The story starts in the kitchen of number seventy-five Pyrcroft Road, Chertsey. It is April, 1934. Charlie Weguelin is getting ready for work. Breakfast in our kitchen is chaotic. Six children are sitting at the table watching their mother dishing out the porridge. The noise of spoons scraping on plates will soon fill the room, not a spoonful will be missed.
Iris looks over at me, swirling a glass of Co-op Sherry and starts her story.
“I can remember that morning so clearly, we had all been ill with the ‘flu and we were excited about going back to school. Mum was dishing out the porridge and as usual, Donald was trying to eat it before it even touches his plate”.
“Donald, I won’t tell you again, it’s not a race”.
“I can hear Mum now as if it was yesterday. That Donald was a little devil, not even four yet but he was always up to something. Deirdre tugged my arm, pointing at Dad, he had buttoned his shirt up all wrong and now he’s got one button over, we all start to laugh at him as he searches for the buttonhole. While everyone is looking at him, Bernard swops Chrissy’s nearly full plate of porridge with his half empty one. Mum leans over and swops them back again with a clip round his ear and a warning look. Our mealtimes were always like that, but Mum didn’t seem to mind”.
Deirdre, still smiling at her father’s efforts to do up his buttons, sees that his shirt tail is showing below his jacket, without causing any more giggling, she whispers.
“Daddy, your shirt is hanging out at the back”.
He lifts his chin and grins, as he feels around for the errant shirt tail.
“It’s a good job you told me that, I would never have heard the last of it, they tease me enough as it is, the devils”.
The devils he is referring to are the men he works with, they find his ‘posh’ voice amusing—his early years of private education have left an indelible mark. His accent doesn’t sit well with the rest of his workaday clothes or the wide flat cap that all workmen seem to wear.
The sharp ‘ding-a ling’ of a bicycle bell, gives him a start. Outside the house are those very Devils, his workmates, all anxious to ride the three miles to Weybridge, they all work in the Airscrew Factory. Then the sing-song voice of Taffy Rees is heard—his years of singing in a Male Voice Choir have also left their mark. He moved his family from the Welsh Valleys a few years ago, looking for work in the prosperous South of England, like so many other men from all around the country.
“Come on Charlie, it’s gettin’ late, we’ll hafta’ get a move on”.
. His wife Ethel sorts out his shirt button mismatch and says quietly.
“Tell them to go Charlie, you know what they’ll do, it’ll be a race to see who can clock in first, you’ve got plenty of time to get there before the hooter goes”.
Ignoring her good advice, he calls through the window.
“Hang on, I’m nearly ready”.
She looks at him in frustration, as she tucks a scarf around his chest, it may be sunny, but it is quite windy, and he still has a bit of a cough.
Like so many others he has not been able to work for the last few weeks because of the ‘flu epidemic. He needs to earn some money— no money, no food. Another shout comes from outside, more urgent this time
Deirdre pushes away her plate, for her the porridge has lost its appeal. But not for Donald, he is the first to claim it, he is always first off the mark. He speaks quickly, in the way that young children do.
“I knowed you were goin to leave your porridge Didy”.
Deirdre shakes her head.
“You don’t say knowed Donald, what you should have said is, I knew you were leaving your porridge”.
Donald looked over to his Mum for support, she just gives him one of those smiles that mother give.
“Your sister’s right, but we all know what you mean lovie”.
“I never knewed that mummy”.
Defeated by the logic of a young child, Deirdre sips her cup of milk, her eyes are again on her father as he pulls his large cap tightly over his head, he puts a finger to his lips and under his breath he says.
“It’s only the way that young children think, he’ll soon learn”.
His whisper caused him to cough, the hacking cough of a heavy smoker, except that he has never smoked.
There’s another shout from outside. He quickly kisses his wife and waves to the children. They hardly look up from their breakfast. Deirdre gives him a sweet smile and a little wave. Her gaze lingers on the closing front door.
Deirdre was named after the beautiful young heroin in the Irish play ‘Deirdre of the sorrows’, by John Millington Synge. Now at the age of thirteen she has turned out to be just like the young woman in the play, tall and elegant with snow white skin and jet-black hair. I am surprised that my mother, who was quite superstitious and interested in any sort of mythology, would choose the name Deirdre. For as well as being the name of the most beautiful woman, it also means sorrow. A word that so inadequately describes the events of that day in nineteen thirty-four. A day that would haunt Deirdre for the rest of her tragically short life, and after many years of reliving that saddest of days, she would take her own life. Just like the heroin in the play.
With the noise of bicycle chains meshing with cogs and gears, the men’s voices fade. Ethel wipes the misty window and watches the group of men disappear around the top of the road. All is quiet except for the approaching sound of iron studded boots on the road, men are walking in groups to wherever they work locally. She waves to Mr Austin, a friend of Charlies’, he is a topman in the Gogmore Lane foundry, a highly skilled job, making the patterns for whatever is to be cast, a famous Chertsey bell or maybe a large clock face for a Church somewhere. The products from this small foundry are to be seen in every corner of the country and even beyond, from a common manhole cover to the intricate design of a pair of gates for a fine house.