse and opened it.

‘You’re a darling,’ he said, as he lifted the solitary brown ten-shilling note from her purse.

Tucking it in his inside breast pocket, Giles slid his hand along the back of her seat and drew her into an embrace.

‘What would I do without you?’ he said, looking deeply into her eyes, then pressing his lips onto hers.

‘I ought to go,’ she said reluctantly as their kiss ended.

‘Yes, you should,’ he agreed, giving her a smouldering look. ‘Before I forget all about the North London CoOperative Women’s Conference and the mountain of paperwork on my desk and drive straight back to the flat so we can spend the rest of the day in bed.’

Fliss’s heart did a little double step. Then, remembering how she’d spent days persuading Giles that she could carry out such a big assignment, she disengaged herself from his arms. Grasping the handle again, she opened the door, chilling the car’s interior in an instant.

‘I’ll see you this evening,’ she said, swinging her legs out of the car.

Giles blew her a kiss and Fliss slammed the door. She stood on the frost-whitened pavement and watched the Morris Eight pull away from the kerb and join the traffic heading up Buckingham Palace Road. Turning towards the station, where sandbags were stacked to the lead canopy to protect the Southern Railway’s office windows, Fliss joined the crowds of suited office employees and khaki-uniformed army personal crunching through icy puddles as they streamed through the entrance.

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