The rain hit hard it bounced back to soak my knees, I drew the neck of my jacket tighter, looking at my feet as I rushed for shelter. It was with a hefty bump that a body collided with mine. “Sorry dear did I hurt you?” The lady said. The woman in her late eighties I’d hazard a guess, had taken shelter in the same spot but from the other side of the market cross. Here I was, fit and healthy, a snip of a girl in comparison to this lady, and she was checking if I was okay; this was what was known as … good old British fortitude.
We sat to allow the worst of the rain to stop and Mertyl began to chat as she pulled a transparent polythene rain hat free of her fine white hair. In no time at all, with a little encouragement, we were in full swing chatting and reminiscing.
Mertyl’s memory took her back to nineteen forty one; the story that follows is the one she told.
“The American servicemen had come in , they were given some five pound notes for currency before they left and little else… they were walking all the way down the Portland road in Weymouth, it is a very long road just under twenty miles long”. At this point Mertyl was gesticulating wildly, indicating the way they walked. “There were no toilets and some of the men had just arrived on the sea planes after long journeys. Their pockets full of chocolate and large five pound notes; they were so much better off than our men. The yanks were weary and had still a long walk ahead of them.
An English officer gave directions and told them they could relieve themselves behind the munitions factory if they had to, but they must be discreet or they’d find themselves in jail.”
“Well dear, my husband was the postie, and he came home on his bike to tell the tale. He was ringing his bell and all of a bother, he couldn’t wait to tell me the. He said how they rushed behind the factory desperate to relieve themselves. There were no privies and they feared what the officer said about the English bobby. It was a good fifteen minutes more walk before reaching the camp. Later that day my Percy returned to the factory where he found… My dear it is a little mucky.” She said, while wafting a lace trimmed handkerchief in front of her face.
I assured Mertyl it was okay I had heard mucky before. “Well dear you see they had no paper, the vegetation had been cleared for fear of fire behind the factory, and not even a dock leaf was in sight. Percy heard them say that they wiped their bums with the five pound notes, it was all they had, that was a lot of money you know. Five pounds could feed a family for a month in those days.” I nodded and made encouraging noises so she would continue.
“He tossed and turned all night, but before day break he put on his gardening gloves took some newspaper from the privy, got on the bike and off he went.
When he came home, I couldn’t believe my eyes he had a roll of newspaper as fat as a pillow under his arm. I boiled a pot and he put warm water and sunlight soap in the tin bath.”
I asked if she was worried that the neighbours would see.
“My dear it wasn’t odd to have a bath in the back yard then, especially in the summer, but the stench of the mucky money against the warm suds made him heave. He cleaned all fifteen notes, smoothed them all out and once they were dry … well dear, we weren’t too proud we couldn’t afford to be.”
The rain stopped, she shook my hand and waved, tugged on her hat and disappeared into the day.
I am so pleased that I carry a notebook, and that It was on me that particular Saturday morning, when I met Mertyl .
The names have been changed but the story is as true as her memories allowed. The pictures are mine except the photograph of the lady, gratefully on loan from https://pixabay.com/
“How many of you have been told extraordinary stories when you least expected.
Do you unexpectedly lure in the story tellers, the loonies on the bus, have you ever been shocked at what a stranger told you?” I’d love to hear your thoughts. And in-case you didn’t know it I just love to talk so jump in I will answer soonest.