My Name is Eva

‘It must have been terrible, though. You must have seen and heard some dreadful stories.’

Oh, I did dear, but I can’t tell you. Evelyn shakes her head as if lost in thought and mutters, ‘I don’t really remember much. I know it was a sad time.’

‘Mum never talked about it very much. I know she lost her first husband when she was young. Only twenty-two, she said, and then she married Dad, your brother Charles. Poor Mum. She didn’t have him very long either, just long enough to have me.’ Pat stares at the picture of the uniformed group again, as if trying to imagine the post-war chaos of that time. ‘Can you remember who these other people are?’

‘Oh dear, it’s all such a long time ago.’ Evelyn closes her eyes as if she is tired of trying to search her memory, but really she doesn’t want Pat to detect her unease at the surfacing of this old image that ties her to Robinson.

‘Well, why don’t you keep that one, anyway? And can I show my boys the one of you on your own in your smart uniform?’

‘That’s a good idea. You keep that one. I’d like them to know I wasn’t always such a doddery old thing.’ Evelyn laughs and slips the photo of the group of four into her cardigan pocket. It won’t stay there long. When she is back in her room, she will decide what to do.

‘Right,’ says Pat. ‘And now I’ve got to get back. I’ve got a chap from the auction house coming to Kingsley this afternoon to give me some estimates. By the way, I found some old inventories when I was going through the piles of paper in the bureau. You must have had them done quite a while ago though, so I thought I’d better get up-to-date ones done. Were you thinking of selling some of the contents at some point?’

Evelyn tries to look vague, then says, ‘I expect it was probably for insurance. Kingsley was always such a responsibility.’

Pat pulls on her coat. ‘Tell me about it, Aunt. And I still haven’t found those keys, you know.’ She bends to kiss Evelyn on her powdery cheek. ‘Mmm, you smell lovely. And are you sure you don’t want to keep any more of these?’ She holds out the tin of photographs. ‘Here, why don’t you hang on to them anyway and have a good look through? You might manage to identify a few more faces for me.’

Evelyn accepts the collection, saying, ‘Oh, very well, dear. I’ll try hard to remember some more names for you and the children.’ Or find some more pictures I have to destroy.





10





29 October 1943



My darling man,

I think you would be terribly proud of me! Your little wife is now a qualified ATS driver and authorised to drive various officers to meetings hither and thither in an awfully nice black Humber. I must say it is a much better car than I have ever driven before, although the greatest drawback is that we girls are expected to maintain the vehicles ourselves. I’ve been down in an inspection pit covered in grease for the last two days! Still, I suppose that is going to be something to add to my list of meagre talents, isn’t it, darling?

Although I had already learnt to drive around at Kingsley (Papa let me drive his old Austin up the drive and into the level field in summer, and oh, how I am missing dear Kingsley), that wasn’t good enough for the ATS, so I had to attend a proper driving course near the barracks in Camberley. I certainly got rapped over the knuckles for some of my bad habits (probably acquired from observing you, darling), such as forgetting to look in my mirror before driving off.

Anyway, one of my first missions is to get to know my way around London. My billet is right behind Peter Jones, which is awfully handy and even Mama approves, as she thinks I will be able to dash in any moment she is in need of buttons or silks. I’ve told her several times that I haven’t joined up to simply to run her little errands like that, but she seems to think that this is the only advantage of my signing on. She also doesn’t understand that I can’t use my Humber to nip down to see her whenever she feels lonely. She has no concept of petrol rationing whatsoever, even though whenever I’m missing Kingsley’s gardens and countryside I have to go there by train.

The girls in the billet here are awfully nice and although it is jolly cold (it’s an old Victorian house), we are determined to keep our spirits up. And at least we get plenty to eat, as I suppose they don’t want us ‘gels’ fainting when we are driving our generals hither and thither. And my first proper assignment will be driving down to Portsmouth, so I’m going to study a map now, to make sure I know how to get there and back.



Wish me luck, darling, Your Evie xxxx P.S I love you





11





Mrs T-C, 3 November 2016





That’s Torn It





Evelyn is inspecting the snowdrop bulbs, individually planted in pots for the Forest Lawns Christmas fair. Tips of green have just begun to emerge, poking through the dark brown compost. ‘They’re coming on quite nicely, aren’t they?’ she tells Sarah, who organises gardening among many other social activities for the residents. ‘I told you that putting the bulbs in the fridge for a few weeks would fool them into thinking it was winter.’

‘You were absolutely right, Mrs T-C. Do you think they might even be in flower by the time we put them on sale?’

‘It’s doubtful, but we can live in hope.’ Evelyn checks another of the pots, then shivers. The greenhouse is sheltered and there’s a watery sun glimmering on the glass, but there’s no heat. ‘They’re only common snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis,’ she announces with some pride, ‘but they’ll still spread once they’re planted outside. I had wonderful carpets of snowdrops at Kingsley. Such an encouraging sight in the depths of winter. And some very rare specimens among them too. I was quite the galanthophile, you know.’

‘The what, Mrs T-C?’

‘Galanthophile, dear. People who are knowledgeable snowdrop enthusiasts and collectors. The rarest flowers can often change hands for more than a hundred pounds a bulb. But it’s always best to plant them in the green, while they still have their leaves, if you want to be sure of good results.’

‘Well, I never knew that, Mrs T-C. It’s just like tulip fever, isn’t it? I remember we had that in History at my school. You’re a real mine of information, really you are.’

Evelyn smiles to herself. If only the girl knew how much information was buried deep inside her head, beneath her silvery-grey hair. But she must be careful not to tell her so much another time. She must remember to forget.

‘Well, I ought to be going in now, dear. Will you be able to manage on your own?’ Sarah slides the greenhouse door aside and Evelyn shuffles outside to where her trusty walking frame is waiting for her. As she walks away in her halting fashion, she frets. Did I offer too much detail about the snowdrops? So hard to bury all this knowledge, so much harder than burying all the secrets.

Minutes later, she sits in her armchair in her room, sorting through the collection of old photographs in the biscuit tin. There are several of Mama in furs, silk dresses and large ornate hats at weddings, county shows and village fetes. Dear Mama, so elegant. And look, here are quite a few of Papa and dear Charles, standing proudly with other members of a shooting party. Don’t they look grand, all in tweeds and caps, guns cradled in their arms, alert and eager dogs looking up at them and several brace of pheasant at their feet?

There are also more of Evelyn in uniform, laughing with other girls in similar attire and sometimes with young airmen squinting at the camera in sunshine. Such young men, no more than twenty years old or so, soon to be gone, grasping kisses and beauty while they still had life. But there are no more of that awkwardly posed group of four and none at all of Robinson on his own.

It isn’t hard to remember how and when that picture of the four of them was taken and she pulls it out of her pocket to look at it more closely. They are standing outside the entrance to Bad Nenndorf, the former health spa adapted to provide facilities for the interrogation centre. It was in the early days, soon after she’d first arrived, when the place had only just begun operating, before she realised exactly what would happen there and before she saw Robinson’s true nature for herself. In the photograph this short man of slight build looks stern. He holds his chin high, his lips thin beneath a straight pencil moustache, while the other three people alongside him all bear uncomfortable slight smiles, as if they are unsure why they have been made to stand together in false comradeship, squinting in the bright sun.

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