Here is the final part, the epilogue, of Christobel and an update on the rest of a life. If you’ve been following this unapologetically anti-war and pro-European Union (amongst other issues) story, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and thanks for your interest.
If you haven’t been doing but your interest is piqued a little, and would like to begin at the beginning, please go to the post Angels in the family in the January 2017 archive (it’s the last one on the list for that month) and then read each successive post apart from Unwelcome to Britain? which isn’t a chapter post but a little rant about one possible consequence of Brexit.
Chris and Frieda lay very closely together (which they didn’t mind at all), she in the crook of his arm, on the sofa, covered by the spare duvet. They’d given Pam the use of the bed in deference to her age. After food, more post-prandial wine and a lot of catching up, she’d congratulated them on a wonderful meal and retired there quite early, tired after her long exhausting journey.
They were browsing through Christobel’s journal, picking out the particularly interesting entries, every bit as fascinated by the rest of her life story as they had been by the foregoing testament. Frieda stayed Chris’s hand, which was doing the page turning, at an entry.
16th September, 1960
There was a programme about the fifteenth anniversary of Victory Japan Day on the television last night. Fifteen years already. How quickly the final years of my life seem to be running away! I’m sure time is accelerating. It doesn’t seem five minutes since the day itself, following Japan’s surrender after the dropping of those two terrible bombs that forced her into submission. Although whether visiting such massive death and destruction on thousands of people with no warning really did bring that remaining part of the Second World War to a significantly earlier conclusion than would otherwise have been the case remains a moot point, in my opinion, whatever the Americans might say. Japan was heading for certain defeat anyway. But we can never know now. What was it Oppenheimer, the scientist who created the dreadful things said? “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. Yes indeed, Mr. Oppenheimer, you did!
It’s certainly true that since the two major wars of the first part of this century, mankind has invented ever more gross and obscene ways of slaughtering itself. Even those atom bombs are dwarfed by the monstrous hydrogen ones they have nowadays, including in this country. Why ever Britain and now France, who aren’t super powers, feel they have to have them, for “deterrence”, is beyond me. I wish I were ten years younger; then I’d be more actively involved with CND. It’s all very well donating to the cause, and I know I joined the march for the last couple of miles to Aldermaston two years ago, but I want to be out there protesting about the madness, not just feeling angry from my armchair!
Just think; over nine years of my life have been seared by terrible wars – and they were “conventional” ones, which were bad enough. The politicians vowed after the Great War that it would be the last, but it wasn’t, and then again after the second one, but still America and the U.S.S.R. rattle sabres at each other. But I should feel thankful, all the same. The first war nearly claimed my life after all, and it did my poor long lost Henri’s.
Yes, what a long time ago those days are now. Forty five years since the terror of that trial. But things did gradually improve after the Armistice and my release from prison though. It was good to return to England and Sleaford, back with my parents, after Émilie died in nineteen twenty-one. Poor Émilie; I think she died of a broken heart; she never really got over losing her son.
How my fortunes changed after moving back to England though, after hearing from Sam Shepherd, via the girls at ru de la Culture, that he’d still got the diaries I’d entrusted to his safe keeping and wanted to return them! And then meeting up with him in London because he’d been transferred to his government’s British Embassy. And then of course the exchanging of letters, which became both increasingly regular and increasingly intimate as we found ourselves surprisingly kindred spirits and also in the same position, because he was a widower, having lost his wife to The Great Influenza, the pandemic which so ravaged the world in 1918.
I really didn’t think I’d ever find another good man after Henri, but there we were, marrying in nineteen twenty-two, after which I found myself living in some style in London and working as a sister back at St. Thomas’s. There were no more children of course, but then both of us were pretty much past it. I was forty-three and already into my menopause (it possibly came early because of the privations of my prison term) when we married and Sam was forty-eight. So there was only Jacques and the one child, Debra, Sam had with Jocelyn. But we were quite content with our lot. We had many happy years together.
And then of course there was the move to Pennsylvania after Sam retired in nineteen thirty-four, which was another whole new experience, leaving Jacques behind in England because he’d met Dorothy, and he was twenty-two after all and a young man wanting to make his own way in the world, not be tied to his parents. But then the tragedy, the awful loss, when, having volunteered for the British army, he was killed in action crossing the Rhine in the final push to Berlin just a few months shy of the end of the war. And so another one dear to me fell victim to the greedy ogre of conflict.
Yes, my life has certainly been varied, with tremendous ups and downs, ending with the return to England in nineteen forty-nine after Sam died and moving in with Dorothy and the grandchildren in a “granny flat” as they call them nowadays. Not a great deal has happened in the eleven years since then, except very pedestrian things! But at least I’ve ended this entry on a happier note.
Chris flicked through some more entries: the rest of that year, then nineteen sixty-one and into sixty-two, until their attention was arrested again.
23rd October, 1962
I just can’t believe it: according to the news, the world looks as though it’s going to go mad again. President Kennedy is making belligerent noises at the U.S.S.R. He’s broadcast to America about the Soviet missiles that have been spotted in Cuba, which the Soviets claim are to defend Cuba from being invaded. He is going to blockade the island to prevent any more being shipped there, and has demanded that the Soviets remove those already there. Although, it seems, America has got them in Turkey, as close to Russia as Cuba is to the United States, which does seem a little hypocritical, really. It seems to be the usual politicians’ sabre-rattling at times of international tension, except that this is with extremely high stakes.
I desperately hope that this isn’t the precursor to yet another, even more deadly, global war. Why do the men (and it’s always men) in charge never learn? There has been more than enough death and suffering already this century, surely to Goodness? Is this what all the millions, including my Henri and Jacques, died for in the last two wars: this continuing constant fear and distrust of foreign countries which have cultures or political systems or religions which we don’t approve of?
Yes, I suppose the pragmatists, the generals, are right in saying that having those terrible things stationed so close to and pointed at America (and Russia) is unacceptable, and the leaders of those countries have a duty to demand they be removed in order to protect their citizens, but they are playing an enormously dangerous game of bluff, of you-blink-first. What will happen if the Soviets refuse to remove their missiles, because they too feel threatened, and it becomes a shooting-match which then escalates to the use of nuclear weapons, and other countries, as always happens, get dragged in? The consequences are just too horrific to contemplate.
The world seems to be teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Let’s just hope and pray that Kennedy and Krushchev avoid doing anything really silly. Please!
29th October, 1962
They’re saying on the television that the Cuba crisis seems to be over, thank the Lord. After an enormously tense situation when Soviet ships carrying another consignment of missiles were met by blockading American ships, they avoided coming to blows and turned around and headed back home. Apparently America has promised not to invade Cuba in return, thus giving a quid pro quo and a face- saving for the U.S.S.R.
Well, that’s an enormous relief! This time the world – in spite of the posturing of its male leaders – has turned back from the brink of unimaginable disaster. Hopefully, America might agree to remove its missiles from Turkey too and further lessen the tension. Perhaps the people of the world can sleep a little more soundly in their beds tonight.
Chris and Frieda flicked through to the last entry in the only-two-thirds-full book.
1st January 1963
So; the beginning of yet another year. Almost certainly the last of my life, I suspect, as the heart pills I’ve had from the doctor for the last two years seem to be becoming less and less efficacious. The angina is markedly worse lately. Well, never mind. I’ve had a good long life in spite of everything; I really can’t complain. I managed to stay up last night to see the New Year in. I don’t know why – memory is a funny thing – but I remembered another New Year, sixty-three years ago, at the turn of the century, at St Thomas’s. We were so optimistic for the new century, I remember. I was such a bright hopeful young thing then, just twenty years old, enthusiastic about caring for the suffering of the world. I wasn’t to know then how much suffering of one sort and another was coming my way. But we all have our crosses to bear.
Anyway, it was lovely to see all the family gathered together. I suspect everyone congregated here for my benefit. I’ve always thought it a shame that Dorothy never married again. I’m sure Jacques would have wanted her to. But instead she just got on with things and single-handedly brought up Elise and Raymond and Pam, the baby of the family, who must have been conceived during Jacques’ embarkation leave if you do the arithmetic, before he became the hero he always wanted to be, like his father, and laid down his life in the Rhineland.
I wonder what their grandchildren will be doing with their lives, fifty or sixty years from now. It’s impossible to imagine what the world will be like then, seeing all the changes there have been in my life. Whatever it’s like, I hope it’s peaceful for them; that they’ll be living in a united, danger-free Europe (and the rest of the world for that matter), finally rid of the forces of darkness.
Perhaps one day my descendents will read these ramblings of an old woman and find them a tiny bit interesting. Well, I really must close and get to my bed. I’m very tired. All the excitement of last night seems to have caught up with me!
Although the characters Christobel and Henri are entirely fictional, the account of real-life Edith Cavell’s training school and prisoner-escape network is based on actual events. The associated people mentioned in Edith’s story (apart from Gunther Braun) did exist too. This book is a tribute to those brave people and dedicated to the European Union ideal.
If you would like to learn more about Edith Cavell, I recommend Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami, to whom I am indebted for so much information about an inspirational English heroine.