A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



A tear trickled down Annie’s face as she sat facing the window but with the television on behind her. She wasn’t watching it and a radio would have done just as well, but the television had a quiz programme on that she particularly enjoyed, and you don’t need to see questions in order to answer them. And the birds in her garden seemed to help her bring really old memories of obscure questions back to her.

And this time the question concerned the second world war, and a familiar clip was being played, one that had haunted her ever since she had first heard it back in 1939. It had been expected, either this or something along the same lines, but it wasn’t wanted. Not by her, obviously, and not by Klaus who had built the art gallery to become widely respected throughout the county in such a short time. But they still insisted in repeating it whenever they could find an excuse to, it seemed, and it was the seventy fifth year since VE day, which offered them one great big juicy excuse. Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, enunciated his brief piece in a clipped and by the twenty-first century somewhat archaic English accent:

I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

She had looked at Klaus, who was there with her, and he had turned pale.

It’s bad,” he said, “at least it is for me. You see, I’m still a German.”

I know,” she said, and smiled encouragingly at him, “funny that, seeing as I doubt there’s anyone more English than you for miles!”

But I know governments,” he murmured thoughtfully, “I will be classified as an enemy alien because of my birth certificate, I’m sure of that. Pity I couldn’t have been born a couple of years later and on British soil, but I wasn’t, and my birth was registered in 1917 in Cologne. But don't worry. Nothing on this Earth would induce me to join the German army!”

The doorbell rang to interrupt the thought.

Oh bother it,” she sighed as she struggled to her feet.

Who is it?” she called out when she was by the front door.

The letterbox opened and a voice came through it. “I’m from the council, madam, and you’re okay, I’m wearing a mask,” it said, “you are Mrs Graby?”

Grable. My name is Grable,” she replied.

Sorry. Look, I’m going to take two steps back so if you open the door I’ll be a couple of metres from you. And as I said I’m wearing a mask, for your safety.”

She opened the door and it was a young man with a keen expression on the bit of his face she could see, and a clip board.

We’ve got you as possibly vulnerable, over seventy five,” he said, “is that right?”

Can’t he see all the lines on my face and the way my feeble legs can barely support me? she thought.

I’ll be a hundred and two on the fourteenth,” she replied, “and that’s in two days time, so I suppose I’m over seventy five. I was probably seventy five before you were born, young fellow!”

He grinned at her behind that mask of his, a grin that only just reached his eyes, a cheeky grin just like Daniel’s when he’d been knee-high to a grasshopper, as they used to say. There was something about that grin that made her want to offer him a cup of tea, so she did.

That would be very nice, but no thanks,” he said sincerely, “I’ve got to see a lot of old folks, begging your pardon for calling you an old folk, and if I had a cup of tea with everyone who offered one I’d never get done!”

And probably end up rushing from loo to loo,” she grinned, “What can I do for you?”

It’s more what I might be able to do for you. I’m here to make sure you’re all right,” he said, “with enough food and stuff. We can’t have our old folks locking themselves down to escape being killed by the virus, and then end up starving to death, can we?”

There’s no danger of that here,” she said, “they send me a box every week! I think it’s my granddaughter, though she’s never said.”

And you can manage?” he grinned, “at least, you look as if you can manage. Did you get a telegram from the queen? When you were a hundred, I mean?”

She nodded. “Not that she gives a flying fig who I am,” she muttered, “just a name on a list, that’s me, but I suppose it was nice to be recognised. Well, is that all, young fellow? I can’t stand for too long without my back giving out.”

Er, yes, I suppose so… yes, thanks, goodbye,” he said and turned to go.

Pity you’re wearing a mask,” she called at him before he was out of sight, “I couldn’t see your face. Just as well, probably. I might have fancied you if I could and then where would we be?”

Although he was almost out of sight and had his back to her she could sense that he was blushing.

She closed the door and made her wasyback to that chair of hers.

It’s good of the council to check up on me,” she murmured to herself, “very different from back then when they realised that Klaus was a German citizen and had the cheek to call him an enemy alien!”

They’d done that! He must have been on some list somewhere as a German citizen and that meant he was very much an enemy.

I might be called German but I’ve been here since I was one and a bit,” he said to a poker-faced official in a bowler hat, “and as far as I can remember I’ve never been to Germany! Wasn’t the Royal Family German until they changed their name to Windsor to sound more British? Can’t I change my name, let me see, to Smith? Isn’t that English enough?”

The man who came to see him hadn’t got much of a sense of humour and he was plainly appalled at anyone with German blood in his veins being insolent. There was a verbal squabble between the two men that Annie, with her lovely eyes and intelligent smile, had been obliged to pour cold water on.

Now simmer down, fellows,” she had said, “look at me, I’m expecting, and the last thing I want is for my baby to grow up knowing all about bad tempers.”

And you’re German as well?” asked the bowler hat.

Do I look it?” she asked, “and does Klaus?”

I’ll ask the questions if you don’t mind!” he hissed, all peremptory and decidedly officious.

In the end and after an interview in a sterile office Klaus had been given a “C” classification, which meant he was harmless, but he was obliged to lock the gallery for the duration of the war and go to work on the land, thus releasing a busy farmer who could go into battle and die.

I wonder something,” said Annie, “when the baby’s born, will he be German too?”

I don’t care what he is as long as he’s healthy,” replied Klaus.

He? What if it’s a she?” teased Annie.

As long as she’s healthy, then,” he said, “this national thing, German, British, it’s rotten.”

We’re all tribal,” agreed Annie, “and we don’t particularly like people from different tribes. My dad’s best friend, you know, was a black man. Sammy, mum called him. But he was okay because he was born here. He was British.”

Which reminds me,” murmured Klaus, “aren’t we going to the big house for tea with your mum this afternoon?”

And step dad. Yes we are, even though between the two of us we’re half German!”

It’s going to be an awkward time ahead,” he mused quietly, “I know what people can be like. That blasted Hitler! Just let’s hope the war’s over soon enough.”

Yes, agreed Annie, “and that we’re on the winning side!”

© Peter Rogerson, 16.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 16, 2020
Last Updated on May 16, 2020
Tags: war, enemy alien, official


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

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A Chapter by Peter Rogerson