3 – Gladys Grime’s cousin dies
As winter turned to spring, Gladys noticed the streets of Liverpool had a different bustle. The previous unrest, due to the Suffragettes and the many strikes for fairer wages, had disappeared. The commotion was now business like. People were hurrying to work, many working long hours to support the war effort, in the harbour, or in factories producing military supplies.
Food supplies became an issue. Some unscrupulous retailers immediately put up their prices. Sugar doubled in price. Bacon, cheese, butter, cereals and tinned goods all saw a steep increase. Worried residents started panic-buying and stockpiling food, either hoping to beat the increases or to avoid shortages.
In Grime’s Tobacconist Shop, several customers insinuated that Gladys should stop art classes, “art school is a waste of time. You should support your country and join other women in the factories.” She felt the pressure to help in the war effort but Father and Mother supported her in her choice to continue at art school.
Father said, “There are enough helping out in the factories and when this is all over, people will appreciate art again.”
Mother added, “We need the arts to take our minds off the horrors of war, and off the monotonous work in the factories.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. I’d like to think my art will have a positive effect.”
“Aunty Lucy was in the shop today. She said Herbert is now in the King’s. They’ve crossed over to France,” Mother mentioned.
“Let’s hope they won’t send him straight to the front,” Gladys said.
In May, the British ocean liner ‘Lusitania’ was returning to Liverpool from New York when a German U-boot attacked it. The ship sunk, taking 1200 souls with it. It devastated the people of Liverpool as many members of the crew were from local families. Others had worked to build the flagship liner. Its loss triggered anti-German riots, the ransacking of German shops all over the city. Some of those at the forefront of the riot were women, including those who burned items taken from Kaufman’s furniture store in Ellenborough Street.
The stress of war had its effects on the Grime family. They heard of friends who lost men or had them return disabled. Father was under pressure at the post office as there were fewer men to do the increasing amount of work. Mother had difficulty purchasing tobacco for her shop because of great demand in the forces and erratic imports. Gladys found it difficult to concentrate on her artwork with so much worry and uncertainty. The strain on all three gave rise to irritations. Gladys frequently left her art material lying around the house. Being a neat and tidy man, Father complained about the mess. That annoyed Gladys who was airy-fairy, connected to her feelings and enjoyed being in the flow. She didn’t want to tidy up knowing she’d return to her work later. They had words, but in the end, Mother calmed them down and helped Gladys clear up her artwork and materials.
The war was a common subject of conversation at tea-time. Mother sold newspapers and spoke to customers, so she was always in the know of what was going on. Father read the papers before tea. Gladys didn’t read about the war and skipped the papers, knowing she’d learn all she needed to know from her parents.
One evening, Mother mentioned her father had been a soldier. Gladys never knew her grandfather and was curious to know more about him.
“I didn’t know Grandfather had been in the army. Which war was he in?” she asked.
“He didn’t enlist for a war like the young men are these days,” Mother explained. “You know he was brought up in Edinburgh, don’t you?”
“Yes, I remember you telling me he was from Scotland when I asked you where your maiden name Jardine came from,” Gladys answered.
“I was only five when he died, so I can only recall what I heard from my mother. She said they sent him to Ireland to help with the unrest there, and then he was a guard at the Tower of London,” she said while searching her memory. “Later the army sent him to South Africa and Ceylon serving under the Duke of Wellington.”
“I still don’t understand why he joined the army if there wasn’t a war,” Gladys said.
“My father was very young when he started work as a labourer, perhaps only eight,” Mother continued. “He never went to a proper school and didn’t learn to read and write. He wasn’t as lucky as we are. When he was a young man he’d had enough of hard work and low pay, and heard about how good life was in the army. He was a real army man, disciplined and loyal.”
“Last week our Linen Weaving teacher spoke about tartans. By they way, I’ve passed my Linen Weaving exam, at last.”
“Well done. I remember you found patterns difficult,” her mother said.
“Yes, fortunately we didn’t have to weave a tartan. Did the Jardine clan have one?”
“My mother used to have a kilt of the Jardine tartan. It wasn’t the usual red, green and blue, but black and white,” Mother replied.
“That sounds unusual. Where did the name come from?”
Father answered, “From the French word ‘jardin’. The story is that the Du Jardin family came across with William the Conqueror. They built a castle in Dumfries. I’m trying to think of its name,” he pondered while looking down at the floor.
“Wasn’t it Spedlins Tower?” Mother suggested.
“That’s right. It had a dungeon where people were locked up by the laird if they’d done something wrong. The story goes that one day the miller was thrown into the dungeons. The laird forgot about him, and no one gave him food and drink. The laird later found him dead. From then on, the miller’s ghost haunted the place. The eerie noises were so bad that the Jardines left the tower and for a mansion on the other side of the river, Jardine Hall.”
“What a story! It’s intriguing to think our ancestors lived in a castle,” Gladys said with a dreamy look in her eyes.
Mother asked about Gladys’s art lessons, “You’ve missed several evening classes recently. Are you having any difficulty?”
“The school has run out of coke for heating and there is no more supply because of the war. The classrooms are icy. They’ve stopped the Nude Life classes because it was too cold for the models. Besides, I don’t like travelling to school in the blackout, the streets are so dark.”
“I don’t blame you,” Mother said.
“Next school year I intend to stop evening classes and do day classes four days a week. I hope they give me a studentship again,” Gladys announced.
The war meant there were no longer holiday trips in Summer. Gladys spent her time sketching and helping her mother, who started the day early by baking fresh bread before breakfast. After attending to the shop, she handed it over to Gladys for a while so she could tend the garden or visit friends.
Gladys was in the shop on a day at the end of August, when her Aunty Lucy came into the shop in a flurry.
“What’s the matter, Aunty?” Gladys asked.
“We’ve lost Herbert,” Aunty Lucy wailed. “The telegram came this morning. He was only 17. It’s a tragedy.”
“How terrible. Come through to the back, Aunty. I’ll call my mother,” Gladys said, and then shouted: “Mother, Aunty Lucy is here.”
“We didn’t know he was enlisting. We couldn’t stop him. What could I have done?” Aunty Lucy said with her eyes full of tears. “He was our only son.”
Mother came downstairs and signalled to Gladys to attend to the shop. “I’m so sorry, Lucy,” Mother said as she hugged her sister-in-law.
“He was killed in action in France, the telegram said. I had feared this would happen, but had hoped for the best. How can they send such young boys to the front so soon? It’s shocking,” Lucy said.
“They will say he died for God, King and Country. You can be proud of him for wanting to defend his country but that’s poor consolation for your grief,” Mother said, holding Lucy’s hands.
“How am I going to tell the girls?” Lucy sobbed.
“Why not leave it to their father to tell them? As a mother you can console them and grieve together,” Mother suggested.
“The worst thing is they’ll bury him over there,” Lucy cried. “We won’t even have the chance to put his soul to rest. Only yesterday we had a letter from him. With it was this poem.” She pulled a piece of army paper from her bag and passed it to Mother who read it out loud.
“Mother can you hear me
I’m lying here all alone
In this foreign country
So many miles from home.
I can see your gentle face
Tears shining in your eyes
When you left me at the station
And we said our last goodbyes.
My life is flashing here before me
I know my end is near
And running down my cheek
I can taste a salty tear.
I can see our little house
On our little road
And all my friends I played with
Unlike them, I won’t grow old.
I can see all of our neighbours
Standing with their cups of tea
I looked out for those neighbours
And they looked out for me.
And I can see sweet Maggie
She lives two doors away
My dream it was to fall in love
And marry her some day.
And I can see my Father
A gentle man was he
When he came home from the docks
He would rock me on his knee.
Forgive me Mum for leaving you
I know I’ve broke your heart
But I’m fighting for my country
I had to do my part.
Just remember Mother
What you taught me way back then
When our time on earth is over
We shall meet up once again.
So Mother I’ll be waiting
At Heaven’s open door
And when the good Lord calls you
We shall never part no more.
Mum I have to go now
I’m in a lot of pain
I’m waiting on my Saviour
Calling out my name.
I hope they take my body home
To that grand place of my Birth
Then I can rest forever
In my good old Liverpool Earth.”
Mother couldn’t control her tears any longer, stammering “My God, it’s a farewell letter. He knew he was near the end. He must have gone through an agonising time, and no one there to console him. How awful.” They hugged and weeped together, standing there in the kitchen.
“His beautiful poem is something to cherish. He was thinking of you all and is convinced you’ll meet again in Heaven,” Mother managed to say. She noticed at the bottom the words ‘written by Tommie Grimes’ and thought, Was Herbert no longer able to write? Did he or Tommie make the poem? Curious that Tommie was a Grimes.
Herbert’s death was an enormous shock to Gladys. He was the first in their family to die in the war. She thought about how harrowing it must have been for Herbert, knowing he would never see family and friends again, never able to fulfil his life with his artistic talent.
At school, the war could no longer be avoided. By November the number of students had dropped to 330, a quarter less than a year earlier. The Head of the Still Life Department had enlisted, and his job was split between the Principal and two other teachers. Three students had lost their lives in action, and, in their memory, the Principal proposed to affix a tablet to the wall in the school entrance hall.
In the run up to Christmas, the students held their annual Social Evening, which was a grateful distraction from the horrors in the world for Gladys and her friends. Not everything remained easily available. Ten days before Christmas, the local newspaper reported “Dearer Christmas Birds: The French and Normandy turkeys will be off the festive English board, and so will the Italian and Russian birds. We shall rely chiefly upon Ireland, whose turkeys will be in a position to wipe the field clean.”
Again the seasonal festivities were dampened by the thoughts of those not returning. Each day saw another vacant workplace or a familiar face missing. On Christmas Day, the Grime family went to the Jardines for the traditional dinner. Gladys’s Aunty Lucy explained, “We won’t be having Christmas crackers this year. The banging reminds me of guns and what Herbert must have heard before leaving this world.” Uncle Alfred said a prayer in remembrance of Herbert,
“Ever-living God, we remember those whom you have gathered from the storm of war into the peace of your presence. In particular, we remember our son Herbert and feel assured his soul is at peace with you. May that same peace calm our fears, bring justice to all peoples and establish harmony among the nations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Mother helped Aunty Lucy serve the dinner. It was rabbit because turkey was too expensive.