Feasts, famines, wars, parties -- they all leave leftovers. Mostly rubbish, of course. But some of the leftovers are people. Damaged, fragile people who missed dying but aren't sure how to go on living.
Sometimes, however, leftovers can be made into something special, something better than new.
I returned to Southampton on February 7, 1946. Cardington dispersal center tossed me out with my demob clothes in the morning and I arrived late in the afternoon. I’d left the town two years before, having been seconded from Supermarine to work on logistics for the RAF. They gave me the rank of Flight Lieutenant, though I hardly ever was on an aeroplane.
Southampton was pretty banged up, though from the train it didn’t look any worse than it had two years before. Except, of course, I’d nobody to welcome me.
My old job at Supermarine was waiting for me. Well, it would be different now that the War was over. Labour was in power, and the Bank of England had just been nationalized not a fortnight previously. My age – I’ll be 41 in April – and my job bumped up my demobilization. Supermarine had written to say they expected me, and I’d replied asking about accommodation. Somehow the fact that the house my wife and I had had in Bitterne was now apparently a crater had been forgotten or overlooked. I didn’t even know where Agnes, my wife, and Margaret, our 15-year-old daughter – she’d now be 17 – were buried. I’d been in Normandy when one of the only two V-1’s to hit Southampton destroyed my house. And my life.
The last letter from Supermarine reached me ten days ago. It told me that they had arranged for me to board with a Mrs. Crighton in Woolston. Well, that would mean I could walk to work. I used to cycle from Bitterne. Not a great distance, though the climb up Upper Deacon Road took a bit of effort. Or a dismount and push.
I was somewhat familiar with Woolston, but Radstock Road was not a place I knew. However, the letter from Miss Helen Shoreham of Supermarine said it was not far from Sholing railway station, and that is where I disembarked from the local train I’d picked up at Southampton Central.
I found the house at the address in the letter. In the fading daylight I could see the bay window in the front was blocked with a mixture of bits and pieces of wood and corrugated iron. The upstairs window had one pane glass and the other wood or something approximating wood. Bomb damage, probably from whatever hit where there was a crater across and down the road. I knocked on the door, using the heavy knocker in the middle of the door. After a few seconds I heard footsteps, the turning of the Yale lock, and the door opened.
“Hello, Mrs. Crighton?”
The woman who had opened the door nodded. I continued “I’m Edward Newman. I believe you are expecting me.”
“Yes. Come in please.”
There was a narrow hallway and a staircase. A very dim light bulb tried to prevent serious accidents. The light was so poor I could not make out Mrs. Crighton’s features.
“You’d better follow me upstairs to your room, then we can sort out arrangments,” she said, turning and mounting the stairs, which had an almost threadbare runner.
The stairs took a turn to the left at the top and I heard the click of a light switch and a weak beam came from inside a room there. The house had two bedrooms up here it seemed, with a toilet and bathroom.
“This will be your room. I’m afraid it isn’t very welcoming. It was my daughter’s room, but I couldn’t bear to see her things after .... well, that’s really not your concern.”
“I’m sorry. I understand losing a child.”
“Well. Yes. Most of us have lost someone. It’s still difficult, isn’t it?”
“Yes. The emptiness is always there.”
For some seconds we both just stood in the room awkwardly.
“Well, I’d better let you get sorted. Come down when you’re ready, and we’ll discuss things. I assume you brought your ration book. I’ll need that so I can try to put some food on the table.”
“I’ll come down in a few minutes. Just want to use the ... lavatory.”
Mrs. Crighton stepped by me without comment and went down the stairs. I’d have to be careful in the night. The stairway was opposite my door. The toilet door was adjacent and the bathroom door at right angles to that in the stub hallway. To the right was another door. No doubt Mrs. Crighton’s room.
There was a single bed, a small table with a simple chair, and a frame hanger with a couple of wire coat hangers on it. No wardrobe or anything with drawers. Well, I’d find or make something. Light to read would be a problem. I looked but did not see an outlet. I’d have to see about getting a stronger bulb or an extension I could plug into the light socket. Or else a candle! At least in winter. There was a window to the rear of the house, and I noticed the curtains move a bit as I heard some wind outside.
Well, it was a place to put my head. There was a fireplace on the common wall with the other room – no doubt it had one too – that had cardboard in the opening. It would be cold in here, but fuel was scarce. I noticed the bed had a quite decent eiderdown, for which I no doubt would be thankful.
I used the toilet then washed my hands and face. The face in the small mirror looking back at me was older and greyer than it should be, but, if I was honest, younger than I felt. I opened the top of my kit bag – it wasn’t all that full – and pulled out a shirt and cuffs and collars. There was a tobacco tin for my collar studs. Better not lose them. I took out the ditty bag with my other shoes and put them under the bed. My suitcase had underwear and pyjamas. I set it on the floor next to the table and opened the top. Not a lot of stuff for four decades of life.