2 – Miss Grime ignores the war


The third of August was a sunny Bank Holiday. Mother kept the shop closed so that all three could go to the beach. With thousands of others, they crossed the Mersey to the broad sandy beach at New Brighton. It was the best day of the summer and everyone had a jolly good time. Fortunately, they had no notion of what was to follow.

The next day, Britain declared war on Germany. It upset Gladys; she didn’t believe it would happen. She feared her dreams of becoming an artist would be dashed. Father consoled her by saying, “It will all be over by Christmas. Our troops will help the French push the Hun back into their own country in no time. Don’t worry, we’ll be safe. The war won’t affect us here.”

“But what about my art teachers? Won’t they have to go to fight?” Gladys asked.

“Maybe a one or two will volunteer, but it won’t affect the school,” Father replied.

To avoid thinking about the war, Gladys immersed herself in her art lessons and homework. Newsham Park was across the road from the shop on Rocky Lane. On dry days she packed her drawing materials and walked into the park looking for suitable spots to practise perspective and landscape studies. She carefully chose the composition — something in the fore-ground and an interesting view with perspectives. The light was an important factor, creating a sense of depth with shadows and varying intensity.

Christina often joined her, and they spent time sketching and chatting. One topic was their exam results. They had both passed for Perspectives and Industrial Design, but Gladys failed Linen Weaving. 

“I find it really difficult to weave patterns. You have to concentrate hard not to make a mistake with the colours. I made a couple of minor mistakes, but by the time I’d noticed, it was too late to go back and re-do it,” Gladys explained.

“Yes, I know. That’s why I didn’t choose to weave,” Christina said. “I’ve had good news I want to tell you about.”

“Well, come on, tell me,” Gladys said, full of curiosity.

“You remember, I applied for that job at Ormskirk Grammar School?” Christina said and Gladys nodded. “Well, they’ve now appointed me as art teacher.”

“Congratulations, well done,” Gladys expressed while giving Christina a quick hug. “Will you be giving up your art classes?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll still be around; the job is just two days a week,” Christina said.

“The best of luck in Ormskirk. I’m sure you’ll enjoy teaching children, they are so keen to learn,” Gladys said while picking up a paper. “Have you read the latest students’ magazine?”

“No, I never really bother to read it. Why are you asking?” Christina enquired.

“Look here. There’s a funny article about the Men’s Common Room, obviously written by a man. He writes, ‘One lunch time we were short of cups and ventured into the Women’s Common Room to borrow some, and were appalled at the sight which greeted us’.”

“What! Appalled by what?” Christina exclaimed.

“Listen. ‘Row upon row of orderly girls were seated at orderly tables. The room itself was a perfect picture of orderliness. Everywhere beauty, cleanliness, orderliness rebuked us. Terrible, desolating, soul tormenting orderliness!’”, Gladys quoted.

“They’ve been taking the mickey out of us,” Christina declared. “I’d like to see the state of their Common Room.”

“There’s more,” Gladys said before reading further. “‘We fled back to our own room and hysterically commented upon the contrast. At a large shiny table devoid of cloth or ornament were seated half a dozen of the men students. No sign of plate or saucer, and glorious disorder reigned. Two of them were drinking out of jam jars and one other from a sugar basin. At the fire, one man was toasting a large slab of bread on a long wobbly wire, and another was manipulating a savoury kipper suspended upon two pokers. Having finished our kipper, toast and tea with relish, we placed our feet upon that large shiny table, pulled deliciously at our pipes sending up contented puffs of smoke — smoke that persistently wreathed itself into one word — FREEDOM!’”

Christina pulled up her nose. “It’s absolutely disgusting. I’ve heard they even have boxing matches in there. Typical. Their idea of freedom is with no form of etiquette.”

“They think that’s freedom but I’m sure any man in there attempting to place a cloth on the table would feel far from free when his companions snatch it away and raise their fists,” Gladys concluded, glancing a smile to Christina who laughed.

Both at art school and home little changed, although a war was raging on the Continent. It seemed a long way off from Gladys’s life in Liverpool, especially as none of her family or close friends were involved. 

At tea-time one evening in late September, Mother said, “I spoke to Aunty Lucy today. She said Herbert has enlisted for the army.”

“Your brother has never spoken about Herbert wanting to join the army before. Was Lucy upset?”, Father enquired.

“She was very upset. She sent Alfred to the barracks to get it cancelled,” Mother replied. “He asked at the recruiting office, but they said documents had been signed and approved, so they refused him. The sergeant said Herbert had given his age of 18 years and 2 months, two years more than his proper age. He lied, but they never asked for any proof and gladly took him on. Alfred is livid. He fears for Herbert’s life as he’s not trained.”

“I get on well with Herbert,” Gladys remarked. “I hope he’ll look after himself. He enjoys drawing, so we’ve got something in common. I hate this war and fear the death of young men we know.”

“I’m sure he’ll be alright. He’ll be in training for several months and by then the war will be over, so there’s no need to worry,” Father reassured.

“Now we’re talking about your family, Mother, tell me more about Aunty Elizabeth. How did she go blind?” Gladys asked.

“She was born blind, dear. Our father wanted her to have the best education possible because her blindness touched him. He knew she could not read and write, just like himself. He heard about the Royal School for the Blind on Hardman Street, so they moved from Scotland to Liverpool before I was born. That’s where she learned to become a music teacher. She couldn’t live in the blind school forever, so Uncle Alfred took our sister in.”

Come December, Gladys and Christina started making Christmas cards of their own design. Gladys’s design pictured a happy family seated around the Christmas Dinner, toasting to a ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. She wanted to convey the message that families and their young men would be re-united.

She thought ahead to the Christmas festivities. “We’re going to the pantomime after Christmas. Would you like to come with us?”

“Yes, of course, that would be very agreeable. What are you going to see?” Christina asked.

 “Red Riding Hood in the Shakespeare Theatre. I’ll ask my father to get an extra ticket,” Gladys replied.

At tea-time just before Christmas, Father quoted an article in the Liverpool Daily Post [add footnote], “‘Liverpool folk are having it brought home to them that their gallant King’s Regiment, in which some of their bravest and best sons are serving, is doing more than its share to uphold Right Against Might on the bloody fields of Flanders.’ Isn’t that the regiment Herbert joined?”

“I don’t think so. He joined the Territorials. But perhaps they’ve merged into the King’s, I’m not sure. Lucy said he’ll be home for Christmas because he hasn’t gone to the front yet,” Mother replied.

“A friend of mine from art school, Jack Handley, is also in the Territorials. Perhaps they’ve trained together,” Gladys commented.

“There are lots of Liverpool lads in the Territorials, so it’s unlikely they’ve met,” Father said. “It doesn’t sound like the war will finish soon. The article here says they’re recruiting another 1000 men for the King’s.”

The festivities for Christmas and New Year’s Eve passed, and it was clear the war was not over, despite truces in the trenches. 

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