Decamot of the month

29 May 2018-A Whirlwind Romance

Theirs was a whirlwind romance. A chance encounter on the eve of war that led to a relationship hastily conducted before combat separated them. Just like so many others in 1914; and yet so very different too.

It began with a chance encounter. Alfred Caine was returning from a lengthy meeting with the builders' union. After several hours of negotiating, he'd finally persuaded them not to strike. He was relieved, but exhausted and had decided to take a stroll through St James's Park before heading back to his digs near the Elephant and Castle.

He'd been surprised to see so many people on the streets on a cold and rainy late April afternoon. Then he remembered that today was the day of the Women's March. He'd read about it in the Illustrated London News. It was the Suffragists' latest attempt to force Westminster to grant them a vote.

As he turned onto Birdcage Walk, the crowds were lined up long the road several deep. He could hear chanting in the distance. He stopped and could just about make out the banners that the women on the march were holding. They were heading in his direction. He sighed. He'd have to wait for them to pass before he could continue his walk.

As the Women's March drew near, Alfred was surprised at how hostile some of the crowd were. One woman in particular caught his eye. She was poorly dressed and had several equally poorly dressed young children with her. She hurled abuse as the Suffragists passed by and even spat at them. As the last of the marchers was passing, Alfred watched as the woman pushed through the crowd and ripped a "Votes for Women" post from a lamppost, screwed it up, and threw it to the ground.

The marchers ignored the woman. All except one. A young, well-to-do woman dressed in her Sunday best clearly took issue with the other woman's actions and stopped to address her. The remaining marchers marched on.

From where he was standing, Alfred couldn't hear what they were saying to each other, but it was clearly a heated exchange. Then he became very alarmed. The woman from the crowd spat right in the face of the young woman. She'd become separated from her fellow marchers and had now been assaulted. He could also see that just round the corner, an angry mob had gathered in a nearby building site. They looked like they were planning to ambush the march and the young woman was going to get caught in the crossfire. He had to do something.

Alfred managed to work his way through the crowd to where the young woman was beginning to get hemmed in. When he was directly behind her, he clamped his hands over her arms and tried to pull her away from the impending danger of the awaiting mob.

"Unhand me you bully," the young woman cried out, struggling to get away.

He whispered urgently into her ear: "Shh, don't make a sound. And get rid of this." He tugged at the "Votes for Women" sash that she was wearing over her coat. He then turned her to face the angry looking mob he'd spotted earlier. "Look," he said. "You've been shanghaied. They've been hidin' in that building site away from the police, waiting to ambush the March."

The Women's March was surrounded by a baying mob. As they watched, several placards were pulled out of the marchers' hands. An expensive woman’s hat was snatched off its wearer and tossed in the air. More followed.

He left go of the woman so that he could put the sash and the balled up poster in his pocket. As he did so, she moved away from him and towards the mob. He grabbed her arm again and dragged her back.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"I've got to defend my sisters."

"Are you mad? You'd be foolish to re-join them now. You wouldn’t last five minutes.”

"But I've got to do something."

"I've got a much better idea. Somewhere you can be of much more use."

He started to frogmarch her in the opposite direction.

"Where are you taking me?"

He half led, half dragged the young woman across the street and through several side alleys that he knew led to the nearest police station.

"There," he said, now sounding desperately out of breath.

They both hurried through the door, the young woman first, then Alfred following. The door slammed shut behind them. He leaned against the wall just inside the door; she hurried up to the front desk where a policeman stood and looked up suddenly, surprised by their arrival.

"I need to report a crime. This is an emergency," Annie shouted.

Hearing the commotion, two additional policemen hurried in from an interior room. Their attention was caught first by a distraught looking, well-dressed woman at the desk, and then by a dishevelled man leaning against the wall wheezing. They both leapt to the same incorrect conclusion. They hurried over to the man.

"So what do we have here then?" asked the first policeman to reach the wheezing man. As one policeman held the man, the other policeman started to empty out his pockets.

"Keys, lots of them. Train ticket. Wallet. Oh and what do we have here?"

The policeman removed the Suffragist sash from one coat pocket and the balled up poster from the other. Annie watched silently, too shocked to say anything.

"Accosting this young lady were you? I'll show you." The policeman raised his truncheon rammed it into the man's stomach. The man bent double, winded, and grabbed hold of his abdomen in agony.

"No don't!" Annie screamed.

"Miss?" said the policeman with truncheon, looking over at Annie.

"Don't hurt him," she gabbled. "He's ..., he's," Annie looked the man in the face for the first time Her voice faltered.

"Do you know this man, Miss?"

"I, er ... . No, but I... I... I...," she stammered. She tried to compose herself. “There’s a riot outside; you’ve got to help them,” she said desperately.

The policemen all turned to look at her, confused expressions on their faces.

“The Women’s March,” she added. “It’s being mobbed. You must help them.”

"What about this man, Miss?" asked the policeman by the desk.

She hurried over to him, crouched down in front of him. She held Alfred's face in her hands.

"I think he may have just saved my life."

After making sure that Alfred was OK, two of the policemen hurried out to tackle the crowd, leaving the young woman to give a statement about the incident at the March to the policeman behind the desk. Alfred watched on from a chair by the wall nursing his stomach and tried to get his breathing and heart rate back under control.

After about 15 minutes, the young woman returned to Alfred's side and they finally had a chance to introduce themselves properly.

"I'm Annie Talbott."

Alfred shook the proffered hand saying: "Alfred Caine."

"Where were you going before you ran into the March?"

"I was heading for St James's Park for a walk round the pond."

"Sounds nice. Let's go there now," Annie replied. She took hold of Alfred's hand and headed for the door.

They chatted as they walked, the conversation flowing as though they had known each other for years. They exchanged details about their lives, each finding the others differences fascinating. Annie came from Surrey where she'd lived in a large house built by her father. Alfred was from Poplar originally, but had recently moved to digs near the Elephant and Castle to be closer to the London County Council offices where he worked. Annie was from a small family: just her parents and two older brothers, Richard who worked with their father and William who was training to be a vicar. Alfred's family was somewhat larger: he was the sixth of nine children who'd survived childhood; three more had died in infancy. Annie had been privately educated and had gone on to St Hilda's College for Women in Oxford. Alfred had left his state school at 14 and had obtained a position as an apprentice draftsman.

"That's terrible," said Annie. "You had to go out to work at 14?"

"I was the lucky one in the family," Alfred replied.

"How so?"

"When my brothers got to 14, they had to follow my father and get jobs down on the docs. My dodgy lungs meant I couldn't do manual labour. So I got an apprenticeship instead. I got to work in a nice warm office, and now I'm a trained architect. So I can't complain."

By now Alfred and Annie were nearing Waterloo Station.

"It's getting late, I really ought to be going."

"Let me escort you home."

"All the way back to Byfleet? Don't be silly."

"A lone woman with that mob still at large? I'd never forgive meself if anything happened to you on your way back. I can get a train back to Waterloo later."

"Well in that case," said Annie. "Let's get going."

She linked her arm through his and led the way.

****

They arrived at Byfleet and Woodham station at a little after 7 o'clock.

"Welcome to the countryside," said Annie.

"It's very, er ..." Alfred started.

"Quiet?" suggested Annie. "It's certainly a far cry from London, isn't it? And from here we're going to have to walk, but it's only a couple of miles, and we've got street lamps all the way now."

"Oh that's fine," replied Alfred. "I'll note down the route as we go so I can find my way back later."

"There's not much to note. Once we get up that post box, we turn right. Passed the Marist Convent then we turn left at the Bleakdown Golf Club at the other end of Madeira Road. Then right when we get we get to the school house. We then just keep going on the Woking Road until we get to Central House. Simple."

They arrived at Central House just over 20 minutes later. By then is was getting dark. As they walked up the long driveway, the large oak front door swung open and a large figure appeared in the door way.

"Ah, you're here at last," a deep voice boomed out. "I thought I heard your footsteps on the gravel. You're just in time. Your mother will be serving up shortly. William's already here."

"Er Daddy, this is Alfie, he's just escorted me home."

Alfie took a step forward so that he was now standing in the light from the doorway.

"Oh, I thought it was Richard standing there with you. How do you do?"

The two men shook hands.

"Well, I'd better be going," said Alfred turning to Annie.

"Nonsense," boomed Annie's father.

"Is that Annie and Richard I can hear?" said a female voice from inside the house.

"No it's Annie with a friend who's brought her safely back from London."

"Well bring them through and get them a drink. And do shut the door, it's cold out there."

"I really should be going," Alfred protested.

But before he could object further, Annie took hold of his arm and led him inside. Her father closed the door behind them.

As Alfie walked into the dining room, a male voice called out: "Ah, Richard my boy. Late as ever ..."

The man stopped mid sentence. "Not Richard, I see. But so very nearly. Good Lord, that's remarkable."

Alfie turned to see sitting at the table a man in his late 20s. He was wearing a dark jacket, black shirt, and around his neck, a white clerical collar.

"This is my brother William," said Annie as she hurried in behind Alfred. "And this is Alfie: He saved me from an angry mob, and then insisted on bringing me home."

"Well that deserves a drink," said William. "Do sit yourself down."

"So how did you meet my baby sister?"

"Well I was on the way back from a union meeting, heading towards the park, and I saw that the Women's March had run into a little bit of trouble. I could see that Annie had got separated from the others and helped her to move away."

"I told you to avoid that bloody March," said Annie's father joining them in the dining room.

"Daddy, I'm a grown woman, I can make my own decisions now."

"But where would you be without your guardian angel," teased William.

"So you're a union man, then are you?" asked Annie's father.

"No not at all. My boss asked me to negotiate with them because I come from the same neighbourhood as them. I work in the Chief Architect's office normally. Design and Planning."

"And were you successful? Did you stop the strike?"

"Yes I did."

"Good man!" boomed Annie's father.

Alfred was spared further interrogation by the sound of the front door opening and closing and a voice calling out: "Sorry I'm late. Got held up on The Hill. "I hope you've started without me."

His voice got louder as he approached the dining room.

"I see you have. And you've even found a replacement for me, in my seat too!"

Alfred leapt to his feet and span round quickly to find a man of roughly his own age and height standing behind him.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't realise."

"This is Alfie," said Annie. "And this is my other brother, Richard."

"He saved our Annie's life while she was out gallavanting with those Pankhurst sisters."

"Let me shake you by the hand then old man," said Richard. "Any friend of Annie's is a friend of mine."

The two men stood for a few moments with their hands and eyes locked on each other. Alfred seemed suddenly tongue-tied.

"By God!" said William looking at his brother and Alfred. "It's uncanny isn't it?"

"What is dear?" asked their mother as she entered the dining room with a tray of food.

"Their resemblance. They could almost be brothers. He looks more like Richard than I do."

Before he could object, Annie's mother had invited Alfred to stay for a meal. Alfred and Richard hit it off immediately. As the evening wore on, Alfred was chatting more to Richard than he was to Annie. Several hours later Alfred suddenly noticed the time.

"I really must be going. I need to be at the County Hall office first thing."

"It's too late to go now," said Annie. "The last train to Waterloo's already gone."

"You'll just have to stay here tonight and catch the first train back to London in the morning."

"I really couldn't impose like that."

"Of course you can," said Mrs Talbott. "You can use the spare bed in Richard's room in the attic. You don't mind do you son?"

"Not at all," said Richard. "My pleasure."

****

Next morning, Richard drove Alfred to Byfleet and Woodham Station in his father's new Standard 10. Annie sat in the back with her hair blowing in the wind.

"You really must come back and see us again," said Richard as Alfred got out.

"Oo yes," said Annie. "And as soon as you like." Annie stood up, leaned out of the car, and kissed Alfred gently on the cheek. She then clambered into the passenger seat next to her brother and they headed back to Central House.

And Alfred did return, the next weekend in fact; and the one after that. He quickly became a regular visitor at the Talbott's dining table. The three of them, Annie, Alfred and Richard became inseparable. As the weeks passed, the three started to spend part of their weekends together in London, visiting the parks and the theatres. On one occasion, at Annie's insistence, they even visited the public swimming pool off Carnaby Street. They shared a final carefree summer together before the dark clouds of the brewing war started to cast their shadows: Two young lovers and a chaperon. But, and this bit's important Barry, the chaperon wasn't Richard, it was Annie.

Annie spotted the mutual attraction between Alfred and Richard long before they did themselves. Or at least long before they were prepared to admit it to themselves, let alone to each other.

When the three of them were together, any one would have assumed that Annie and Alfred were an item. They linked arms, held hands, and teased each other playfully. But Annie saw the looks that passed between Alfred and her brother. One might affectionately pat the other on the knee, or hold a hand on a shoulder longer than was entirely necessary. They laughed easily at each other's jokes and listened intently to each other's stories.

Annie never felt left out. She was never ignored or disregarded. They always treated her with absolute courtesy. But there was something in the adoring looks that Alfred gave Richard in unguarded moments that Annie never saw when he looked at her. And she occasionally saw the same look in her brother's eyes when he looked at Alfred.

****

August 1914 saw the beginning of the end of their whirlwind romance when Britain finally declared war on the German Empire.

They continued to meet up and spend time in London together, but some of their lightness had gone. When they went to see a film one Sunday in September, the accompanying item from Pathé News was particularly alarming. It was entitled: Plucky HMS Chatham hunts down the mighty SMS Konigsberg. It told of how the HMS Chatham sought to avenge the sinking of HMS Pegasus in Zanzibar harbour and included the stark facts: 31 lives lost and 55 wounded. The voiceover concluded that: "This truly is turning into a World War."

The piece finished with an image of Lord Kitchener, the Prime Minister's Secretary of State for War, pointing out at the audience and a caption that read: "Your Country Needs You!"

Sitting at a table in a nearby tea shop after the film, the conversation was less carefree than before. Richard in particular remained uncharacteristically quiet.

"Are you OK Dickie?" asked Annie concerned.

Richard was staring down at the floor and seemed not to have heard the question.

"Richard?"

Without looking up, he said: "I'm going to enlist."

"What?" said Annie alarmed.

Richard lifted his head to look intently at both Alfred and Annie.

"I've got to do my duty for King and Country." He leaned across the table and took hold of both of Annie's hands: "You understand that, don't you?"

****

Alfred decided that he had to enlist as well. The first step was to have a military medical examination. Several days later Alfred was sitting in front of the military doctor in just his undershorts. The doctor pressed the end of his stethoscope against Alfred's chest.

"Breathe in for me," said the doctor.

Alfred did so.

"And out again, please. Thank you. Now turn round for me, and lean forward."

The doctor placed the stethoscope in various places on Alfred's back and tapped with his fingers.

"You can put your clothes back on now."

Alfred quickly dressed and sat back down in front of the doctor.

"You know what I'm going to say, don't you?" asked the doctor.

"No sir," said Alfred.

"How long have you had chronic asthma?"

"Asthma?"

"Yes. Don't try to deny it."

"For as long as I can remember."

"I thought so. And at times it's quite severe?"

"Not often, but ... yes."

"And I bet you've not had much of an outdoor life?"

"No sir."

"I'm going to have to fail you. I can't recommend you for miliary service."

"But I've got to go," said Alfred.

"I admire your spirit son, but I can't allow it. You'd be a liability and a possible danger to your company."

"But ..."

"I'll write you out a medical exemption certificate. Keep it with you so that you can present it if challenged."

****

Richard's final weekend at Central House was a sombre affair. When Alfred arrived, Mr and Mrs Talbott, Annie and Richard were all in the kitchen. Richard was wearing his officer cadet’s uniform. Mrs Talbott was finding it hard to keep her tears at bay.

"It's William," explained Mr Talbott. "We've just heard that he's been sent to join a regiment in Turkey to act as their chaplain. They're currently camped at a delta in the Dardanelles."

"On the beeches of the Gallipoli peninsula to be precise," said Annie. "Sounds almost like a holiday destination."

"This is no joking matter, Annie."

"Sorry."

After eating, Alfred, Annie and Richard retired to Richard's room in the attic to help him prepare for his departure.

"I've got a surprise for you both," said Annie. "Alfred, take this and put it on in the bathroom." She handed a large bag to Alfred.

"What's this?" asked Alfred.

"No quesitions just yet," said Annie. "Just put it on. Quickly."

When Alfred left the room, Annie started to move some of the furniture around. With Richard's help, she moved the beds to one side. She then moved his large free-standing, full-length mirror between the two windows. She then reached behind the wardrobe and brought out an empty picture frame that appeared to be the same size as the mirror and laid it on the bed.

"We'll need that later," she said. "Now I've just got to fetch something from my room."

She returned a few moments later with a small makeup bag a large, professional looking sewing box, and a mahogany tripod with a huge Korona camera mounted on it. They were then joined by Alfred who was now wearing what appeared to be an exact copy of Richard's uniform.

"Excellent. Perfect fit, as I knew it would be. I made it specially.

"What is this pantomime, Annie?" asked Richard. "What's with all the furniture moving? And why's Alfie in uniform?"

"I'm going to take a special picture for you. You'll notice that Alfie's shirt and trousers button up on the wrong side, and that the rank insignia is on Alfie's left sleeve, instead of his right. And now if I move the supporting strap attached to Alfie’s Sam Browne belt to his left shoulder, and Richard, if you could put yours on properly."

Annie stepped back to admire her handiwork.

"Now I'll be able to take a picture that looks as though you're looking at your reflection, but you'll actually be looking at Alfie."

"I'm sure that's very clever," she Richard. "But why?"

"Must I have to spell it out for you?"

"Yes, I'm rather afraid you must."

"What I'm trying to say, brother dear, in a somewhat roundabout way I'll admit, is: so that you can take a picture of your sweetheart into battle with you without anyone being any the wiser if they find it."

"What are you ..." Richard started to say, but Annie stopped him by placing a finger on his lips.

"Shh..." she said soothingly. "Look it's OK, I've know all along. It was you Alfie fell for at first sight, not me. And it was so obvious that you felt the same way when you first met Alfie. I couldn't be happier. We had a wonderful summer and we all get on famously. Now I've got an extra brother. And if two brothers are going to abandon me for the war, at least I've got one left at home with me."

"I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything Dickie. Just stand in front of mirror as if you’re admiring yourself!"

Richard did so.

"You’re a natural!" said Annie.

Richard threw a rolled up sock at his sister. She ducked to avoid it.

"Now angle your right shoulder away from the mirror. Remember, we need to see you both in the shot, not just Alfie and your back.

Richard moved to face towards the camera a little more.

"Now Alfie, gently angle the bottom of the mirror. We need to get Dickie’s feet into the reflection, otherwise the illusion will never work. A little more. A little more. Now stop. That’ll do. Now Alfie, you come round here and look through the lens while I measure where you should stand."

Annie and Alfie switched places.

"You’ve got to see how to stand to be Richard’s reflection," instructed Annie. "You’ll need to have your left shoulder slightly square. Richard’s got his left hand on his belt with his thumb in his pocket, so that’ll be your right hand. And you’ll need your heels slightly closer together than your toes – Richard always was a little flat-footed."

Annie picked up a tape measure from the open sewing box and bent down in front of her brother. She measured the distance from each of his feet to the mirror, and then measured behind the mirror. Satisfied, she took off her own shoes and placed them on the floor behind the mirror.

"Alfie, my shoes are your marks. After we’ve moved the mirror, you’ll need to come round here and place your feet exactly where my shoes are."

"I think my reflection wearing women’s shoes might be a bit of a giveaway, don’t you?" mocked Richard.

Annie tossed the rolled up sock at her brother. Her brother ducked to avoid it.

"Oh very funny, he'll be wearing boots in just a moment. Now Dickie, no more moving. And Alfie, help me move the mirror."

Alfred hurried over to the mirror. Between them, they carefully lifted it off its stand and placed it on the bed. They then took the empty picture frame and hung it on the mirror’s stand. Now Alfred walked behind the stand. Annie helped him to get his feet into the right place, then took her shoes away and threw them onto the bed. She then walked back to the camera and tripod.

"Now Dickie, remember: statues," Annie instructed. "Right now Alfie, you need to move your left foot back a bit. Other hand on your belt... that’s it. We’re almost there."

Annie stood up. She walked over to her brother, held his head in her hands and studied his face closely. She then picked up an eyeliner pencil from the bed and walked over to Alfred. She held his head in her hands. She delicately painted several small freckles on Alfred’s cheek. She then leaned back to examine her work, then reached over and smoothed down his hair a little.

"Perfect," she said at last. She walked back to the camera and tripod, sat down and looked through the lens.

There was a flash. The picture was taken.

*****

Later that week, Richard left by train for Dover. Alfred took the day off work so that he and Annie could see him off. They bought First Class tickets and were the only people in their carriage. Richard was dressed in his officer’s uniform. Alfred and Annie were wearing their Sunday best. They looked as though they could be on their way to church.

"Is that all you're taking with you?" asked Annie, looking at her brother's kit-bag.

"That's all we're allowed. No trunks, No suitcases. Just a kit-bag."

They were silent for a while.

"Aren’t you at all scared?" asked Annie.

"Of course I am," replied Richard. "I’d be crazy not to be."

"How can you be so calm?"

"That’s just a facade. Classic British stiff upper lip, but inside, I’m all butterflies."

"I’d give anything to be going with you," said Alfred. "You know that, don’t you? I’d even go as your batman if they’d let me."

"What’s a batman?" asked Annie.

"It’s like a servant for officers."

"Well I’m glad you’re not going Alfie – at least I’ll still have one of my favourite boys at home."

"And you’ll have me back before you know it. Some think it will all be over by Christmas."

"Really?" asked Annie.

"Yes really. We’ve got the best cavalry in the world. One charge from our men, and the Boche will be running for the hills."

"If it’s going to be so easy, why do the Germans want to fight us anyway?"

"Don’t look at me," said Alfred. I've got no idea what it’s all about. You’d have to ask the politicians."

"Let’s talk about nicer things. I know, I’ve got some presents for you both."

Annie reached into her satchel and brought out the photograph that they'd composed in the attic. She put it on the table for Richard and Alfred to see.

"It came out well didn’t it?"

"That’s amazing," said Alfred. "You’ve done a great job there."

Richard picked up the picture and peered at it closely.

"Stunning. Simply stunning."

"So you won’t mind taking it with you?" asked Annie.

"Not at all. No one would ever guess. If I didn’t know, I don’t think I’d guess. It’s just a soldier contemplating his reflection for the last time before going off to war. That is some picture."

Richard put the photograph back on the table.

"And now I've got something for you both."

Annie reached into her satchel for a second time, and this time brought out two harmonicas.

"I got you both one of these."

"A full box of matches would have been more useful," objected Richard. "What do you expect us to do with these?"

"Well play them, of course. Chose a time to play them, and each day it will be like you’re doing something together, you’ll feel a bond."

"I like the idea," said Richard. "But I don’t play the harmonica."

"Neither do I," admitted Alfred.

"There’s nothing to it, just move it from side to side to go up and down through a simple scale. These two are in the key of e-flat, that’s a slightly melancholy feel, but you can still play something more upbeat with them if you want to. Let me show you."

Annie took her brother’s harmonica and played Half a Pound of Twopenny Rice. She then handed the harmonica back. Richard tried to copy his sister.

"That’s not too clever, Richard," said Alfred.

Alfred tried the tune on his own harmonica. He played with gusto, but it sounded nothing like the tune that Annie played. It was even worse than Richard’s attempt.

Annie laughed.

"You’ve got it the wrong way round silly."

Annie took the harmonica out of Alfred’s hands, turned it round and handed it back.

"And you thought what I played sounded stupid!" said Richard.

Alfred tried a second time. It was a lot better.

"OK," said Richard. "So we’ve got the harmonicas. But I can hardly play children’s nursery rhymes in the battlefield."

All three were silent for a few moments.

"How about this." Annie played several bars of The Last Post.

"What’s that?" asked Richard. "I’m sure I recognise it."

"You should: it’s the bugle call that the army play last thing at night. I think it’s called The Last Post. As you can see, it’s quite easy to play."

"Easy for you perhaps, but not for us duffers, eh Richard?"

"Oh I don’t know," said Richard. "I think I could give that a try."

Richard took back his harmonica and tried to copy the tune that his sister had played. His first two attempts were unrecognisable. The third attempt was a definite improvement.

"A little more practise, and I think I could get there."

"So it’s settled then," said Annie. "Each night while Dickie’s away, you can both end each day playing The Last Post. You at home with me ..." she touching Alfred on the knee. "And you," she continued turning to her brother. "While defending some windmill in Flanders."

Richard picked up the photograph from the table and put it in the inside pocket of his uniform jacket. He then placed the harmonica to his lips again. But his playing was drowned out by the sound of the train’s whistle.

"Looks like we’ve arrived," said Annie.

Richard stood up and retrieved his kit bag from the overhead shelf and swung it onto his shoulder. When the train came to a stop, he opened the door and Annie stood up. Richard stood to one side to let her alight first. Alfred remained seated. Annie leaned her head back into the carriage.

"Come along Alfie."

"I think that would probably look a little odd. You go, see off your big brother. I’ll wait here and save the carriage for our return journey."

"Alfie’s right. Family and girlfriends only at the final departure I think. Do you promise to take care of my little sister while I'm gone?"

"Of course I do."

Just as Richard was about to leave the carriage, Alfred stood up and grasped Richard’s hand below the level of the window. He squeezed it tightly for a second.

"Good luck old man," he said softly.

Annie and Richard both got out of the train. Annie closed the door behind her. Alfred sat back down on the bench in the now empty carriage. He leaned back and looked out of the window on the other side of the carriage away from the departing serviceman. A tear trickled down his cheek.

To be continued ... in For King and Country