Olga’s Diary (Continued)
War: Moores and I were in Oxford Street, when the air raid siren went, shopping for a new dress for her date that night with an army officer. We’d just reached John Lewis when it sounded and we knew it meant we were going to be bombed by the Germans. Suddenly people started running like mad in all directions including us. Terrified we hopped onto a bus without even knowing where it was going just to get off the street.
By the time we got back to the hospital we had learnt it been a false alarm, but our relief didn’t last long because we were told that Britain was finally at war with Germany. There’d been lots of talk about war before but I wouldn’t listen.
I don’t want to go home, I want to stay and become a nurse, but I made a promise to Sydney and Mammie so, sooner or later Olga, you’re going to have to leave. Moores and Ethel say I should go; at least I’ll be safe in Jamaica. I told them I was frightened of being bombed, but I don’t want to return home not having achieved anything after spending six months in England, especially as it has cost my brother a lot of money.
A few days later, great big silver barrage balloons hanging from cables were seen in the sky all over London. They were to stop the German bombs from hitting their targets in the city. I thought they looked like big silver elephants. One of our first jobs when we started our training was to put black material over the windows so that at night time no light from the hospital wards could escape and the Germans wouldn’t be able to see London from the air and drop their bombs.
We have all been given a gas mask and Sister Tutor demonstrated how to put it on. You have to thrust your chin forward pulling the black rubber over the face and up over the forehead leaving your eyes peering out from the two holes. There’re horrible smelly things and I tore mine off, I couldn’t breathe with it on.
Then we had to fill out a form so the Government could issue everyone with an identity card.
And now ration books have appeared, although nurses don’t have them because we eat at the hospital. Ethel’s family are poor and she says ration books are a wonderful thing because food is distributed evenly and, poor families like hers, get the same as rich ones like Moores.
But some days I’d be so hungry my mind would start thinking about the food markets back home where you can buy lovely meals very cheaply. I find I’m dreaming of gungo peas soup with large pieces of yam and salt beef, vegetables and lovely dumplings or salt-fish and ackee or chicken with rice and peas and yam with half a boiled plantain. And in the end I just feel hungrier than ever. Now I’ve developed a taste for sugar sandwiches.
Unhappy news: War doesn’t make any difference to Sister Tutor; she’s still very strict and only has to raise an eyebrow to show her disapproval about something I’ve done or haven’t done.
This morning I broke a thermometer and have to pay 6d out of my wages to replace it. I’m not thinking about the war, all I can think about is passing the exam at the end of the three months.
Moores, Ethel and I test each other whenever we have time and if I get really stuck on something, Joanne helps me. Matron wants to see me. I can’t think what I’ve done wrong.
Later: I couldn’t stop shaking waiting outside Matron’s office. When I entered she told me to sit down and I knew it was bad news. She never tells nurses to sit down, we always have to stand to attention as if we’re on parade like soldiers in the army.
“I have some bad news for you Olga” she said in such a kindly voice it barely sounded like her.
“I’m afraid you cannot go home to Jamaica. Because of the war the Government has banned all non essential travel out of Britain which means you will have to stay until the war ends”
I suddenly burst into tears.
“It’s not so bad really, is it Olga, think how proud your family be will when you do return home as a fully qualified nurse” she said.
Then she sat down beside me and put her arm round my shoulders and I cried even more. I was crying so much partly because Matron was being so kind and calling me Olga, instead of Browney, but also because, although I wanted to stay and finish my training, now I had no choice in the matter, I had to stay and suddenly I had such an urge to see Mammie and my sisters.
“I’m sure the war won’t last long and in the meantime we need you here”.
“Yes Matron, thank you Matron,” I sobbed.
I was still crying as I reached the door to leave and she called out to me.
“Wait, I nearly forgot”. She was holding a sheet of paper in her hand and there was a little smile on her face.
“Congratulations, Browney, you passed your first exam”.
Mammie’s (Becky) Diary
At last, I have been able to talk to Olga on the telephone, not that I could hear very much because the line was poor and crackly and we only had three minutes. The tots and Birdie all managed to say hello and tell her they loved her. At least now I know she’s well and safe, but her place is here at home.
I should have insisted that Sydney brought her back. Lucy was right all along when she said Hitler couldn’t be trusted and had invaded Poland. It’s all very well for people to say that the war between Britain and Germany won’t last long, but how do they know, it could go on longer than the first war. No one knows for sure except God.
There are reports that people are starving in England. Could this be true. Olga starving? The Daily Gleaner says that the predicted bombing hasn’t happened and many who evacuated London when war was declared are returning to their homes. So maybe things will not be as bad as everyone first thought.
Olga says she hasn’t seen Martha for weeks. Why, I wonder? What has been happening between those two? Now I have something else to worry about. There was no mention of anything wrong between them in Olga’s last letter. There wasn’t much of anything really because there was so little to read since most of it had been censored with heavy black ink.
But she has passed an exam we are all very proud of her. I went down to the meat market for the first time for years, just to tell Henry. Olga’s status seems to have gone up a lot already as far as the younger girls are concerned and she has certainly impressed the rest of the family with her resolve to come home a fully qualified nurse. As Birdie says “beats working in a bicycle shop”.
It sounds as if Olga has become very fond of her friend Joanne.
Do you know what I think? I think the hand of God was at work there. He sent Joanne to look after Olga. But even so, we will still continue to pray for Olga’s safety.
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