The Chilbury Ladies' Choir(5)

By: Jennifer Ryan

Once I was at my drab little home, I gave a well-earned cheer, throwing my arms up into the air and laughing with utter delight. This is going to work.

I’ll show you that you can forgive me for what happened with Bill, and for taking the money when we ran off. How was I to know he’d grab the money and vanish as soon as he could?

We can be happy again, you and me, like when we were young. Funny, you never think how lucky you are until it’s all whisked away, first Mum dying, then staying with disgusting Uncle Cyril when Dad was in jail, shut in his attic like slaves. But enough of that. We’ll put the past behind us, Clara.

It’s time to gird our loins. There are two other women in the village who are expecting around the same time as Mrs. Winthrop. Droopy Mrs. Dawkins from the farm is on her fourth, so that should be simple. Less easy would be the goody-two-shoes schoolteacher Hattie Lovell, whose husband is away at sea. Hattie is chummy with that niggling nurse, Mrs. Tilling, who’s done the midwifery course and sees fit to poke her nose into my birthing business. Every time I go round to Hattie’s, she’s there, hanging around like a superior matron, saying she’s going to be midwife at the birth. She doesn’t understand. This village is only big enough for one midwife.

I’ll write again after the meeting with the Brigadier. Who would have known such an upper-class gentleman could stoop so low? I’m going to tap him for the biggest money he’s ever known. I won’t let you down this time, Clara. You’ll get the money I owe you, I swear.


Saturday, 30th March, 1940

They announced on the wireless that keeping a diary in these difficult times is excellent for the stamina, so I’ve decided to write down all my thoughts and dreams in my old school notebook. Nobody is allowed to read it, except perhaps when I’m old or dead, and then it should be published in a book, I think.

Important Things About Me

I am thirteen years old and want to be a singer when I grow up, wearing glorious gowns and singing before adoring audiences in London and Paris, and maybe even New York, too. I think I will handle the fame well and become renowned for being terribly levelheaded.

I live in an antiquated village full of old buildings that always smell of damp and mothballs. There is a green with a duck pond, a shop, a village hall, and a medieval church with an overgrown graveyard. The church is where we used to have choir until the Vicar decided we couldn’t go on without any men. I’ve been pestering him to change his mind, but he’s simply not listening. In the meantime I’ve been trying to set up a choir at the school. I used to go to a boarding school, but they evacuated it to Wales and Mama didn’t want me to go. So now our butler, Proggett, has to drive me five miles to school in Litchfield every day. It’s not a bad place, except no one wants to join my choir.

I have one vile sister, Venetia, who is eighteen, and I used to have a brother until he was bombed in the North Sea. We live in the big house of the village, Chilbury Manor, which is terribly grand but freezing in the winter. It’s not as pristine as Brampton Hall, where Henry Brampton-Boyd lived before he joined the RAF to fight Nazis in his Spitfire. When I am old enough we are to be married, and we’ll have four children, three cats, and a big dog called Mozart. We’ll live a life of luxury, although we’ll have to wait until old Mr. Brampton-Boyd passes away to inherit Brampton Hall, and since he prefers to spend his time in India, who knows when that may be. Venetia jokes that he only stays there to avoid his wife, bossy Mrs. B., and if I were him I’d be tempted to do the same.

About the War

This war has been going on far too long—it’s been well over six months now. Life has been insufferable. Everyone’s busy, there’s no food, no new clothes, no servants, no lights after dark, and no men around. We have to lug gas masks everywhere, and plod into air raid shelters every time the sirens go off (although they haven’t very often so far). Every evening we have to draw thick black curtains across every window to stop the light from alerting Nazi planes to our whereabouts. The crackling of the news broadcasts on the radio is interminable, with people forever shushing and banning me from playing the piano.

Daddy is a Brigadier, though I have no idea why as he never does any fighting, only occasionally going to London on what he calls “war business.” I think he’s trying to get into the War Office meetings, but they keep making excuses to keep him out. He has been especially cross, his horsewhip always at the ready to give one of us a reminder of our place. Venetia and I try to stay away from the house as much as we can. Mama’s petrified of him and also extremely pregnant, so no one’s around to watch us apart from old Nanny Godwin, and she’s far too old and has never been able to stop us from doing anything anyway.