In this novel I have tried to be as realistic and as close to the real facts of being at war as I could. My first taster showed Jim the air-raid warden dealing with his first casualty but of course air-raid wardens, ambulance drivers and all the other services who worked all through the night when the bombs were falling, took their share of death and injury, even a tin hat wouldn’t save you from a direct hit.
So here is my Rosie coming a little too close to a serious explosion, she had just met up with an old friend of hers who was working with the WVS handing out tea to rescuers and casualties and the extract starts as they were remembering one another.
‘We worked together when we was girls,’ the woman said, as two more firemen arrived. ‘In Arundel Castle. I’m Maisie.’
Memories pushed the chaos of the raid aside and crowded into Rosie’s brain; she could see them walking the babies in the grounds, cleaning their nappies and feeding them those horrid bottles, strolling up and down the High Street in Arundel on their afternoon off, feeling like swells in their Sunday best.
‘D’you remember our tea shop an’ the sticky buns?’ Maisie asked and turned to her next customer to ask, ‘What can I do for you sir?’
But she didn’t get an answer to either of her questions because at that moment there was a blinding flash of light and a deafening roar and Rosie and the three firemen were punched off their feet by a force that felt like a blast from a furnace. It was so powerful it pushed the air out of their lungs and left them gasping for breath. Rosie landed painfully and stayed where she was, huddled on the ground with her face away from the blast, stunned and still, while the debris fell all round her. It had happened too quickly for her to feel afraid and, as far as she could tell, she was still in one piece but she was too numb to know whether she was hurt or not. When there was no more debris falling, and the air had settled a little, and her breathing had righted itself, she tried to sit up and found she couldn’t do it. But she managed to raise her head and saw that the mobile canteen was lying on its side and was badly damaged, that the tea urn had been blown right out of the canteen and was lying yards away, crushed under a pile of bricks and leaking tea, that her ambulance had vanished and that there were five dark shapes lying higgledy-piggledy on the ground a few feet away from her, half hidden by the dust cloud.
Then she heard a voice calling to her. ‘We’re on our way, Rosie. Stay where you are!’ And she tried to answer it and couldn’t do it. A face loomed into her line of vision and she recognised it but couldn’t remember who it was.
‘You’re all right,’ it said. ‘We’re here. Don’t try to move.’
‘I can’t,’ she said, and was annoyed to hear how croaky her voice was. It was a struggle to focus her eyes too, but she knew her rescuer was one of her fellow ambulance drivers even though she couldn’t see him properly. ‘John,’ she said.
‘That’s me,’ he agreed. ‘I’m just going to check you over. OK? Have you got any pain anywhere?’
She was struggling to say no when the pain suddenly began, almost as if he’d given her permission to feel it by asking about it. It was so overwhelming it made her pant. ‘Right arm,’ she managed to say, and then there was blackness.