The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (9 page)

We fishermen had to give them the largest share of our catch. They would meet our boats in the harbour to portion out their share. Early in the Occupation, a good many Islanders escaped to England in fishing boats—some drowned, but some made it. So the Germans made a new rule, any person who had a family member in England would not be allowed in a fishing boat—they were afraid we'd try to escape. Since Eli was somewhere in England, I had to lend out my boat. I went to work in one of Mr Privot's greenhouses, and after a time, I got so I could tend the plants well. But goodness, how I did miss my boat and the sea.

The Germans were especially fretful about meat because they didn't want any to go to the Black Market instead of feeding their own soldiers. If your sow had a litter, the German Agricultural Officer would come to your farm, count the piglets, give you a birth certificate for each one, and mark his record book. If a pig died a natural death, you told the AO and out he'd come again, look at the dead body, and give you a death certificate.

They would make surprise visits to your farm, and your number of living pigs had better tally with their number of living pigs. One pig less and you were fined, one time more and you could be arrested and sent to jail in St Peter Port. If too many pigs went missing, the Germans thought you were selling on the Black Market, and you were sent to a labour camp in Germany. With the Germans you never knew which way they'd blow—they were a moody people. In the beginning, though, it was easy to fool the Agricultural Officer and keep a secret live pig for your own use. This is how Mrs Maugery came to have hers.

Will Thisbee had a sickly pig who died. The AO came out and wrote a certificate saying the pig was truly dead and
left Will alone to bury the poor animal. But Will didn't—he raced off through the wood with the little body and gave it to Mrs Maugery. She hid her own healthy pig and called the AO saying, ‘Come quickly, my pig has died.'

The AO came out straight away and, seeing the pig with its toes turned up, never knew it was the same pig he'd seen earlier that morning. He inscribed his dead-animal book with one more dead pig.

Mrs Maugery took the same carcass over to another friend, and he pulled the same trick the next day. We could do this till the pig turned rank. The Germans caught on finally and began to tattoo each pig and cow at birth, so there was no more dead-animal swapping. But Mrs Maugery, with a live, hidden, fat and healthy pig, needed only Dawsey to come to kill it quietly. It had to be done quietly because there was a German battery by her farm, and it would not do for the soldiers to hear the pig's death squeal and come running.

Pigs have always been drawn to Dawsey—he could come into a yard, and they would rush up to him and have their backs scratched. They'd make racket for anyone else—squealing and snuffling and plunging about. But Dawsey, he could soothe them and he knew just the right spot under their chins to slip his knife in quick. There wasn't time for the pigs to squeal; they'd just slide quietly on to the ground. I told Dawsey they only looked up once in surprise, but he said no, pigs were bright enough to know betrayal when they met it, and I wasn't to whitewash matters.

Mrs Maugery's pig made us a fine dinner—there were onions and potatoes to fill out the roast. We had almost forgotten what it felt like to have full stomachs, but it came
back to us. With the curtains closed against the sight of the German battery, and food and friends at the table, we could make believe that none of it had happened.

You are right to call Elizabeth brave. She is that, and always was. She came from London to Guernsey as a little girl with her mother and Sir Ambrose Ivers. She met my Jane her first summer here, when they were both ten, and they were ever staunch to one another since then.

When Elizabeth came back in the spring of 1940 to close up Sir Ambrose's house, she stayed longer than was safe, because she wanted to stand by Jane. My girl had been feeling poorly since her husband John went to England to sign up—that was in December 1939—and she had a difficult time holding on to the baby till her time came. Dr Martin ordered her to bed, so Elizabeth stayed on to keep her company and play with Eli. Nothing Eli liked more than to play with Elizabeth. They were a threat to the furniture, but it was good to hear them laugh. I went over once to collect the two of them for supper and when I stepped in, there they were—sprawled on a pile of pillows at the foot of the staircase. They had polished Sir Ambrose's fine oak banister and come sailing down three floors!

It was Elizabeth who did what was needed to get Eli on the evacuation ship. We Islanders were given only one day's notice when the ships were coming from England to take the children away. Elizabeth worked like a whirligig, washing and sewing Eli's clothes and helping him to understand why he could not take his pet rabbit with him. When we set out for the school, Jane had to turn away so as not to show Eli a tearful face at parting, so Elizabeth took him by the hand and said it was good weather for a sea voyage.

Even after that, Elizabeth wouldn't leave Guernsey when everyone else was trying to get away. ‘No,' she said. ‘I'll wait for Jane's baby to come, and, when she's fattened up enough, then she and Jane and I will go to London. Then we'll find out where Eli is and go and get him.' For all her winning ways, Elizabeth was wilful. She'd stick out that jaw of hers and you could see it wasn't any use arguing with her about leaving. Not even when we could all see the smoke coming from Cherbourg, where the French were burning up their fuel tanks, so the Germans couldn't have them. But, no matter, Elizabeth wouldn't go without Jane and the baby. I think Sir Ambrose had told her he and one of his yachting friends could sail right into St Peter Port and take them off Guernsey before the Germans came. To tell the truth, I was glad she did not leave us. She was with me at the hospital when Jane and her new baby died. She sat by Jane, holding on hard to her hand.

After Jane died, Elizabeth and me, we stood in the hallway, numb and staring out of the window. It was then we saw seven German planes come in low over the harbour. They were just on one of the reconnaissance flights, we thought—but then they began dropping bombs—they tumbled from the sky like sticks. We didn't speak, but I know what we were thinking—thank God Eli was safely away. Elizabeth stood by Jane and me in the bad time, and afterwards. I was not able to stand by Elizabeth, so I thank God her daughter Kit is safe and with us, and I pray for Elizabeth to come home soon.

I was glad to hear of your friend who was found in Australia. I hope you will correspond with me and Dawsey again, as he enjoys hearing from you as much as I do myself.

Yours sincerely,

Eben Ramsey

From Dawsey to Juliet
12th March 1946

Dear Miss Ashton,

I am glad you liked the white lilacs.

I will tell you about Mrs Dilwyn's soap. Around about the middle of the Occupation, soap became scarce; families were only allowed one tablet per person a month. It was made of some kind of French clay and lay like a dead thing in the washtub. It made no lather—you just had to scrub and hope it worked.

Being clean was hard work, and we had all got used to being more or less dirty, along with our clothes. We were allowed a tiny bit of soap powder for dishes and clothes, but it was a laughable amount; no bubbles there either. Some of the ladies felt it keenly, and Mrs Dilwyn was one of those. Before the war, she had bought her dresses in Paris, and those fancy clothes went to ruins faster than the plain kind.

One day, Mr Scope's pig died of milk fever. Because no one dared eat it, Mr Scope offered me the carcass. I remembered my mother making soap from fat, so I thought I could try it. It came out looking like frozen dishwater and smelling worse. So I melted it all down and started again. Booker, who had come over to help, suggested paprika for colour and cinnamon for scent. Mrs Maugery let us have some of each, and we put it in the mix.

When the soap had hardened enough, we cut it into circles with Mrs Maugery's biscuit cutter. I wrapped the soap in cheesecloth, Elizabeth tied bows of red yarn, and we gave it as presents to all the ladies at the Society's next meeting. For a week or two, anyway, we looked like respectable people.

I am working several days a week now at the quarry, as well as at the port. Isola thought I looked tired and mixed up a balm for aching muscles—it's called Angel Fingers. Isola has a cough syrup called Devil's Suck and I pray I'll never need it.

Yesterday, Mrs Maugery and Kit came over for supper, and we took a blanket down to the beach afterwards to watch the moon rise. Kit loves doing that, but she always falls asleep before it is fully risen, and I carry her home. She is certain she'll be able to stay awake all night as soon as she's five.

Do you know much about children? I don't, and although I am learning, I think I am a slow learner. It was much easier before Kit learnt to talk, but it was not so much fun. I try to answer her questions, but I am usually behindhand and she has moved on to a new question before I can answer the first. Also, I don't know enough to please her. I don't know what a mongoose looks like.

I like getting your letters, but I often feel I don't have any news worth telling, so it is good to answer your rhetorical questions.


Dawsey Adams

From Adelaide Addison to Juliet
12th March 1946

Dear Miss Ashton,

I see you will not be advised by me. I came upon Isola Pribby at her market stall, scribbling a letter—in response to a letter from you! I tried to resume my errands calmly, but then I came upon Dawsey Adams posting a letter—to you!
Who will be next, I ask? This is not to be borne, and I seize my pen to stop you.

I was not completely candid with you in my last letter. In the interests of delicacy, I drew a veil on the true nature of that group and their founder, Elizabeth McKenna. But now, I see that I must reveal all: The Society members have colluded to raise the bastard child of Elizabeth McKenna and her German paramour, Dr/Captain Christian Hellman. Yes, a German soldier! I don't wonder at your shock.

Now, I am nothing if not just. I do not say that Elizabeth was what the ruder classes called a Jerry-bag, cavorting around Guernsey with
German soldier who could give her gifts. I never saw Elizabeth wearing silk stockings or silk dresses (indeed, her clothing was as disreputable as ever), smelling of Parisian scent, guzzling chocolates and wine, or SMOKING CIGARETTES, like other Island hussies.

But the truth is bad enough.

Herewith, the sorry facts: in April 1942, the UNWED Elizabeth McKenna gave birth to a baby girl—in her own cottage. Eben Ramsey and Isola Pribby were present at the birth—he to hold the mother's hand and she to keep the fire going. Amelia Maugery and Dawsey Adams (An unmarried man! For shame!) did the actual work of delivering the child, before Dr Martin could arrive. The putative father? Absent! In fact, he had left the Island a short time before. ‘Ordered to duty on the Continent'—SO THEY SAID. The case is perfectly clear—when the evidence of their illicit connection was irrefutable, Captain Hellman abandoned his mistress and left her to her just deserts.

I could have foretold this scandalous outcome. I saw Elizabeth with her lover on several occasions—walking together, deep in talk, gathering nettles for soup, or collecting firewood.
And once, I saw him put his hand on her face and follow her cheekbone down with his thumb.

Though I had little hope of success, I knew it was my duty to warn her of the fate that awaited her. I told her she would be cast out of decent society, but she did not heed me. In fact, she laughed. I bore it. Then she told me to get out of her house.

I take no pride in my prescience. It would not be Christian.

Back to the baby—named Christina, called Kit. Barely a year later, Elizabeth, as feckless as ever, committed a criminal act expressly forbidden by the German Occupying Force—she helped shelter and feed an escaped prisoner of the German Army. She was arrested and sentenced to prison on the Continent.

Mrs Maugery, at the time of Elizabeth's arrest, took the baby into her home. And since that night? The Literary Society has raised that child as its own—passing her around from house to house. The principal work of the baby's maintenance was undertaken by Amelia Maugery, with other Society members taking her out—like a library book—for several weeks at a time.

They all cosseted the baby, and now that the child can walk, she goes everywhere with one or another of them—holding hands or riding on their shoulders. Such are their standards! You must not glorify such people in
The Times

You won't hear from me again—I have done my best. On your head be it.

Adelaide Addison

Cable from Sidney to Juliet
20th March 1946

Dear Juliet, Trip home delayed. Fell off horse, broke leg. Piers nursing. Love, Sidney

Cable from Juliet to Sidney
21st March 1946

Oh, God, which leg? Am so sorry. Love, Juliet

Cable from Sidney to Juliet
22nd March 1946

It was the other one. Don't worry—little pain. Piers excellent nurse. Love, Sidney

Cable from Juliet to Sidney
22nd March 1946

So happy it wasn't the one I broke. Can I send anything to help your convalescence? Books—recordings—poker chips—my life's blood?

Cable from Sidney to Juliet
23rd March 1946

No blood, no books, no poker chips. Just keep sending long letters to entertain us. Love, Sidney and Piers

From Juliet to Sophie
23rd March 1946

Dear Sophie,

I only got a cable so you know more than I do. But whatever the circumstances, it's absolutely ridiculous for you to consider flying off to Australia. What about Alexander? And Dominic? And your lambs? They'll pine away.

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