I crawled from under the stairway where I had spent the night, unwilling to sleep once again in the garden bomb-shelter that had been our bedroom since the blitz began.
"Mummy, has the all-clear sounded?" I heard my 3-year-old brother ask as he and my family clambered up the ladder and out of the shelter.
I walked through the garden to the front of the house. The sun was rising in the east but a crimson band, streaked by moving black clouds of smoke, hung low in the western sky.
I stood there thinking of school and how he learned historical dates by chanting: 1066 -- William The Conqueror . . . 1215 -- The Signing of the Magna Carta . . . 1666 -- The great fire that swept London in September 1966 burned four days and left half the city charred and smoldering.people fled. I shivered. This was London, September 1940, and that was that was happening to me. I was going away.
Softly, I started singing the old round: "London's burning, London's burning . . ." Why must I leave? I pushed the question aside. "Fetch the engines, fetch the engines . . ." I mustn't think about it! "Fire, fire! Fire, fire! . . ." My voice was a lonely echo in the still street. "Pour on water, pour on water . . ."
Last night, when Daddy and I sat under the stairs, he explained once again that it was save-the-children time and though I was quite grown up, almost 15, my brothers, Arnold, 10, and Harvey, 3, had to be taken to safety. The only thing to do was send us to America to Auntie and Uncle until we'd won the war.
Earlier, before he joined me under the staircase, I'd heard Grandpa ask him, "How can you send three children across the ocean in wartime?"
"Father," he'd answered hoarsely, "you know what the situation is. Desperate! Hitler will soon invade. Yes, we'll fight in the streets, as Churchill says, but with what?Pitchforks! Clubs! Our fists! We'll spill blood but we won't have to worry about the children. They'll be safe."
"Safe! Lou, they may be torpedoed!"
"Enough, Father, enough!" Daddy whispered. "At least they'll have a chance."
Oh, why, oh, why couldn't I have been the older one? My sister didn't have to go because she was 16 -- over the age limit -- and was needed to help win the war.
Some children I knew had already gone to Australia or New Zealand. Sally Fenton was sent to Kent and when her parents put her on the train with all the other children she threw up. I was afraid I'd cry. I hated crying because once I started I couldn't stop.
Mummy came to the gate and stood next to me. Then she called Daddy and pointed to the west. "Look!"
"Concentrated bombing," he murmured. "No sense to it."
We all went to the kitchen. Mummy had a fire going and the kettle hissed happily on the stove. "Want some eggs or corn flakes?"
"No, thank you, just a cup of tea." Lately I made my tea a bit stronger as proof of my maturity.
"Now, never be without your passports," Daddy cautioned. I nodded. Silently I vowed never to let anyone see that passport photo of me. I looked so old! At least 20! And my curly hair stuck out of control because I'd had a dreadful haircut just before it was taken.
It was time to go. The luggage was tied firmly to the trunk of the car. Numbly, I helped Harvey strap his gasmask holder over his thin shoulders. "You won't need those in America," somebody said. We all stood there Mummy, my sister, Grandma Daddy and the boys, all except Grandpa, who said he wouldn't say goodbye because he wanted to think of us just going away for the day. Suddenly sobs shook my body and we bid one another a tearful and sorrowful farewell.The boys moved closer to me as we followed Daddy to the overloaded vehicle.
Soon we were on our way through the street lined with shell-scarred, burning and collapsed buildings. People were coming out of the Underground where they'd taken shelter for the night; medics and squads of police, air-raid wardens and bomb demolition teams were going efficiently about their business.
"It's going to take longer than I thought to get to the station," Daddy said anxiously, looking for alternate routes to impassable streets. I looked up hopefully. "It's lucky we have lots of time," he added as he weaved the car towards Euston Station.
Through it was still early morning the station was full of people -- mostly soldiers. Then we found a compartment with enough seats and settled in.
"There's the whistle!" Tears filled Daddy's eyes as he hugged us quickly. Then he closed the compartment door and walked rapidly away. The engine gathered its energy.
"Harvey, Arnold," I said, "listen to the engine . . . We're on our way . . . we're on our way . . ."