The train shuddered to a halt at Bodmin Road Station on a gasp of steam. There was no indication on this wooded, country platform that this was the correct destination, all signs having being painted out because of the war. Passengers scrambled to their feet and began to lift down bags from the overhead luggage racks.
‘Is this it? Have we arrived already?’ Lou felt an unexpected stinging at the backs of her eyes, and a small sob escaped as she squeezed closer to Gordon’s side in the overcrowded carriage. He grasped her hand, held on to it tightly and Lou was pleased to see that even her husband’s normally cheeky grin was a bit lop sided.
She’d meant to be so brave, so matter-
It all started when Lou and her friend Sybil had decided to spend a week in the West Country on a much needed holiday. They’d found cheap digs in Brixham and were having the time of their lives, paddling in the sea, sitting on beaches, exploring quaint harbours and pretending there wasn’t a war on at all. Then up had strolled a couple of sailors and that was that. Within seconds her whole life had changed. Sybil had given Gordon the glad eye of course, as she usually did with a good looking man, but it was clear from the start it was Lou he fancied. He’d proposed to her that very first day.
The following morning, having smuggled him in through her landlady’s back pantry window and up to their room where he’d slept like a lamb on the floor, after a few satisfying clinches of course, Lou had sent a telegram to her mam, telling her not to expect her home. At the end of the week poor Sybil had returned alone to the factory in Rochdale, where they both wove silk for parachutes, in something of a huff, while Lou set about making other plans for her life.
The landlady of their digs had been sporting enough to stand for her at the short wedding ceremony, choosing to wear a pink flowered hat and leopard skin coat for the occasion and taking it quite in her stride that these two young people who had only just met, should rush into lifelong matrimony. ‘Happens every day dear,’ she told them. ‘What with the war, and all those poor lonely sailor boys. I’d wed one meself, given half a chance.’
‘She’d be better off adopting one,’ Gordon had remarked with one of his wry grins.
Since then they’d only managed to spend two entire nights together, though Gordon had somehow managed to wangle enough free passes for it to seem more. He’d even got quite nifty at sneaking off the base without a pass at all, and there’d been no further need to smuggle him into her digs, now they were legally married. He could walk in quite openly. Lou felt as if the last two weeks had been one long honeymoon.
She lifted her hand, twisting it about so she could admire the shining gold band on the third finger of her left hand. The name still sounded strange, oh, but didn’t she just love being Mrs Lou Mason instead of boring Louise Brown. What would Mam say if she could see her now?
Someone jabbed an elbow into her shoulder and she came out of her day dream with a jerk. Doors were being flung open; weary passengers stretched aching limbs, rubbed grit from their sleepy eyes as they clambered stiffly down from the carriages. The honeymoon was over and real life was about to begin.
‘This is it, love. Keep your chin up. Think of it as an adventure, and I won’t be far away.’
It had been the day after the wedding that she’d seen the poster asking for women to join the Timber Corps, a section of the Women’s Land Army, offering work on estates in Cornwall. It seemed the perfect solution for it meant she could stay near to Gordon. Lou had signed up without a second’s thought.
Plymouth now seemed like a million miles away, and, air raid attacks being what they were on that city, little consolation. Besides, as Gordon pointed out, he could get his sailing orders at any moment and be right in the thick of it. She kept her mind deliberately vague and unfocused on this point because it made her go all sick inside at the thought. Lou wished suddenly that she was back home with her Mam and three sisters, though they spent the whole time worrying and waiting for news of their various husbands and boy friends as well as Ronnie, their brother, who was in the army somewhere in Singapore. But here, without Gordon, she’d be all alone.
Lou tried to smile but it turned a bit wobbly. Even her legs felt like jelly as she stepped down onto the platform. Gordon handed down her kitbag then pulled the carriage door closed with the leather strap and leaned out through the open window.
He looked so handsome standing there in his sailor uniform, the neatly pressed collar flapping gently in the breeze, his round, tanned face, beaming at her with a stoic brightness and his love for her shining out of his dark brown eyes.
‘It’s all the wrong way round, isn’t it? I should be seeing you off.’
‘We’re seeing each other off, each to do our bit. Equal partners, eh love?’
‘I love you,’ she said.
His face went oddly still and serious, then, reaching down, he grasped her by the arms and half lifted her off her feet so he could kiss her. That was the wonderful thing about Gordon. He never seemed to notice that she was five foot seven and what might be politely termed, voluptuous. He called her a pleasing armful and handled her as if she were light as a feather. He kissed her deep and long, as though they hadn’t kissed anywhere near enough these last weeks, and left her as breathless and limp as a fourteen year old schoolgirl, rather than a practical young woman of twenty-
When he put her down again, Lou’s cheeks were all flushed and her hat had fallen off and was rolling between the feet of a group of soldiers and airmen who were milling around, some, like Gordon, holding adoring sweethearts close. Others hoisted laughing children into their arms before marching off for an eagerly awaited leave, grinning from ear to ear. She felt a shaft of envy for their good fortune. If only she could turn back the clock. How could she even get through one day without seeing him?
‘The kind of character-
Three young women craving adventure join the Women’s Timber Corps – All for different reasons. . .
Lou sees it as a way to stay near her lovely new husband. Instead it brings heartache and tears, fear and betrayal. But it is she who holds the friends together when the going gets tough. For Rose it means escape from her bullying brother. But her desperate search for love and acceptance leads the fun loving girl to change and be willing to inflict the same cold hearted treatment upon others; even her closest friends. Gracie simply falls in love with the uniform and then commits the greatest sin of all: falling in love with the enemy. This puts at risk her freedom, her patriotism, the respect of her friends and even her life.
After the rigours of forestry training in Cornwall under Matron’s steely gaze, and a spell as acting air-