FINGERPRINTS FROM THE PAST
I have in my possession a small, fragile piece of paper – a letter, sent to me when I was a young girl. The ink is faded and it is smudged with engine oil, yet it is irreplaceable.
Headed 10 Downing Street, Whitehall, and dated December, 1942, the letter is penned in her own hand by Clementine S. Churchill, wife of the prime minister. So how did an ordinary nine-year-old come to receive correspondence from the wife of the nation’s leader?
At the start of WWII, my mother enrolled me in a dancing class. It wasn’t long before Mrs Iris Lowe picked me out to join The Sunbeams, her troupe of children who gave concerts for charity. I honed my meagre talents with song-and-dance numbers performed on the top of a friend’s air raid shelter for the next door neighbours.
The troupe entertains
Bossy by nature, I was soon organising a few friends into helping me put on a series of back garden concerts, giving myself the starring roles, naturally. Posters were drawn up in coloured crayons and stuck about the neighbourhood.
We liked to present a varied programme. Little Sheila would give recitations about Christopher Robin, or do a few simple acrobatics.
Maureen, Vera, Joyce and I formed a chorus line, all yellow satin, sequins and frilly knickers, to sing the latest hits. And Maureen was famous for her take on Carmen Miranda.
Local kids were charged one penny admission for the concert, including the Punch and Judy Show that followed. I made the glove puppets myself, although I was never a dab hand at sewing. I even manufactured a crocodile from cardboard and a green brocade curtain.
When my mother got fed up with her garden being trampled on regularly, other mothers were persuaded to put up with us, so our show toured around the local gardens.
After a while, and despite the fact that the lads always made a point of demanding their money back, we had
collected the magnificent sum of five shillings for the war effort, which we donated to Mrs Churchill’s Aid to Russia fund. Imagine my delight with the letter that followed from Mrs Churchill herself:
Dear Rosemary and Friends,
Thank you very much for your gift, which I have just received.I am most grateful to you for the trouble you have taken to help the brave Russians in their terrible struggle and in the glorious defence of their country.
Your sincere friend,
Clementine S. Churchill
Immediately it became a treasure and I took it to school to flash around. My dad, as a proud parent, showed it off at his next Home Guard meeting. But it was at the factory where he worked where it acquired the stains and oily fingerprints. I shouted at Dad, and considered it spoilt beyond redemption, but it is now a treasured possession.