Nils Nisse Visser 

Scribbler on a quest to retell old Sussex Folklore (and some Dutch Sealore) within the genres of historical or contemporary fantasy (including Steampunk). Hopes to become a pirate if/when he grows up.

 


SEE OUR COLLEC

WILL'S WAR IN BRIGHTON  

ONLINE LOCKDOWN SERIAL

Chapters Seven to Twelve

7. THE LONE REDCOAT


Brenda and Eddie came home from school and found Mum fast asleep on the sofa, still wearing her nurse’s uniform. She worked at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Brenda whispered to Eddie that he had to be very quiet, drew the curtains shut and unfolded a blanket which she spread over Mum. Then she ushered Eddie out into the hallway and out of the front door. 


She had a ha’penny and there were some shops which sold ha’penny sweet bags. An expedition to a sweet shop would entertain Eddie for a while as Dad was working a late shift. If she met him by the gate of the workshops he’d understand and pick up some chips on the way home; fish if they were lucky but these days you had to be early if your mind was set on a battered cod or haddock. Then they would go home and Dad would wake Mum and Brenda would set the table and divide the spoils from the chippie.


“Is Mum ill?” Eddie stretched his neck to look back at the drawn curtains of the front window.


“No, Moppet, don’t worry,” Brenda answered.


“Whatsmatter?” Eddie frowned.


Brenda screwed up her face in thought. She always disliked it when adults sought to conceal the truth with vague assurances or reverted to ‘when you’re older’. In the latter case she always asked how old she would be and she kept a secret list, neatly organised by the promised ages. A few years more and she could start producing the list on her birthdays and demand the delayed explanations.


She knew what the matter was but had no idea how to convey that to a five-year-old whose interpretation of things she told him often left her puzzled. Mum’s shifts could be hard and recently they had been especially so. Her brother George was in the BEF in France and it had been weeks since they had heard anything from him. The newspapers spoke of triumph and bravery; courage under fire. The ward Mum worked in had been sent two dozen wounded men from the evacuation and they spoke of chaos and disorganization; it had been every man for himself, some had said, amidst that hell of exploding shells and shrieking dive bombers. It was hard work as it was but the wounded soldiers’ tales had fed Mum’s imagination with regard to the fate of Uncle George who was still missing.


Mum hadn’t told Brenda this. She had gleaned it from conversations between her parents in the evenings after Eddie had been ushered into bed. Brenda understood enough of it to be extra nice to Mum when she came home from work in a state of exhaustion. She decided that she would explain it to Eddie when he was older.


“Nothing’s the matter, Eddie,” she smiled brightly. “Mum’s just tired, Moppet. Shall we go to the sweet shop?”


“Sweets!” Eddie nodded, easily distracted by the thought of multi-coloured sweetness in big jars.


§ § § § § § §


The Redcoat looked left and right, clutching his gun. The palaces looked peaceful; their stately decorated domes, towers and minarets looked elegant even in the light of a dull overcast sky. The Redcoat was wary though, he knew that the Tipu Sultan wasn’t called the Tiger of Mysore for no reason. There could be any number of traps laid out in the gardens surrounded by the pavilions of the Sultan’s exotic pleasure palaces.


The British soldier dashed from behind the cover of a tree to make towards nearby bushes but just then two turbaned Mysore guards charged him wildly; waving their weapons in the air and howling like wild men.


“Bang!” The Redcoat fired his pistol at one of the guards who took a tumble and started rolling around clutching his belly in pain.


“Bang!” The other guard screamed his pain as he clutched his injured shoulder, while at the same time still coming forwards to deal with the Redcoat.


“Bang! Bang!” The wounded guard fell backwards; eyes bulging and throat rattling as he thudded against the ground where his body shook convulsively before it became still.


The Redcoat blew imaginary smoke from the barrel of his pistol and then laughed when the two Mysore guards rose from the dead and assaulted him anew; only to be punctured by the bullets which the Redcoat never seemed to run out of.


Brenda sighed. She sat on a bench with her back to the Brighton Dome and facing the Royal Pavilion which the boys were using as a backdrop for their game of Tipu Sultan. Will and Jamie wore tea towels around their head as turbans and Brenda’s red coat had been appropriated for Eddie to wear. There didn’t seem to be much point to the game other than that Eddie repeatedly killed Will and Jamie who made a great show of dying with noisy drama before getting up to do it all over again.


Eddie was utterly delighted with the game, though, and it kept his mind off Mum at home. It also helped pass the time till they could meet Dad at the end of his shift so Brenda decided to bear the cold she felt without her coat. 


She hadn’t really been happy when her coat had been acquisitioned for the battle but it had seemed a good compromise because the initial intention had been to tie her to a Mughal column as a captured Indian Princess in need of rescue. Brenda had told them ‘no’ using some of the language Will and Jamie liked to use and they had been very impressed. She just hoped Eddie wouldn’t repeat it in front of Mum or else she’d be in a world of trouble. 


In the meantime, she had to admit that the theatrical performances of Will and Jamie were secretly amusing. She didn’t know whether or not it was alright to think so when she thought of her missing uncle George in France. 


The war was confusing sometimes; the papers were full of it, but looking around the Royal Pavilion gardens with the cries of seagulls and soft rumble of traffic in her ears the war seemed far away. 


8. RAZOR THIN SLICES OF MARS


Will and Jamie had gone to the top of Richmond Street, close to the highest point of Albion Hill. Richmond Street had the steepest gradient of the whole town and there was a vital experiment to be conducted. The lads both laid their tubular gas mask containers on the road surface and on the count of three they gave it a push. The containers started rolling down the hill, slow at first but then gathering speed and Will and Jamie soon had to run to keep up with them, shouting loud encouragement at their respective containers and occasionally interceding when the containers started to veer off course.


The aim was to see how far down Richmond Street the containers would roll and, of course, to see which one would go the furthest. Will and Jamie had both bet a penny so the winner was assured a handsome profit. 


The game was very rudely stopped by a grumpy Air Raid Precaution Warden who used his feet to bring both containers to a halt first and then seized the boys by the ear lobe, one lad’s ear in each hand. He pulled them up so far that Will and Jamie had to stand on their toes to keep contact with the ground. They squirmed at first till they realised the Warden wasn’t going to let go and they were just increasing their own discomfort. They settled into the indignity of being held up by the ear like a small child. The Warden gave them a stern sermon about safety on the streets and risking the breakage of valuable property which might one day save their lives.


When he was done he snorted and let go of their ears. Rubbing the painful appendages the boys picked up their containers and slunk off sheepishly, much to the amusement of bystanders who had stopped to watch the scene. However, Will and Jamie hadn’t meant to sabotage the war effort as suggested by the Warden, they had simply been genuinely interested in the results of their experiment.


“We’d better take out the gas masks next time,” Will summed up what he had learned from the experience.


“We could put in some marbles,” Jamie brightened. “That would make a fine noise!”


“What do we do with the pennies?” Will asked, it was inconceivable that they could put them away till the experiment could be resumed another day. Pennies were meant to be spent, particularly now that the town’s supply of sweets seemed to be increasingly diminishing. Will loved the sweet shops and newsagents where large glass jars that held four-and-a-half pounds of sweets formed long rows upon shelf after shelf; filled with every colour of the rainbow and augmented by other displays of chocolate treats.


Sherbet, liquorice, boy blue cream whirls, jelly beans gobstoppers, acid drops, mint humbugs, aniseed balls, black jack chews, fruit gums, pear drops, bull’s eyes, brandy balls, glacier mints, chocolate drops, Callard & Bowser butterscotch, Sharps toffees dolly mixture, honeycomb, fudge, toffees, and many more.


Will knew them all and he and Jamie updated their knowledge of sweet stocks, prices and quality in their immediate surrounding of Albion Hill, Carlton Hill and Queen’s Park but also Kemptown at the bottom of the hills by the eastern seafront, the Lanes in the centre of town and the Hove to the west.


To their alarm they had noticed that there was not a glass jar left that was filled to the brim as it ought to be. Levels were descending steadily and the rarer a sweet became the more children seemed intent on acquiring a sample for a goodbye taste. There were a lot of sweet goodbyes these days.


“Penny’s worth of sweets each and then share them?” Jamie suggested and Will grinned. Jamie and he tended to have the same mind on the things that really mattered.


The visit to the nearest sweet shop supplied them with aniseed balls and black jack chews. Jamie had some extra coins as usual and went into a newsagent close to his home, coming out with a Mars bar.


Will’s eyes grew wide.


“I’ve been trying to find those everywhere, thought they’d run out completely!”


“Under the counter,” Jamie winked. “My Dad is repairing some furniture for them.”


They took their bounty to Jamie’s house, one of the terraced houses along the steep incline of Sussex Street. 


Unlike Will, Jamie had his own room and decent things in it too. Stacks of Beano and other comics for one but also some neat toys. Jamie’s dad had made him wooden models of a Supermarine Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane. They were big, needed a whole hand to hold them and Jamie and his dad had very carefully painted the models in some detail. Will’s favourite was the Spitfire and he held the model to fly over his head every now and then while he read Beano magazines. His favourite character was Frosty McNab, especially since the latest editions had become suitably warlike and involved Frosty McNab taking on the Wehrmacht. Most of the Beano characters were very good at outsmarting Nazi thugs.


While Will was reading Jamie had fetched his dad’s razor blade and was slicing the Mars bar into very thin wafers. 


Will looked at him questioningly.


“I heard someone at school talk about it,” Jamie said happily. “Make a Mars last a whole week like this.”


Will nodded admiringly and accepted one of the wafer thin slices with relish. He let the chocolate melt on his tongue and relished the caramel. Jamie had finished his slice much faster and decided that his hoard wouldn’t be too diminished if they had one more slice each. Another exception was made after that and it was hardly worth keeping the rest so they ate those too. 


Then serious attention was paid to the sweets. These were vastly entertaining. The aniseed balls made their tongues go bright red and the black jack chews, which also tasted of aniseed, turned their tongues black. Will and Jamie had hoped they could continue to switch colours but soon the colours merged into dark brown goo on their tongues. Some on their lips too and a bit on chin and cheek to boot and that caused new mirth.


“The Spitfire is the best plane,” Will declared, flying the model in a tight circle around his head once again. He loved the distinctive shape of the Spitfire; there was something sleek and elegant about it. The Messerschmitt 109 looked like a lethal brute, sure enough, but somehow the Spitfire managed to convey a form of cunning which the Jerry planes missed. It had the best engine too as far as Will was concerned.


“It’ll beat the Messerschmitt Bf110, sure,” Jamie conceded. “But the Bf109 is better higher up and there’s less chance of the engine cutting out in sharp turns.”


There followed a complicated debate about the merits of the various planes which lasted until Jamie’s father stuck his head around the corner.


“Good afternoon gents,” he said jovially.


“Good afternoon Mr. Hall.” Will said politely. He was very fond of Jamie’s dad; the man was forever planning outings and never seemed to even consider omitting Will from his father-son activities with Jamie. Jamie’s mum called them ‘The Terrible Trio’.


“How did you enter my kingdom?” Jamie challenged his dad.


“In a rocket-ship of my own design,” Mr. Hall answered grinning. He spotted his razor. “If I catch you playing with my razor again, Jamie, I’ll give you a clout around the ears.”


Jamie stuck out his discoloured tongue.


“Very handsome,” his dad conceded. “Don’t let your mother see and wash your faces, you’re not little boys anymore. Listen gents, I have a proposal in mind.”


Will grinned happily, whenever Mr. Hall used those words fun was bound to follow. He fondly recalled an outing Mr. Hall had arranged to the Bertram Mills Circus the previous summer. It had left him with two lasting impressions. The first of a football match played by elephants and the second of a group of female performers in show outfits which had left him feeling oddly funny.


More often than not though, Mr. Hall’s proposals involved going to the pictures. Mr. Hall was a great fan of the pictures and since the year had started he had already treated Jamie and Will to viewings of Pinocchio, The Lion has Wings, Stagecoach, Band Wagon, dozens of matinee episodes of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and no less than two visits to Max Miller’s Hoots Mon!


Max Miller was a Brightonian and loudly proud of that and Will and the two Halls considered him to be the best comedian in Britain, though Mrs. Hall thought Miller was a bit too risqué for the lads. Truth be told Will could sense Miller was skirting the edge of decency sometimes by the reactions from the audience but the contents of those jokes left him puzzled. It was like adults spoke a language of their own sometimes.


He had asked Gaffer about one of the jokes once. It had been in a theatre show at the Hippodrome where Miller, dressed in his usual brightly coloured gaudy suit, had produced his famous ‘blue-book’ and read out:


A Yorkshire man came to London and he couldn't get any Yorkshire pudding . . . so he went home and battered himself to death.


Will had heard it repeated again and again on the streets that week but had no clue as to why it was considered so funny. When he cited it to Gaffer the old man had first chuckled and then guffawed before ruffling Will’s hair and telling him he’d understand one day as well as forbidding Will to repeat it in the presence of the womenfolk in the house.


There would be no renewed acquaintance with Miller or other heroes of the silver screen this time though. Mr. Hall had other plans.


“I thought we might catch the bus out to Devil’s Dyke tomorrow, go for a bit of a wander along the Downs,” Mr Hall said. “Maybe have some practice if we see a nice field for it.”


“Bring the catapults?” Will began to beam.


“Are you sure this thing will work?” Jamie quoted Flash Gordon.


“I have experimented with models,” Mr. Hall replied in something resembling Dr. Zarkoff’s voice. He turned to Will. “You’ll talk to your mother about it?”


“I will,” Will nodded though everybody knew she would say yes, she was always rather pleased that Will was able to go on some adventure or other in the company of Mr. Hall.


“Very good. Put the razor back, wash your faces and then carry on as you were, gentlemen,” Mr. Hall said.


“TTFN,” Jamie said.


“Pardon me?” Mr. Hall looked puzzled.


“Tat-Ta For Now,” Jamie looked disappointed. “From ITMA!”


“It’s That Man Again,” Will provided helpfully. “On the radio.”


“I don’t know how you two manage to keep track of all that but find it impossible to memorise your school subjects.” Mr. Hall laughed and left.



9. WINKLING WINKLES


Mum’s parents had received word from the army. Uncle George had been wounded and was now a Prisoner of War in a German camp somewhere. Mum took the bus to Rodmell that weekend to be with her parents who were distraught.


A neighbour had watched Eddie on Saturday afternoon and Brenda had gone shopping all on her own, with the family’s ration books and two whole shillings. The neighbour had helped her make tea for when Dad got home from work. It was a simple affair, drawn from one of the many rationing recipes that were popping up but Dad had made a show of enjoying the meal and complimented Brenda on her cooking skills.


She beamed, she had never been in charge of the house like this before and she was very pleased that Dad had acknowledged this milestone by thanking her just like he always thanked Mum for her meals.


“Since we’re going to be on our own tomorrow,” Dad said. “Perhaps we can go on an adventure?”


“Yes!” Eddie bobbed up and down.


Brenda was filled with anticipation but also worried that he would not get his rest. Dad worked long hours too and was often tired. He solved her concerns though, when he continued speaking.


“Some fresh air will do me good,” he winked at Brenda as if he had read her thoughts. “I’ve been told they are going to close the Undercliff Walk next week because they are fortifying it against the Jerries. I thought it might be a nice idea to walk to Rottingdean and back while we still can? Collect some winkles while we are there?”


Brenda’s eyes grew wide. With no immediate worries to attend to anymore it would be grand to go on an outing and she always enjoyed it when Dad set time apart to spend with his family. He was very good about it and always made it special.


“Winkling would be very nice,” she smiled.


§ § § § § § §


They set out early in the morning, heading towards the Marine Parade. It wasn’t very busy on the beaches yet although it was promising to be a beautiful day and Brenda was in good spirits.


They walked east along the shingle beaches and groynes and on to Black Rock and then the Undercliff Walk along the bottom of the chalk cliffs. Brighton Council had built a seawall here that ran all the way to Saltdean some four miles away. The seawall protected the cliffs from erosion and the Undercliff Walk ran over the seawall rather than over a beach.


The three of them had walked here before, Mum usually came too, and Brenda liked it a great deal. Walking on the seawall was like walking along a battlement, especially when the tide would come in and sent spray flying over parts of the walk. Dad always turned that into a game, hoisting Eddie on his neck, waiting for the wave to recede and then running past before the next wave thundered in.


The cliffs to their left had been reworked when the seawall had been built, scraped clean of all irregularities so they looked unnaturally regular and flat and they glared in the sunlight. It was impossible to look at the cliffs for too long though it was temping. Not only because of the many bird nests but also because the hundreds of flint nodules which protruded from the chalk.


“It hardly seems necessary to fortify this place,” Dad remarked, “It’s like a fortress already. I suspect they’ll add barbed wire and mines. Gun emplacements and pillboxes on the cliff tops, maybe.”


“England is strong though, isn’t it?” Brenda asked.


Dad shook his head. “Most of the army’s equipment was left behind at Dunkirk. Right now I do believe the First Canadian Division is the strongest army on British soil until we sort ourselves out again.”


Brenda was pleased, he seemed to have forgotten that she was just a nine-year-old girl for a moment and was talking to her like he was having a chat with a friend. She said proudly: “We have the Royal Navy. And the Royal Air Force!”


“Spitfire!” Eddie grinned and made engine noises.


“Yes we do, but Herr Hitler has the Wehrmacht. If Jerry comes...” Dad’s voice trailed off.


“Dad? Do you think the Germans will invade?” Brenda asked worriedly.


Dad was silent for a moment as he looked over the broad expanse of the sea.


“I hope they don’t,” he said at last.


Brenda recognized that he avoided a direct answer to her question. That probably meant that he did think they would invade but didn’t want her to worry.


“We’ll stop them if they do,” she said hopefully.


“But at what cost?” Dad asked with a sad smile. “Brighton has already paid a high price.”


Brenda considered that for a moment. The flotilla which had been sent to Dunkirk to help evacuate the troops still seemed like a miracle but over the last few days it had become clear to Brightonians that it had come with a price attached.


Two local pleasure steamers had been sunk, The Brighton Queen and The Brighton Belle. Smaller vessels, both pleasure boats and fishing-craft, had also been lost; Our Doris, Mary Joyce, Royal Rose, Sea Flower, Cornsack, Four Winds and Flower of the Fleet would never return to their home port again. The names had been buzzing around the streets and in the pubs as folk in Brighton tried to assess the new realities of the war. A girl in Brenda’s class had lost her grandfather and a cousin when their fishing boat was strafed by German planes.


They paused by Ovingdean Gap where they wandered onto the shingle beach and then on to the chalk bedrock where the low tide revealed a fascinating landscape of canyons and valleys containing rock pools.


The rock pools were enchanting, filled with all sorts of creatures. Small fish and crabs of all sizes peered from beneath the seaweed and kelp they used for cover. Here and there a starfish clung to the rock or small shrimps moved to and fro. The pool floors were covered with molluscs, barnacles, limpets and anemones.


After a while all three began to collect winkles. They had brought spare socks which were perfectly suited to hold the captured little molluscs in large numbers. Dad would leave them in the bucket overnight, sprinkled with salt to make the creatures spit out sand or dirt and then he would boil them. After that followed the rewarding task of using a pin to extract the winkles from their shells so they could be eaten.


“Time to winkle out them winkles,” Dad would always say.


Collecting them was easy and they soon had all of their spare socks filled. They retired back to the shingle beach and rested with their backs against the seawall, enjoying the day’s warm sunshine. Dad opened the large satchel he had been carrying to reveal various delights. He had managed to obtain a Fry’s Five Boys milk chocolate bar for Brenda and Eddie as well as a bottle of Thomas & Evans Corona fizzy drink. Brenda and Eddie shared the chocolate and the drink. The Corona was limeade flavour. Eddie was fascinated with the bottle top. It had a special stopper attached to a metal bracket so it could be popped open and resealed and he happily opened and closed the stopper a million times, the metal bracket clicking against the bottle as he did so.


Dad had got himself a bottle of Pale Ale and a portion of jellied eels for he was very fond of them.


When they were done they continued on to Rottingdean where Dad insisted on walking to the windmill first. The mill was constructed of blackened wood and stood on a hill a little ways out of the village which it seemed to be guarding like some glowering monolithic giant.


“Very well,” Dad said when they had walked around the windmill. “Time for a cream tea.”


A cream tea was an integral element of the Undercliff Walk and Brenda’s favourite part. They walked down into the fold of land which funnelled down to the beach and went to the High Street. 


The proprietress of Dad’s favourite tea rooms was a jolly white-haired woman who reminded Brenda of the fairy godmothers in the fairy tales. She brought a large tray and Brenda’s mouth watered at the sight of the scones. The walk had given her a healthy appetite even though she had already had half a chocolate bar for herself, a rare treat as it was.


The proprietress really was like a fairy godmother, she distributed plates with scones, small jam and butter bowls, little teapots, sugar bowls, milk jugs and cutlery with magical speed and dexterity. All the tableware matched and Brenda beamed, cream tea in Rottingdean always looked so festive. She always felt they were celebrating something.


She caught Dad looking at her and realised he was enjoying her reaction. Her ability to glean information from parental conversations she overheard in the evenings meant that Brenda knew family outings were special. Both Mum and Dad would put a little bit aside for weeks on end to save for a luxury like this. Dad would even skip his weekly pub evening to save coins. She gave him a warm smile and he returned it. It was one of those rare moments and she relished it. Dad was usually sparse with his emotions.


“No cream!” Eddie frowned.


“It’s because of the war,” Brenda told him. She glanced at the butter which was very pale. The fairy godmother caught her look.


“Margarine is the best I can do today, love,” the fairy godmother shrugged. “But it’s premium brand margarine, not that stuff with so-called marine oils.”


“Fish-oil,” Brenda wrinkled up her nose.


“I don’t want fish-oil!” Eddie declared.


“There’s no fish-oil in this, Edward.” Dad said. “Don’t worry, this is good.”


“Good,” Eddie nodded solemnly.


“Vitamin A and D in there too,” the proprietress added.


“Then we won’t have to have our spoonful of Cod Liver Oil and Malt tonight, will we Dad?” Brenda asked hopefully. Mum held the stuff in high regard as a vitamin supplement for the ration diets but Brenda hated the thick treacly stuff with a passion.


Dad held up his hands. “I am not going to get between your mum and her Cod Liver Oil, not for all the money in the world.”


Brenda nodded, that was quite sensible of him. “Tell us about the smugglers?”


He always did, and it was always the same story but that didn’t matter. Brenda liked the gleam in his eye and the passion in his voice when he related the Rottingdean days when sailing ships would moor offshore in the very early morning and sailors would row smaller craft to the beach to deliver brandy, tobacco and lace. Sometimes the Revenue Officers would show up and boys who acted as runners would dash down from their lookout points around the village to inform the smugglers that the law was on its way. The High Street had a maze of connected cellars where the contraband would be hidden ere the sun rose or else a string of ponies would be waiting to carry the goods inland across the downs.


“Jungle Book song,” Eddie demanded.


“That’s right, Edward, the writer lived here in Rottingdean for a while,” Dad nodded, pleased that Eddie had remembered. “He wrote about the smugglers. Not in the Jungle Book though.”


Dad started reciting the poem which had become part of their cream tea ritual.


If you wake at midnight,

And hear a horse’s feet,

Don’t go drawing back the blind,

Or looking in the street.

Them that asks no questions

isn’t told a lie

Watch the wall my darling

while the gentlemen go by!


Brenda joined in, she knew Rudyard Kipling’s ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ by heart.


Five and twenty ponies,

Trotting through the dark-

Brandy for the Parson

Baccy for the Clerk.

Laces for a Lady

Letters for a spy

And watch the wall my darling

While the gentlemen go by!


They walked back to Brighton after the cream tea. The tide was coming in but hadn’t advanced far enough yet to launch an assault on the seawall, though that didn’t dampen their spirits.


“Well thank you, children,” Dad said happily. “It’s been good to be here before it’s all taken away from us for a while.”


“No, Dad, thank you!” Brenda said. It had been a grand day, it was hard to believe there was a war on. “Sussex is pretty, isn’t it?”


“That it is,” Dad said and then recited a few lines from another poem.


I'm just in love with all these three,

The Weald an' the Marsh an' the Down countrie;

No I don't know which I love the most,

The Weald or the Marsh or the white chalk coast!


Brenda had no such problems making up her mind, she would choose the Downs and chalk cliffs every time. They probably didn’t even have cream tea in the northern forests and eastern marshes.


§ § § § § § §


Will and Jamie had spent the day by the sea. They had first headed to the rock pools past Black Rock. There they had decided that the ridges and gullies looked like the surface of the planet Mongo. They had jumped from foothold to foothold with their arms outstretched, making mechanical buzzing sounds as they piloted Zarkov’s rocket-ship over Mongo’s surface. Foes had been easy to find for the young rocket-ship cadets as some of the rock pools held big green crabs. These cranky creatures snapped at pointing fingers with their pinchers and it was a good trick to try and anticipate their attack so the offending finger could be pulled away just in the nick of time.


“It’d be a right cracker if one of us walked into the Royal Sussex County Hospital with one of these buggers clinging to his hand,” Jamie said.


Will nodded. “And refused to let go. Perhaps you should try it.”


“Might lose a finger,” Jamie said thoughtfully as he eyed a particularly grumpy crab. “How would I pick my nose?”


Eventually they lost interest in the game and meandered west again along Madeira Drive. Although the beaches were not as busy as they should be in the summer there were still a fair few people about. Mostly young men and women, presumably the young men were soldiers on leave trying to make the most of life while they still could.


Although the courtship game between men and women was mostly incomprehensible for Will even he could sense that there was an urgency in the abandonment of the usual etiquette. Destruction and death lay around the corner and none begrudged those who would bear the brunt of the fighting a last carefree flirtation and a passionate kiss on the beach.


Will and Jamie were mesmerised by two comely and giggly girls who darted around a handsome young man in swimming trunks like carefree butterflies whilst he tried to grab them in a game of tag that was almost like a dance. Further on couples were kissing though Will didn’t really understand the appeal of that unless it was a novel way to swap sweets. He did have an eye for the shapely curves in the ladies bathing costumes though and enviously suspected some of the lucky soldiers might see a buttock and the side swell of a boob before the day was up. Maybe he should get a uniform.


By the time they reached Banjo Groyne and the Volks Railway Halfway Station and viaduct Will was feeling oddly giddy. They started ascending the long stairs up the Eastern Terrace and Will began to hum a song. Jamie recognized the tune and started singing and Will joined in.


Gertie was a good girl

Till the day that she met me

Gertie was refined

But liked to show her dignity.


“Race you!” Jamie shouted halfway up and they started running, still singing as loudly as they could.


I told her that I loved her

Then I asked her for a kiss

When I whispered in her ear

What happened then was this


They reached the top of the stairs simultaneously, practically out of breath but still competing to sing the loudest.


She said she wouldn’t

I had an idea that she would!

She said she shouldn’t

But I told her that she should!


Several people passing by frowned. A man with two young children guided them across the road away from the boys. Will grinned, now he felt like a pirate, in contempt of civilised society. He wheezed as he took a deep breath to complete the song as boisterously as he could. As always Jamie was on the same level and Will could tell that he too enjoyed being churlish for a bit.


§ § § § § § §


She said she couldn’t

Because she wanted to be good!

She said she wouldn’t

I thought perhaps she would!!


The boys sang it really loud and Dad frowned as he directed Brenda and Eddie across the road. Brenda’s eyes widened as she recognized Will and Jamie just before the boys headed in the direction of Palace Pier, turning their backs on the cream tea expedition before Eddie recognized them.


“I swear, Brenda,” Dad growled. “If you ever bring boys like that home I’ll boot them out of the house.”


“I won’t,” Brenda promised, though she was puzzled as to why on earth she would want to bring a boy home. Boys were idiots.


“It’ll be a while yet, I suppose,” Dad said mysteriously and laughed.


Brenda nodded. She wondered if she could devise a plan to keep Eddie from becoming an idiot too. She hoped idiocy wasn’t contagious because then he might have already caught it from Will and Jamie. That would be a real shame.


10. A FAREWELL TO BANJO GROYNE


The Jerries had entered Paris and the French were seeking an armistice. The news was not unexpected but had an impact nonetheless. Nazi Germany now dominated the continent, from Poland to France and the Low Countries to Denmark and Norway. The realisation that Britain now stood alone, like David facing Goliath, hit home hard. Streets, schools and pubs were abuzz with heated debates. Would it not be better to accept an armistice with the Jerries as the best possible outcome to the war? Let that raving lunatic in Berlin have his way in Europe? After all, Britain still had the Empire and that Empire should be their focus, not continental squabbles. Others, still remembering Chamberlain’s sacrifice of the Czechs shook their heads. When had Hitler ever been content with his gains? More; the madcap dictator always wanted more.


The Prime Minister gave a speech in the House of Commons and then repeated it for a radio broadcast. He reminded the populace that the situation was dire but by no means hopeless, for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force would greatly hinder if not defeat a German attempt to invade.


“….if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”


§ § § § § § §


First the piers, now the beaches were being closed. Will went to the Kemptown seafront to see for himself. He stood on Marine Parade and looked down at Madeira Drive. He had always viewed Brighton’s seafront on both sides of the Palace Pier -basically all of King’s Road and the Marine Parade- as a vast playground designed to keep him entertained and amused.


He stared desolately at Banjo Groyne; his favourite place in all of Brighton. The sea defence stretched beyond the shingle beaches on either side of it, broad enough to hold a parapetted walkway and its round end had always seemed like a grim bastion tower to Will.


If he stood there facing the sea during the best high tides it was like standing on the bow of a ship, clutching on to the ship’s side whilst the waves bashed the stone wall of the tough groyne, causing almost continuous sprays of salty water to descend on the viewing platform. Will and Jamie would then imagine themselves to be on a man-of-war. Buffeted by wind and briny spray they would stagger around as if trying to keep their footing on a heaving deck. All the while they would shout and sometimes use their catapults to dispatch French frigates or Spanish Galleons to the bottom of the sea.


Banjo Groyne was also a good place to fish, or pretend to be fishing whilst looking wide-eyed at the girls in their bathing suits playing beach cricket on a nice summer’s day. Or else just chuckle at the out-of-town visitors trying to negotiate the pebbles as they attempted to reach the sea, especially if they did so barefoot. Locals had no problem with the shingle and would often forget that this was an acquired skill till they were reminded of it again by the sight of struggling out-of-towners on the shingle beaches.


Turning around on Banjo Groyne was just as good. The grey cliffs towering over Madeira Drive looked like town walls defending the riches of the elegant Regency terraces which rose above them in the stately manner of palaces.


The view made Will feel like one of the king’s archers in the days of King Arthur; bravely defending one of the outmost defences of Camelot whilst the besieged inhabitants shouted encouragement at him from the inner town walls. On other days it was Dr. Huer’s Hidden City which needed to be protected from the likes of Killer Kane. The beach kindly provided sound effects for that because the sea would hiss and the pebbles rattle as a spent wave withdrew again.


Walking towards the Palace Pier along the Madeira Drive was to his liking too. Magnus Volk’s electric railway ran overhead here, supported by sturdy stilts and Will and Jamie like to throw pebbles –easily attainable on a shingle beach- at the wheels and underside of the trains as they passed right over the boys whilst they devised ingenious plans to derail a train there one day. Then there were the long colonnades along Madeira Drive which Will liked as well. There were places where it reminded him of a Roman arena. His mind would see the public cheering in the space behind the colonnade, on the colonnade walkway and up on the Marine Parade; no less than three tiers of Romans applauding their bravest gladiator. Will would wave up at the majestic little Victorian lift tower, which rose above the street level of the higher placed Marine Parade and protruded outwards from the cliff side; for surely it was from that regal structure that the Emperor of Rome would have watched the arena below. Will had very fond memories too of being part of the mass of people who came to watch the cars and motorcycles during the annual Brighton Speed Trials. It was sheer exhilaration to watch the vehicles perform their timed run down Madeira Drive, roaring past at top speed.


The boys had built a box car a few years ago, intending to take it down to Madeira Drive for a speed trial of their own but the steep incline of Richmond Street had proved more tempting. The maiden voyage of the box car had been its only one. The ride was eye-poppingly breathtaking but the box car had ended in a splintered wreck, Jamie had broken an arm and Will had suffered a concussion.


Next time, they had sworn solemnly, they would build a better one and might include some sort of braking system.


The colonnades had been sandbagged now and Madeira Drive had been closed to the public. The upper reaches of the shingle beaches had been covered with uncountable rolls of vicious looking barbed wire and the lower stretch of the beaches now sported pyramid shaped blocks of concrete to deter tanks and anti-landing craft spikes. There were also numerous huge fuel tanks stacked up below the Aquarium which were to be rolled into the sea when the time came, hopefully to set the very water ablaze.


Will and Jamie had heard of Sefton Delmer’s broadcasts for the BBC’s German Service in which he provided useful English phrases for Wehrmacht soldiers.


Now, I will give you a verb that should come in useful. Again please repeat after me:


Ich brenne… I burn;

Du brennst… you burn;

Er brennt… he burns;

Wir brennen… we burn;

Ihr brennt… you are burning.

Sie brennen… they burn.


And if I may be allowed to suggest a phrase: 'Der SS-Sturmführer brennt auch ganz schön...' The SS Captain is also burning quite nicely.


When the church bells started ringing their alarm at the sight of German landing boats Will and Jamie were determined to rush towards the seaside with their catapults to lend the Home Guard a hand and hopefully to watch the sea catch fire. It would be a bittersweet moment, they knew, because the piers were unlikely to survive such an inferno, but that might be compensated by their heroic combat against any slightly scorched SS-Sturmführers who managed to make it to the beach.


Today Will had mixed feelings. On the one hand it had made no sense to him that the likes of the Undercliff Walk were being fortified whilst Brighton itself seemed undefended like a ripe plum ready for the picking. Up till now little had been done on the town’s seafront with the exception of the placement of a few anti-aircraft guns. Now the place was bustling with activity. Vulnerable buildings on the sea front were evacuated, men were piling sand bags in front of some buildings and windows were being taped up with strips of linen in diamond patterns to lessen the dangers of flying glass. Another working party was removing the decking of the Palace Pier to render it useless as a landing platform for invading troops.


This all made sense to Will but it also felt as if a part of his very being had been taken away from him, his sense of space amputated. Moreover, he felt a cold chill close around his heart. These men surely believed that the Jerries would come. That they were not taking half measures was emphasized by a Police Constable who stopped to warn Will that the beaches were to be mined as well; under no condition were children to venture into the new defensive zone. Will nodded a silent acquiescence, feeling discouraged by the desolate view of his now heavily fortified and inaccessible personal fiefdom.


However, Will never stayed morose for too long, he had a natural tendency to bounce back and the sight of machine-gun posts and Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns being erected at improvised redoubts cheered him up. War was fascinating again and doubly so when a battery of two six-inch naval coast defence guns was positioned in front of Lewes Crescent. Will drank it all in, suspecting that it would not be long before someone figured out that it would be best to send the various civilians taking a curious stroll along the promenade back to their homes. There could be nothing more common-place in Brighton than that walk, especially in the summer, but already it seemed out of place; incongruous with what now looked like a war zone. 


11. THE CANADIANS


The first Canadians of the Second Canadian Division started to arrive in small numbers. Units of the Royal Canadian Artillery who added their 40-mm Bofors AA Guns to the defensive positions along the sea front. They were housed in a number of large houses on Preston Road, opposite Preston Park, and Will and Jamie planned an expedition in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Canadians.


“Do you reckon they’ll have face paint? Bows and arrows?” Will asked hopefully, as they made their way north to Preston Park.


“You think they’re Red Indians?” Jamie asked.


“Well, they might be,” Will shrugged.


“Don’t be daft,” Jamie laughed. “Red Indians live in the United States, not Canada. The Canadians have Mounties I think. They wear proper red coats, just like our army used to.”


Will and Jamie sauntered up to the low garden wall of one of the houses. Somewhat to their disappointment the Canadians had neither red skins nor red coats. In fact, they looked an awful lot like regular British troops. 


There were a number of off-duty soldiers there who were happy to talk to them and when the Canadians opened their mouths Will and Jamie finally noticed a difference for the Canadians talked really funny, a bit like the actors in the pictures made across the Atlantic Ocean. They were also generous, giving the boys a large chunk of cheese each.


“We’ve seen your Bofors guns,” Will said, his mouth still half full with cheese. “There’s no way the Jerries will come close to Brighton now.”


“I wouldn’t be so sure of that kid,” one of the soldiers sighed in his strange accent. “Most of the coastal positions are manned by the Local Defence Volunteers with a few regulars like us pitched in to beef the LDV up a bit.”


“Yeah,” a second said somewhat bitterly. “Thrown to the wolves I say. We’re expected to slow the Germans down a bit, give them a bloody nose, but the real fighting will take place inland, that’s where they hope to stop them, not here.”


“Tom, what happened to careless talk costing lives?” The third soldier said cautiously.


“It’s hardly a secret Justin,” the one called Tom shrugged.


“Hey guys,” the first soldier said to Will and Jamie. “Some of my uniform is busted and I am hopeless with needlework. Would you know anybody who could fix that?”


“David’s right. We need laundry doing too,” Justin added.


”I can arrange that for you,” Will said quickly.


“Yeah, you know how to sew kid? You do laundry too?” Tom looked dubious.


“No, but my mum does, and my grandfather, he has a tailor shop,” Will said. “And she…we could use bit of work to be honest.”


Will avoided looking at Jamie as he said that. Jamie had been to Will’s house a few times and knew his friend’s family was poor but it wasn’t something they talked about. There was an unspoken agreement that Jamie’s house was by far the best place to muck about in because he had his own room and the best toys. Jamie was also always very diplomatic about the boys’ own income. He knew that Will liked to give his mum some of his earnings and never accused his friend of spending less on their leisurely interests, nor did he make a big fuss about spending just that bit more himself. Will suspected that Mr. and Mrs. Hall were also well aware of his situation. Whenever Mr. Hall planned an expedition Will’s mum always insisted on giving Will what she could spare to give to Mr. Hall. Sometimes as little as tuppence but usually a shilling. Mr. Hall always closed Will’s hand around the proffered money with a wink.


“Give it to your mother Will,” he would always say and Will would do precisely that.


Once he could start working properly at fourteen he could help out his mum. This was Will’s main ambition, driven by an obligation he felt towards the father he had never known. He’d be able to pay Mr. Hall back then too.


“The question is,” Jamie said rather cheekily. “Can you pay?”


“You bet kid,” Tom grinned. “Sugar, butter, tinned fruit, Golden Syrup. Some idiot pen-pusher at HQ made a fortunate miscalculation. Reckoned there were ten times as many of us here.”


Will’s eyes grew wide; Mum would be absolutely delighted.


“We’ll need to sort out an exchange rate,” Justin added. “Can you bring your mother here?”


Will nodded happily. He suspected that she would assign some tasks to him, like wringing out the laundry but the sort of payment the Canadians were offering was fast becoming worth more than money so he’d quite happily help her out.  


12. ‘R’ FOR RESCUE


Brenda heard the front door open and knew Dad was home. She carefully put away Margaret Elizabeth, her large doll with a porcelain head dressed in an old-fashioned gown. It was her prized possession. Her eyes widened as Dad came into the living room. He was wearing a clean dark blue boiler suit and wore a blue armband with ‘Civil Defence’ printed on it in yellow letters. He also had a tin hat which had been painted black with a white ‘R’ on it. He looked incredibly proud.


“Oh Charles,” Mum just shook her head sadly. When Dad sat down Eddie was all over him, feeling the armband and reaching for the helmet.


“Daddy is a soldier!” Eddie said.


He squealed as Dad picked him up and held Eddie in the air for a moment before settling the boy on his lap. Brenda bit her lip. Dad used to do that with her when she was little but he had stopped doing it a long time ago and sometimes she wished he hadn’t.


“Not quite, I am in the ARP now, Edward,” Dad said.


“A soldier,” Eddie nodded. “Brenda, letter!”


Brenda followed his pointing finger and she read out the white letter on the helmet. “It’s an ‘R’. What does it stand for Dad?”


“Rescue,” he answered solemnly. “In case people get trapped in bombed buildings.”


“You’ll get them out?” Brenda asked.


“Yes, and put them on a stretcher and then bring them to your mum at the County Hospital.”


“You’ll spend most of your time patrolling the streets to see if anybody’s light is showing,” Mum shrugged.


“Watch duty,” Dad nodded. “Two hours an evening.”


“Can I come?” Eddie asked.


“It’s too dangerous,” Dad answered.


“Dangerous,” Eddie mused. Then he scrambled off Dad’s lap and went to a corner of the living room.


“Well, I am proud of you!” Brenda declared.


“Thank you Brenda,” he replied with a foolish grin.


Eddie came back. He was holding his wood pistol. He gave it a regretful look, then handed it to Dad. “For you. When it is dangerous.”


Dad looked at the proffered toy and threw Brenda a look. She nodded, take it.


“Thank you very much, Edward,” Dad said gravely, and took the pistol as carefully as if it had been a real weapon. “I shall carry this with me when I am on duty.”


“Daddy is safe now,” Eddie replied with a satisfied look. “Safe from dangerous.”


Brenda hid a smile. 


I HOPE YOU ARE ENJOYING THE STORY. 

MORE CHAPTERS WILL BE ADDED SOON


The next set of chapters (13-18) can be found here: 

https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/will's-war-in-brighton-chapters-seven-to-twelve


Previously released chapters (1-6) can be found here:

https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/will's-war-in-brighton-(serial)


Reviews of Will's War in Brighton and Will's War: Exile from Brighton here:  https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/wills-war-reviews