"Scandalous, have you heard Mrs Wilson committed adultery, with a sailor." Eliza did not know or judge Mrs Wilson. Eliza waited her turn to enter the grocer's. This woman ahead of her in the queue said,
"It all started when 'e invited her dancing. Then he took it too far. The first time I saw 'er frock. I thought to meself, I thought. Does she have no sense of shame. What with her hubby being in France and wot not. Well you know what these sailors are like. If it wasn't for the no treating law, they'd be plying all the young women with intoxicating liquor. Where would we be then I ask you." Eliza touched her head, about to open her mouth, before she could, the woman in the queue continued.
"Why, her landlady want's her out. Before her place gets word of being a knocking shop. She won't stand for any of that nonsense or any fancy women, that Mrs Wilson."
"By 'eck, it's like a bloomin' mad house in here today, what with shortages of almost everything."
"My what a palaver." Said Eliza, adjusting her hat.
When a new arrival tried to slip in ahead of the line, the others glared at her,
"There's a queue you know, you'd best go to the back of it."
Shamed the arrival slunk off to join the end of the line.
The green grocer's was busiest when a new delivery had been received, it was a good sign that there were a lot of ladies here today. Eliza counted the number of bonnet's in front of her.
The woman at the front of the queue asked for,
"A half dozen eggs, a pound of oranges and a bag of coal please." Eventually, when it was her turn, Eliza counted her meagre worn shillings, arranging the pennies together.
"'Ere are missus, five poun' of taters with carrots and onions fer you and 'alf a dozen apples. That'll be thruppence."
"Thruppence. It was only tuppence ha'penny last week." She dug deep into he purse for the last two farthings.
She carried her shopping to her small two up, two down terrace. Calling out as she entered,
"Hello Nana." Nana Rannow was comforting the baby in her rocking chair. On hearing his mother's voice the baby's face lit up with joy. He stretched his tiny arms up toward Eliza, when his big eyes saw her enter the room.
"Vegetables have gone up again."
The older lady's face screwed up,
"Well it ain't flamin' well on. How do they expect us to feed babes, when there's a war on? Why before the war, a penny would get us a big bag of veg."
Eliza Rannow worked for the new munitions factory. She'd had a few weeks off with her new baby, James junior, but had to work as they needed the money now with two young ones to feed. Nana Rannow looked after them whilst she was in the factory's office. The factory was an imposing building, it had once been for textiles, now converted for the war effort. Much of the work was done by hand, with complex machinery occupying every space for making the shell casings and innards. The women wanting to do their bit were prepared to lay down their looks.
As Eliza entered the factory gate, the little piecers were scarpering around in their bare feet, trying to get the machinery clean.
"Mind out there young lads, you'll get oil all over the place."
"Sorry missus, the guvernor is upping capacity. Have to flamin' well get it all done before ten." The boy who looked about twelve-years old, then hastily ran off.
In the office, the factory overseer asked Eliza for a cup of tea. Which she promptly brewed up and prepared. These last few months she had made herself useful. He sat down with his cup and saucer to drink it in front of the window that overlooked the factory floor, so as to be able to see exactly what his people were about. She poured the hot liquid from a silver EPNS plated teapot.
"Sometimes I wish I were down there with my staff. Giving them advice and what not."
"Someone has to supervise sir. It is kind that you spare a thought for their grievances."
There was something sympathetic in Eliza's voice that the overseer felt a tenderness toward her.
"Were I younger miss, I would be in France by now with my two sons in the London Regiment. Doing my duty."
"I doubt it not sir." He regarded her for a moment, guilty at his comment, for he had made his mind up about Eliza on first choosing her as his assistant. He knew that this young woman was good and capable and had no ill will for him or anyone.
"You do your duty here, and every day sir. Else our brave ones would go to battle with nought but khaki overalls and a little pride."
He softened. She were a clever one, no doubt about it. He picked up the cold steel pen, stabbing it aggressively to sign some documents.
"And how are they today do you think? Do they have everything needed. Any talk of strikes?"
"Beg pardon sir, their only need is a little more time on each shell sir. Preparing each shell is dangerous enough as you'll agree."
"If only we had more time Eliza. If only we were not in this mess, our neighbours in Germany have been finding ways to step up production, the board informs me. So we must dig deep, and find ways ourselves."
During the working day they would often discuss how to improve things. Eliza would sometimes lament that the women workers were paid half that of the skilled trades, who could not be conscripted. The overseer would say, "We'll 'ave none of that suffragette talk 'ere young lady. I daresay, women will have the vote after the war is won, until then though we have a job to do here. Ammunition to supply to my poor boys and their fellows. "
She finished work and left with all of the other girls. In the daylight you could see that some of the women had started to go a little yellow in colour from working with the chemicals. She checked her hands, arms and reflection in a polished chrome plaque. For now she was her usual pinky colour.
On her way back home, James appeared from behind .
"How goes the day Eliza?"
"Not so dusty love." She told James all about the latest little news from the factory.
They held each other's hands gently as they reached home to find Nana Rannow caring for baby and Eliza junior.
Just as they turned a corner James saw a ragged man sitting on the roads edge being sick in the gutter.
"Will you be alright Mick?"
"Why sure, yes mate. I'll be home soon." Went the raggedy man.
"Hold on there Mick, I'll see you back safe." He thought best to help him or he might find him sleeping there in the morning. Quickly he asked Eliza, before he and Mick left.
"With baby James having his christening this Sunday. Do you think we should have a little warm up afterwards?"
"Will we have the space love?"
"It will be tight, I'll grant ye."
And so they asked all their friends, letting them know for three days time. Eliza went to see Lilian Jones, Jacko's wife. She did not think it likely that Jacko would allow them to indulge themselves. As she approached their humble abode, she saw Lil crossing the street, and heading back in the direction she had just come
"Dear Lil can you, young Rose and Jacko come after the baptism for a little knees up?"
"Eliza you know I'd love to come and wet the baby's head. I must speak wi' Jacko about it first though. I can't let you know now. Will there be drinking?"
"Why of course."
"A little, why yes. Though we've only a little space."
"Did yeh know that when I met Jacko we used to do a little dancing? Yeh'd niver believe it but 'e were a grand dancer."
Eliza did not enquire further, she knew that Jacko was not the sort of man to care for such things now, if he had ever done so as a younger man.
"I'll ask him tonight and see what 'e says." As they parted Lil reminisced to happier times. She did not know if Jacko would go, though thought it likely as there would be a modest amount of free drinks. Her eyes felt a little wet on remembering how young she once was and how his young hair was as dark as a raven once.
YOU ARE READING
Homage to London 1914 to 1918Historical Fiction
1915 - This true continuing story is based on the men of London, who wanted to do their bit during World War 1 as well as how their choice to serve affects their families at home. Characters: James Rannow - former ganger of the labourer...