It is Eleven O’clock.
I could see Iris was trying to keep the tears back as she remembered the moment when she was taken from her classroom to the school clinic.
“Sitting there were the other three, I wondered what this was all about, I looked at Deirdre who just shrugged her shoulders. Nurse Ayres, then said Bernard has been very sick and that we must all go home in case we spread the ‘flu around again. Miss Payne, Bernard’s teacher was fussing around him, he was everyone’s favourite with his big brown eyes, but he did look very poorly. I was a bit worried when Miss Slaughter, our head mistress said that she would take us home together with Bernard’s teacher, I thought he must be very ill”.
Miss Slaughter is looking at the four young children in front of her. At least with Bernard being so sick she would not have to tell the children the real reason for going home, that even she could not believe.
“We all leave the school walking home hand in hand, the two teachers are talking quietly, me and Deirdre are trying to hear what they are saying but they are too far behind us. I know something is wrong by the sadness in their voices. As we pass Mr. Garrett’s shop, I hear Miss Payne says something that at first I can’t understand, then she says, ‘Poor Mrs Weguelin what a terrible thing to have happened, he was such a young man’. It’s all we needed to hear, Deirdre shouted, ‘It’s Dad’, we started running as fast as we could”.
The noise of the children screaming for their mother, running down the road, is heard before they are seen. Followed by the two teachers who are finding it impossible to keep up. The younger ones not knowing why they were running away from Miss Slaughter, who is calling for them to stop.
“As we turned the corner near Mrs. Parker’s house, we see this crowd of people, some of them are holding their hands out to stop us from falling”.
Deirdre, and Iris, now calling for their mother, push through the crowd and up the steps with Bernard and Chrissie—still not knowing what has happened—just behind. There is a large crowd of anxious friends, they look tearfully at each other, it must be Charlie.
As if to keep time with the drama of the moment, St Peter’s church rings eleven bells. It’s about five hours since Ethel wiped the mist from the window and waved goodbye to her darling husband. The fears that she had had earlier were for her children, never for her normally fit and healthy husband. Influenza can strike the strongest of men down.
The two teachers follow the children into the house, Miss Slaughter, a strict—some would say hard—woman, is trying not to cry, but never-the-less failing. To see six young children climbing over their distraught mother is just too much for her. How could she have been able to tell these children that they would never see their father again.
Sergeant Reynolds goes to the front door, standing on the steps he reads out a short note.
“This morning our dear friend, Charlie……..”.
He pauses for a long moment. Mrs. Salmon steps up and takes the note from his trembling hand and finishes reading it.
“Mr. Charles Luz Weguelin, from this address, was in a fatal accident this morning, the cause of his passing is unknown”.
A low murmur and then sobbing from the stunned crowd, all holding each other for support. How could such a thing happen to such a lovely young family? They had hoped it would be just an accident—hope is a straw always worth clinging to. They slowly walk away in little groups thinking how wicked life can be.
First the Policeman leaves, and then the Doctor, having first made sure the family were being looked after.
“There was Mrs. Phillips, she was a St John’s Ambulance Nurse, together with Pedlar Phillips mother who lived next door, and of course Mrs. Salmon. Without any further ado, the washing is finished and hung out to dry, another pot of tea is made, and some biscuits are found for us. We were all weeping except for mum she was just sitting in the chair watching everything going on around her, I think the pills the doctor had given her must have been very strong”.
Mrs. Mant, from further up the road comes in, she has already had a whip round, a few pennies here, and soon a shilling or two. People living in this part of Chertsey know only too well what it is like to be short of money. The crowd have all gone, there would be many sleepless homes tonight.
At the Airscrew, the news of the accident awaited George Weguelin, Charlies’ father. He works in the drawing office, and he starts work later than the other workmen and would have no idea of what has happened. It will a be a difficult thing for someone to tell him of the accident. He was taken to the hospital in the company car with Mr Titler, the Company Chairman, only to be told that his son had died.
It is lunch time in the Airscrew Factory, the sad news of the death of one of their mates had already gone around the workshops. Taffy and Mr Sewell had stayed back with Charlie’ until the ambulance came to take him to hospital. In the canteen they are telling everyone how it happened, the men listen quietly. Charlie Weguelin was a good man. Taffy is having a hard time reliving the last few minutes of his friends life and telling about the frantic efforts of the men trying to save him.
“We were only halfway up Woburn Hill when Charlie said he was out of breath, so we walked over the top while the others raced off. Charlie seemed alright as we free wheeled down the hill and then over the little hump-backed bridge. He was just behind me, and we were talking as normal, then I heard his bike hitting the railings and crashing into the road. I stopped and looked back, and he was just laying still on the ground. At first, I thought he was mucking about, and I went over to help him up, but he was completely knocked out. I couldn’t make him move. I ran to the Main gate to get some help and luckily the works Nurse had just arrived. We ran back and he was surrounded by people trying to bring him round. The nurse took his pulse, but I could see she knew it was serious and needed a doctor. A group of us stayed with him until he was taken away in the ambulance, then we all walked into work, everyone was very quiet, and then later in the morning we heard the bad news”.
The men in the canteen sat at the tables eating their sandwiches, they are talking about Charlie, and saying what a nice man he was. There is a sick club that most men belong to, but it had already been used up with so many claiming it lately. They said they will have a collection on Friday when they are paid.