I am thrilled that today is my blog tour date for Mary Rosie’s War by Catherine M. Byrne. I was able to put a few questions to Catherine, and am delighted to share her responses with you here. You can also read my full review of the book here, but in the meantime, Catherine was kind enough to share an extract from the book with us. At this point in the book, WW2 has been declared and Mary Rosie’s brother has already been called up. Many of Mary’s friends have volunteered and she longs to be with them. However, her widowed mother does not want to let her go and since she is only seventeen she needs parental permission.
From the distance came the deep drone of a solitary plane.
‘Doesn’t sound like one of ours,’ said Ellie, pulling a moue of distaste. ‘Could that be Jerries?’
The girls looked at each other, smiles slipping, their hands clutching their cups. At dusk on 16th March an attack had been made on Scapa in Orkney by fifteen enemy bombers. Four officers were killed and several officers and ratings wounded. That event, though many miles to the north, made the war real.
‘I’m no sure…’ Rita’s voice was lost as the thunder of the plane became so loud it could have been right outside. The girls rose as one and crossed to the window. ‘Bloody hell, that’s close,’ said Sally.
Suddenly the world around them seemed to erupt. Cups rattled in saucers, the building trembled.
Customers leapt to their feet and ran out of the door into High Street, desperately looking for a place of safety. A pall of smoke belched from the direction of the harbour as another explosion rent the air and flashes of fire and thick black clouds rose from down-river.
‘Oh my God,’ someone screamed. ‘They’re bombing the town.’
A woman dropped her shopping basket and ran past the girls. ‘Ma bairns,’ she screamed, ‘I left them playing…’
Everything seemed to happen at once. The clanging of the fire engine’s bell, children crying, people running around like confused ants as the managers of shops and banks herded them into the relative safety of their cellars.
‘It’s personal now,’ screeched Sally. ‘Why are they bombing us?’
An old man stood with one hand against the wall, the other clutching his walking stick. ‘I knew it’d happen,’ he said, as he struggled to catch his breath. ‘I knew that airport would attract them. The devil’s work if you ask me. And all these servicemen. What are they doing here? They should be away fighting, not billeted in good folk’s houses…’ He stopped and coughed, phlegm rattling in his throat.
Mary didn’t pause to answer him, but made to go across the bridge towards River Street.
‘Get inside, in the basement,’ someone shouted, grabbing her arm as air raid sirens, woken from their reverie, shrieked too late. She shook the hand off. Many of the lads and lassies she knew worked at the harbour which was the obvious target. Her uncle Jimmy ran his own coopering business there.
Nevertheless, she followed her friends into the cellar of the Royal Bank which was by now crowded with shocked pedestrians.
The all-clear sounded as, having unleashed its deadly cargo, the plane turned up river, guns rat-a-tat-tatting until they faded into the distance. The shaken shoppers emerged into the acrid afternoon. Coughing, Mary inhaled air dense with smoke. The sea of bodies scattered erratically as two heavy horses thundered towards them, ears flat, eyes white and rolling in terror. Mary squashed herself against the wall as they passed.
Word bounced from person to person, desperate voices shouting the news, ‘They’ve hit Bank Row. They’ve hit Bank Row.’
There had been no warning, no siren, no previous bombs dropped anywhere on mainland Britain, no reason for folk to suspect that death and devastation would rain down from a sunny blue sky on a residential area. Bank Row was a busy place with several shops, kilns and a pub. It had been a toss-up whether the girls went to the tea rooms there or the cafe in High Street.
The air seemed to have been sucked from the day. All around her people were crying or standing motionless. An ashen-faced policeman with shocked eyes stepped in front of her holding out both arms, barring the way. ‘Sorry, girls, no one’s allowed down there. It’s dangerous.’
She stopped and took a backward step. ‘The harbour…?’ she asked, icy fingers clutching a heart that beat all the way up to her neck. Apart from Uncle Jimmy, many of her friends worked down there gutting the herring.
‘I’ve no idea. Now keep back. Please…just…keep back.’
Numb with shock, the girls watched until the first of the stretchers was carried towards the waiting ambulance. A small mound completely covered by a blanket. A child.
From the centre of town the clock struck the hour. ‘I…I have to get my bus.’ She didn’t want to leave, wanted to know the extent of the devastation, needed to know. She would have gladly stayed in town had there been any way of getting word to her mam, who would be worried sick and, also, there was no other means of transport home to John O’Groats that night.
I would like to say a massive thank you to Catherine M Byrne, and to Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour, and for providing me with a copy of the book. If you would like to read more about this delightful book, have a look at the other blogs taking part in the tour.