The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (20 page)

Do you understand a little better now?



From Dawsey to Juliet
Miss Juliet Ashton
Grand Manoir, Cottage
La Bouvée
St Martin's, Guernsey

21st June 1946

Dear Juliet,

We are here in Louviers, though we have not been to see Remy yet. The trip has tired Amelia very much and she wants to rest for a night before we go to the hospice.

It was a dreadful journey across Normandy. Piles of blasted stone walls and twisted metal line the roads in the towns. There are big gaps between buildings, and the ones left look like black, broken-off teeth. Whole fronts of houses are gone and you can see in, to the flowered wallpaper and the tilted bedsteads clinging somehow to the floors. I know now how fortunate Guernsey really was in the war.

Many people are still in the streets, removing bricks and stone in wheelbarrows and carts. They've made roads of heavy wire netting placed over rubble, and tractors are moving along them. Outside the towns are ruined fields with huge craters and broken hedges. It is grievous to see the trees. No big poplars, elms or chestnuts. What's left is pitiful, charred black and stunted—sticks without shade. Monsieur Piaget, who owns this pension, told us that the German engineers ordered the soldiers to fell whole woods and coppices. Then they stripped off the branches, smeared the tree trunks with creosote and stuck them upright in holes dug in the fields. The trees were called Rommel's Asparagus and were meant to keep Allied gliders from landing and soldiers from parachuting.

Amelia went to bed straight after supper, so I walked round Louviers. The town is pretty in places, though much of it was bombed and the Germans set fire to it when they retreated. I cannot see how it will become a living town again.

I came back and sat on the terrace until dark, thinking about tomorrow.

Give Kit a hug from me.

Yours ever,


From Amelia to Juliet
23rd June 1946

Dear Juliet,

We met Remy yesterday. I felt unequal somehow to meeting her. But not, thank heavens, Dawsey. He calmly pulled up garden chairs, sat us down under a shady tree, and asked a nurse if we could have some tea.

I wanted Remy to like us, to feel safe with us. I wanted to learn more about Elizabeth, but I was frightened of Remy's fragility and Sister Touvier's admonitions. Remy is very small and far too thin. Her dark curly hair is cut close to her head and her eyes are enormous and haunted. You can see that she was a beauty in better times, but now—she is like glass. Her hands tremble a good deal, and she is careful to hold them in her lap. She welcomed us as much as she was able, but she was very reserved until she asked about Kit—had she gone to Sir Ambrose in London?

Dawsey told her that Sir Ambrose had died and that we are bringing up Kit. He showed her the photograph of you and Kit that he carries. She smiled then and said, ‘She is Elizabeth's child. Is she strong?' I couldn't speak, thinking of our lost
Elizabeth, but Dawsey said yes, very strong, and told her about Kit's passion for ferrets. That made her smile again.

Remy is alone in the world. Her father died long before the war; in 1943, her mother was sent to Drancy for harbouring enemies of the government and later died in Auschwitz. Remy's two brothers are missing; she thought she saw one of them at a German station on her way to Ravensbrück, but he did not turn when she screamed his name. The other she has not seen since 1941. She believes that they, too, must be dead. I was glad Dawsey had the courage to ask her questions—Remy seemed to find relief in speaking of her family.

Eventually I broached the subject of Remy coming to Guernsey. She went quiet, and then explained that she was leaving the hospice very soon. The French government is offering allowances to concentration-camp survivors: for time lost, for permanent injuries, and for recognition of suffering. There are also stipends for those wishing to resume their education. The government will help Remy pay the rent of a room or share a flat with other survivors, so she has decided to go to Paris and seek an apprenticeship in a bakery.

She was adamant about her plans, so I left the matter there, but I don't believe Dawsey is willing to do so. He thinks that looking after Remy is a moral debt we owe to Elizabeth. Perhaps he is right, or perhaps it is simply a way to relieve our sense of helplessness. In any case, he has arranged to go back tomorrow and take Remy for a walk along the canal and visit a certain patisserie he saw in Louviers. Sometimes I wonder where our shy Dawsey has gone.

I feel well, though I am unusually tired—perhaps it is seeing my beloved Normandy so devastated. I will be glad to be home, my dear.

A kiss for you and Kit,


From Juliet to Sidney
28th June 1946

Dear Sidney,

What an inspired present you sent Kit—red satin tap shoes covered with sequins. Wherever did you find them? Where are mine?

Amelia has been tired since her return from France, so it seems best for Kit to stay with me, especially if Remy decides to come to Amelia's when she leaves the hospice. Kit seems to like the idea too—heaven be thanked! Kit knows now that her mother is dead. Dawsey told her. I'm not sure what she feels. She hasn't said anything, and I wouldn't dream of pressing her. I try not to hover unduly or give her special treats. After Mother and Father died, Reverend Simpless's cook brought me huge slices of cake, and then stood there, watching me mournfully while I tried to swallow. I hated her for thinking that cake would somehow make up for losing my parents. Of course, I was a wretched twelve-year-old, and Kit is only four—she would probably like some extra cake, but you understand what I mean.

Sidney, I am in trouble with my book. I have much of the data from the States' records and masses of personal interviews—but I can't make them come together in a structure that pleases me. Straight chronology is too tedious. Shall I send my pages to you? They need a finer and more impersonal eye than mine. Would you have time to look them over now, or is the backlog from the Australian trip still so heavy? If it is, don't worry—I'm working anyway and something brilliant may yet come to me.



P.S. Thank you for the lovely cutting of Mark dancing with Ursula Fent. If you were hoping to send me into a jealous rage, you have failed. Especially as Mark had already telephoned to tell me that Ursula follows him about like a lovesick bloodhound. You see? The two of you
have something in common: you both want me to be miserable. Perhaps you could start a club.

From Sidney to Juliet
1st July 1946

Dear Juliet,

Don't bundle them up. I want to come to Guernsey myself. Does this weekend suit you? I want to see you, Kit and Guernsey—in that order. I have no intention of reading your work while you pace up and down in front of me—I'll bring the manuscript back to London.

I can arrive Friday afternoon on the five o'clock plane and stay until Monday evening. Will you book me a hotel room? Can you also manage a small dinner party? I want to meet Eben, Isola, Dawsey and Amelia. I'll bring the wine.



From Juliet to Sidney

Dear Sidney,

Wonderful! Isola won't hear of you staying at the inn (she hints of bedbugs). She wants to put you up herself and needs to
know if noises at dawn are likely to bother you. That is when Ariel, her goat, arises. Zenobia, the parrot, is a late sleeper.

Dawsey and I and his cart will meet you at the airfield. May Friday hurry up and get here.



From Isola to Juliet (left under Juliet's door)
Friday—close to dawn

Lovey, I can't stop, I must hurry to my market stall. I am glad your friend will be staying with me. I've put lavender sprigs in his sheets. Is there one of my elixirs you'd like me to slip in his coffee? Just nod to me at the market and I'll know which one you mean.

XXX Isola

From Sidney to Sophie
3rd July 1946

Dear Sophie,

I am, at last, in Guernsey with Juliet and am ready to tell you three or four of the dozen things you asked me to find out.

First and foremost, Kit seems as fond of Juliet as you and I are. She is a spirited little thing, affectionate in a reserved way (which is not as contradictory as it sounds) and quick to smile when she is with one of her adoptive parents from the Literary Society. She is adorable, too, with round cheeks, round curls and round eyes. The temptation to cuddle her
is nearly overwhelming, but it would be a slight on her dignity, and I am not brave enough to try it. When she sees someone she doesn't like, she has a stare that would shrivel Medea. Isola says she keeps it for cruel Mr Smythe, who beats his dog, and evil Mrs Gilbert, who called Juliet a nosy parker and told her she should go back to London where she belonged.

I'll tell you one story about Kit and Juliet together. Dawsey (more about him later) dropped in to take Kit to watch Eben's fishing boat coming in. Kit said goodbye, flew out, then flew back in, ran up to Juliet, lifted her skirt a quarter of an inch, kissed her knee-cap, and flew out again. Juliet looked dumbfounded—and then as happy as you or I have ever seen her.

I know you think Juliet seemed tired, worn, frazzled and pale when you saw her last winter. I don't think you realise how harrowing those teas and interviews can be; she looks as healthy as a horse now and is full of her old zest. So full, Sophie, I think she may never want to live in London again—though she doesn't know it yet. Sea air, sunshine, green fields, flowers, the ever-changing sky and sea, and most of all the people, seem to have seduced her away from city life. I can easily see why. It's such a welcoming place. Isola is the kind of hostess you always wish you'd come across on a visit to the country but never do. She rousted me out of bed the first morning to help her dry rose petals, churn butter, stir something (God knows what) in a big pot, feed her goat Ariel and go to the fish market to buy an eel. All this with Zenobia the parrot on my shoulder.

Now, about Dawsey Adams. I have inspected him, as per instructions. I liked what I saw. He's quiet, capable, trustworthy—oh God, I've made him sound like a dog—and
he has a sense of humour. In short, he is utterly unlike any of Juliet's other swains—praise indeed. He didn't say much at our first meeting—nor at any of our meetings since, come to think of it—but let him into a room, and everyone in it seems to breathe a sigh of relief. I have never in my life had that effect on anyone; I can't imagine why not. Juliet seems a bit nervous of him—his silence
slightly daunting—and she made a dreadful mess of the tea things when he came round to pick up Kit yesterday. But Juliet has always shattered teacups—remember what she did to Mother's Spode?—so that may not signify. As for him, he watches her with dark steady eyes—until she looks at him and he glances away (I do hope you're appreciating my observational skills).

One thing I can say unequivocally: he's worth a dozen Mark Reynoldses. I know you think I'm unreasonable about Reynolds, but you haven't met him. He's all charm and oil, and he gets what he wants. It's one of his few principles. He wants Juliet because she's pretty and ‘intellectual' at the same time, and he thinks they'll make an impressive couple. If she marries him, she'll spend the rest of her life on display at theatres and restaurants and she'll never write another book. As her editor, I'm dismayed by that prospect, but as her friend, I'm horrified. It will be the end of our Juliet.

It's hard to say what Juliet is thinking about Reynolds, if anything. I asked her if she missed him, and she said, ‘Mark? I suppose so,' as if he were a distant uncle, and not even a favourite one at that. I'd be delighted if she forgot all about him, but I don't think he'll allow it.

To return to minor topics like the Occupation and Juliet's book, I was invited to accompany her on visits to several Islanders this afternoon. Her interviews were about Guernsey's Day of Liberation on 9 May last year. What a morning that
must have been! The crowds were lined up along St Peter Port's harbour. Silent, absolutely silent: masses of people looking at the Royal Navy ships sitting just outside the harbour. Then when the Tommies landed and marched ashore, all hell broke loose. Hugs, kisses, crying, shouting. So many of the soldiers landing were Guernsey men. Men who hadn't seen or heard a word from their families for five years. You can imagine their eyes searching the crowds for family members as they marched—and the joy of their reunions.

Mr LeBrun, a retired postman, told us the most unusual story of all. Some British ships took leave of the fleet in St Peter Port and sailed a few miles north to St Sampson's Harbour. Crowds had gathered there, waiting to see the landing craft crash through the German anti-tank barriers and come up on to the beach. When the doors opened, out came not a platoon of uniformed soldiers but one lone man, got up as a caricature of an English gent in striped trousers, a morning coat, top hat, furled umbrella, and a copy of yesterday's
in his hand. There was a split-second of silence before the joke sank in, and then the crowd roared. He was mobbed, clapped on the back, kissed, and put on the shoulders of four men to be paraded down the street. Someone shouted, ‘News—news from London itself,' and snatched the
out of his hand! Whoever that soldier was, he deserves a medal.

When the rest of the soldiers emerged, they were carrying chocolates, oranges, cigarettes to toss to the crowd. Brigadier Snow announced that the cable to England was being repaired, and soon they'd be able to talk to their evacuated children and families in England. The ships also brought in food, tons of it, and medicine, paraffin, animal feed, clothes, cloth, seeds and shoes!

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