From the life of Joy Berry
By Sandra Wilson
Barking had been the area that Maisie had dreamt about living in for years. Posh, idyllic, with tree lined houses. She had married Peter and those dreams had come true. She had often spent her time thinking about it as she sat on the blue armchair in the tidy living room listening to the radio. She used to keep baby Joy occupied with the pink teething ring as she listened intently. Maisie liked to keep abreast of the news, especially as there was talk of war. In the background Joy used to gurgle as she held the soother in her chubby little hands, the thick clear dribble slowly falling onto her white bib.
“Don’t dribble on Mummy’s lovely outfit now, sweetie,” she used to tell her, smiling. On the day that Maisie was thinking of she had been wearing a blue buttoned down blouse with shoulder pads and a black A line skirt. Her long black hair had been parted, rolled and pinned on either side.
Peter had arrived home from work. He had removed his black fedora and black trench coat and hung them on the coat hook in the hallway. He had kissed Maisie on the lips and picked up Joy and kissed her on her soft little cheeks.
“You look beautiful,” he had said.
“That’s why you married me,” Maisie had laughed.
“How are my lovely girls today?”
“We are well. How was your day, what did you do?”
His countenance had changed. “You know I can’t discuss work with anyone.”
“Ooh! Sorry Captain Austin.”
They both had laughed.
Maisie had busied herself preparing the dinner table and setting out plates. They had eaten and chatted, then Maisie had cleared away while Peter put Joy in her crib. They both had sat huddled together on the sofa listening to BBC radio.
That day just seemed so far in the past now, those idyllic days were gone and Maisie was missing Peter terribly. Five months into the war and so much had changed. Today she sat in her mother Marie’s front room sipping several cups of tea and eating freshly baked biscuits.
“Everyone’s saying we won’t be able to stay here. London got bombed and gassed last night,” said Marie.
“Gassed? That’s terrible.”
“So many people are homeless and lost their loved ones.”
“Supposing Peter doesn’t come back? I don’t know what I will do,” said Maisie.
“Try not to think about it, just pray.”
“There’s a meeting tonight in the library. I think we should go.”
Maisie and Marie chattered as they made their way to the library with Joy asleep in the pram. They recognised some of their neighbours as they settled in their seats.
“As you know,” said the Mayor “We have been at war with Germany for several months. This has had a dramatic effect on all our lives. If it continues…”
Suddenly the warning sirens blared and everyone headed outside. A doodle bug appeared, the crowd looked up and watched it fly over their heads. They listened intently waiting for it to run out of fuel, and it landed with a loud explosion. More bomber planes arrived and fired at buildings; everyone ran to the nearest air raid shelters.
When the sirens rang out again Maisie and Marie knew it was safe, so they slowly came out of the shelters and made their way to their homes. The devastation met them first as they made the slow hesitant walk, coughing, the smoke trying to enter their lungs. They could see bodies of friends and neighbours who had sat in the meeting with them. They cried as they walked, worried about what they would find. Marie arrived at her house first. It was now a pile of rubble. She looked at the smoke rising fresh from her home. They walked to Maisie’s house and it too had been devastated in the raid. The two women held each other and sobbed, Joy looking up at them from her pram in confusion. They tried to salvage what they could but decided it was too dark.
They headed back to the Town Hall where they were greeted with cups of tea and bedding. They spent the night there, sleeping in the vast hall floor on mattresses. They both barely slept, fearful and worried about what the future would hold.
Both women were up and ready to leave by 5am. On their way, they met their friend Angie. Her hair was tousled and she was dressed in a long white nightie. She was pushing a bed down the street with her belongings on it, mumbling to herself.
“Angie, you alright?” Marie asked.
“‘Ow do you expect me to be alright, me kids are dead, an me ‘usbands at war.”
Marie approached her and tried to hug her.
“Leave me alone!” She shoved Marie and continued to push the large double bed even faster.
“That’s what you get for trying to help,” Marie said.
“She didn’t mean it Mum, she looks like she’s lost the plot.”
They arrived at the pile of smoking rubble that used to be Maisie and Peter’s house. Maisie picked up the remnants of her wedding album and a silver teapot which had been a wedding present from her mother and father, along with other bits and pieces. They walked to Marie’s house and there was nothing to salvage.
“At least we are still alive,” Marie reassured her.
They went to the Council housing department and waited three hours. Joy was miserable, tired and hungry. They were finally called to the counter. The young blonde woman handed them paperwork for their new temporary residence.
“Barking Park? There are no houses in the park.” Marie said loudly.
“Mrs Austin…” said the woman, looking over her spectacles.
“You’re having a laugh?” Marie responded before the woman could continue her sentence.
Maisie took the paperwork and tried to get her mother away from the counter.
“Did you say a hut?” asked Marie.
“Yes, Mrs Austin.”
“It will be ok, mum,” said Maisie, getting her away from the counter.
“No, I’m not living in a hut.”
Maisie hugged her mother and led her out of the building.
“Everything will be okay, mum. The main thing is we are together.”
They exchanged some of their coupons for clothing and household goods and made their way to their new home. There were a large number of huts which had been erected in the park. They were quite spacious with corrugated iron roofs.
“This is only temporary mum, we are going to get through this. We can both save so when the war is over we will be able to buy a new home.”
Despite the rocky beginning, they developed an even closer knit community living in Barking Park: every family supported the other. The children loved the park because they had the freedom to run around until late once there were no bombs being dropped. It was like having a huge garden filled with flowers of every colour.
Joy started school at the age of four years old. The war had continued. One day she came home and asked;
“Mum what’s a gypsy?”
“Why do you ask darling?”
“Some of the children down the road say we are gypsies. They were not very nice.”
“Just ignore them, they don’t know what they are talking about.”
Maisie remembered when she went to put Joy’s name down for her first school, the best one in the area.
“Don’t worry, darling, daddy will be home soon and things will be different.” She kissed Joy on her forehead. “Now you run along outside and play with your friends.”
Maisie walked to the post office every day to pick up the mail. She checked every day for letters from Peter, she didn’t hear from him in months, then years.
She returned from one of these regular trips to the post office one day deeply saddened. As she entered the hut she found Peter sitting at the dinner table drinking tea with her mother. Joy standing a distance away as Peter tried to coax her to him.
“Mummy, mummy, daddy’s home,” shouted Joy, running past her father towards Maisie.
Maisie hugged her husband, releasing a sigh of relief.
Joy hid behind her mother, holding onto the hem of her flowery skirt, excited but afraid of this man who was her father.
From this day on, Peter would work very hard to rebuild his relationship with his wife and daughter, but very rarely speak about the war.
“Daddy, what did you do in the war?” Joy would asked on several occasions.
“A great deal,” he would reply.
“Yes, but what?”
“I can’t say.”