Letters From the Past - Erica James

Chapter One

Meadow Lodge, Melstead St Mary

October 1962


Out in the garden Evelyn Devereux could hear ringing from inside the house. With an energetic step, she dashed up the lawn, assuming it was one of the children calling to say which train they would be on. But by the time she lunged for the telephone on the hall table, she was too late.

Oh well, if it was Pip or Em, they would probably try again. Meanwhile, she would make a drink for everybody; they had certainly earned it. Noticing there had been a second delivery of post, she picked up the letter from the doormat and went through to the kitchen.

She filled the kettle and put it on the gas stove. From the kitchen window she watched her husband, Kit, carrying some chairs across the lawn towards the marquee which was still in the process of being erected. Alongside him was her brother, Edmund; he too was carrying chairs. They were both laughing about something and clearly enjoying themselves. Particularly Kit. And nobody deserved to be happy more than he did. Not after everything he had suffered.

Back in 1939 and desperate to do his bit for King and country, and with the RAF unable to train pilots fast enough at the start of the war, Kit had taken matters into his own hands by going to Canada to learn to fly. Evelyn knew that his desire to go had been fuelled partly by his need to impress her. Oh, how she wished he hadn’t been so impetuous!

Returning home the following year, he’d been on board the Arcadia and while crossing the Atlantic the ship had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. When news of the sinking had reached them in the village, they had all believed Kit was dead. They had even held a memorial service for him. But miraculously he’d survived. Appallingly burned from when the Arcadia had been hit, he’d been in the most awful pain when he’d finally made it home to Melstead St Mary, mental as well as physical pain. To this day he couldn’t fully remember what had happened to him, only what he’d been told, that a passing American merchant ship had rescued him. He was transported to a hospital where he was treated not just for his injuries, but for amnesia. It was weeks before his memory returned, and partially at that.

It had taken him a long time to recover and he’d bravely endured countless excruciating operations to repair his scarred flesh, vowing after each visit to the hospital that he’d never go through it again. But somehow he’d found the strength to do so, and gradually he’d regained some of his old self which had been buried beneath the layers of pain and horror of what he’d gone through.

Evelyn liked to think she’d played her part in his recovery, but really it was his stepmother, Romily, who helped the most by encouraging Kit to join her in the Air Transport Auxiliary. He refused on the grounds that he wasn’t fit enough, but Romily wouldn’t accept no for an answer and kept on at him. ‘Good God, Kit,’ she exclaimed, ‘we have pilots with missing limbs and Lord knows what else, poor devils! Of course you’re fit enough!’

In the end, as he still liked to joke, he waved a white flag of surrender and agreed to give it a try. Never did Evelyn consider that it had been easy for Kit to fly again, but being useful gave a much-needed boost to his self-esteem.

There had been an assumption, once Kit was safely home in Suffolk, that he and Evelyn would marry, but they didn’t. Instead, Evelyn went to do her bit for the war effort, which meant she was no longer living in the village. But the real reason Kit wouldn’t propose to her was because he flatly refused to believe that anybody, least of all Evelyn, would want to marry a gruesome wreck like him. He just couldn’t believe that any woman could love him when he was so badly disfigured.

But in October 1942 they married and the following June Evelyn gave birth to twins, Philip and Emily. It didn’t seem possible that those babies were now nineteen and enjoying (maybe a little too much!) student life at Cambridge University. What a joy they had been for both her and Kit. He adored them, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his Pip and Em. He was so very proud of them. And of