Katie stood next to Billy with her head nestled on his shoulder, the pain of his departure was almost too much to bare. Her heart ached with each passing minute, she couldn’t bear the thought that this was the last time she would seem him for a while. The thought that he might never return, tore at her heart like someone stabbing it with a blunt knife.
They had only been engaged for a short while, too short for it to be the end, she couldn’t think about it, it couldn’t happen. The weather didn’t match the mood in her heart, it was spring 1940, bluebells had just raised their heads to the sun and the cherry blossom was in full bloom, waiting for the easterly wind to blow it’s heads off. Germany had just invaded Denmark and Norway, bringing with them unease and anxiety. Local lads were being drafted to the war effort, along with them, Billy her betrothed.
They had been going steady for a year, when Billy proposed to her, it was so romantic, he had organised a picnic in the middle of a poppy field. He had layed a tartan blanket out and cobbled together some cheese sandwiches, along with some cream and jam scones that his mother had made, polished off with home made lemonade. The weather had been slightly inclement that day, storm clouds had loomed overhead all morning, but as if by magic they had disappeared by lunch time offering little more than a light drizzle that made way for a seamless blue sky. The ground was slightly damp when Billy went down on one knee but that did not deter him from his mission. It was also no deterrent for the two when it came to consummating the relationship. With the screening of the blood red poppies which matched their passion, the two of them sealed their love for each other.
They had been friends for a number of years, but it had not been romantic until Katie’s friend, Polly decided to do a spot of matchmaking. It ignited a spark that had been laying dormant for years, making them the most loved up couple of the village and a reason for Polly to promote herself as the village matchmaker. If truth be told the spark had actually been ignited about a moth before Polly’ meddling, but it served a purpose to let Polly take the glory.
It was a cause for celebration, tinged with sadness, being “called up”. Billy had received his “Call up” papers and within days he was being drafted out to, God knows where. He had little information to leave with Katie by way of reassurance. As the marching band celebrated down the centre of the street, Billy got ready to fall in line with the other lads. He leant his head down and kissed Katie with the passion of a first kiss, her face moist with the flowing tears. Gazing into her eyes he held her gaze, both unable to look away, in fear of it being the last time they saw each other.
“Billy don’t be a hero, don’t be a fool with your life, Billy don’t be a hero, come back and make me your wife” And as Billy started to go, she said, “Keep your pretty head low”. He smiled the weakest of smiles, blew her a kiss and then was lost in the crowd. A tearful Katie vied for a spot at the front of the crowd to get a last glimpse of the parade and of Billy as he marched down the road, but she was absorbed by the rest of the frantic mothers and lovers that also vied for the front, the throng of pushing and shoving women too much for her. She retreated to the back of the crowd consumed by the feeling of grief and loss to lick her visible wounds in private.
It was June 1940, Katie looked forward to the sporadic letters she received from Billy, she was glad that they came with no pattern because if one were to miss then she would be panicking. It didn’t stop her looking out for the postman every day though, eagerly awaiting the next instalment of his life in Dunkirk. It was not that she wanted to hear about all the troubles of the war but he made his letters sound so interesting, regaling stories of what the other lads were doing. Even though she knew it was not fun, he had a way of making everything seem like a breeze. She missed him so much, her heart ached to feel his touch, to smell the nape of his neck and hold his hand. The news had been reporting of the evacuation from Dunkirk so she prayed he would be home soon. Pathe news had reported that it had been successful. She hoped and prayed he would be back in her arms very soon.
As summer turned to winter, all hopes of Billy returning faded with the summer sky, Katie hadn’t heard from him and it was thought he was missing in action, but she clung on to the hope that one day he would return. With each passing day and the postman offering nothing in the way of hope she continued to scour the news for as much information aabout Dunkirk as she could but with the evacuation over there was little news. She had visions of him lying on a bed in a hospital on some foreign shore, unable to articulate his feelings of love across the sea and so his betrothed carrying on oblivious of his plight. With each passing month her thoughts of hope diminished until a cold winters day delivered the news in the form of a letter. As a frost lay crisp under foot, the messenger boy expelling steam from his panting lips, lowered his gaze to the floor, as he passed the crumpled letter to Katie with the weariness of war weighing heavily on his shoulders. She opened the letter:-
It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that Billy Chapman of 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, died today on a farm in Poland as a prisoner of war. He was a hero and you should be proud, he died that way. He was shot whilst attempting to escape, although he managed to help another 6 men escape.
Captain Mark Frisby
She threw the letter away.