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Love conquers all, p.1
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       Love Conquers All, p.1

           Alex Johnson
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Love Conquers All

  Love Conquers All!

  Copyright by Alex Johnson 2013


  This is an unusual romance. Taking place during World War II it contains the vagaries of wartime. It is the story of a young country girl caught up in the excitement of war and falling in love with a shy young soldier.

  Unfortunately, service life leads to all kinds of surprises, and parting is one of them, so the girl is left bewildered.

  Life however can change rapidly and once again an army occurrence gives hope and a chance meeting leads the story along to a happy ending.

  I would like to acknowledge the support of Bryan Stables who first encouraged me, and then bullied me, into publishing this book. I am also deeply indebted to Evelyn Carrick who not only typed out everything but produced the finished article.

  Alex K Johnson

  Chapter One

  Alex Waters was a bright but shy boy at the village school. He enjoyed school and his teachers had high hopes that Alex would win a free place at a local grammar school. Alex himself never thought of the future, although he enjoyed playing schools with his friends in the winter months when he was always the teacher. His mother suggested that he might become a teacher, but Alex knew that his parents couldn’t afford to send him to grammar school or university and that free places were seldom offered to village children. His particular ambition was to be a sportsman.

  He could run miles without being exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed playing football. He often played with older boys and soon began to make a name for himself. When he was eleven years old he sat the examination for Blaydon Grammar School. The interval between sitting the examination and hearing the result was three months: this didn’t bother Alex although his parents had an anxious wait. When the result came by post Mrs Waters, Alex’s mother, burst into tears much to Alex’s dismay. The letter congratulated Alex on successfully gaining a free place at Blaydon Grammar School. His parents were delighted, even more so when they discovered he was the only child in the village to pass the examination.

  Alex was quite pleased at first, but not so sure when he discovered that he had to walk the five and a half miles to the school: worse still, on the return journey had to walk up a steep hill about a mile long. Attending grammar school meant leaving home at 7.20 am and arriving home at 5.30 pm. It was a long day for a young boy but Alex accepted that he had to do it so, when it rained, hailed or snowed, Alex could be seen treading up the hill and along the country road, homeward bound.


  Two young men who had left the village to join the army often came home for a weekend’s leave. When they walked round the village, Alex and his friends would march behind them, imitating them by swinging their arms. Each boy would be heard stating that they were going to join the Durham Light Infantry when they grew up. Alex however, preferred to keep silent. The idea of leaving home didn’t appeal to him, even at this age.

  Pupils at grammar school were expected to stay until they were eighteen years of age, but many left at sixteen, for money was scarce. Some children were expected to leave school and go to work to help out the family income. Alex was no exception and he too left school at the earliest opportunity. His father had been injured at the local colliery and was on a minimum wage. Alex was needed to supplement the household finances. He spent hours writing for jobs to no avail. Then one day a letter arrived saying he could fill the vacancy of office boy at a big firm in Newcastle upon Tyne. His parents were delighted and pointed out to him that one day he may be the managing director of the firm. Alex wasn’t so sure of that. He wasn’t looking forward to sitting in an office all day and every day, for he was a lover of the outdoors.

  He took the job and soon became a popular member of the firm and quickly rose from office boy to clerk. His free time was spent playing tennis in the summer and table tennis and football in the winter. While his friends were dancing and enjoying the company of girls he was cycling and training. Alex was asked to go for a trial to play table tennis for the County, which pleased him greatly. He also played good football and after first playing for his school he joined several local football teams, winning several medals before being asked to play for Bishop Auckland, which was the best amateur team in England. His happiness however was to be short lived!

  Mrs Waters picked up the letter for the third time, examining it with unbridled curiosity. It was a buff, official-looking envelope with OHMS on the top and it was addressed to her son, Alex.

  “Alex” she called, “There’s a letter for you and it looks very important!”

  Alex came downstairs, wondering what it could be. The only letters he ever had were from the CTC, his cycling club, or from the local football team giving details of his next game. He picked up the letter and smiled at his mother who was impatiently waiting for him to open the letter.

  “Cum on man,” she said, in her broad, Durham accent.

  Alex opened the letter, read it in silence and then passed it to his mother to read. His mother glanced at Alex after reading the letter.

  “Oh no son, why pick on you?” Alex turned and looked out of the window, his stomach churning. “Someone has to go Mother, so why not me?” he said.

  The year was 1939, Chamberlain had promised peace in our time but it was purely a delaying tactic to enable the country to prepare for war. As a precaution, a percentage of twenty-year old boys were being conscripted into the Militia for six months training. The letter notified Alex that he was in one of the Militia and he was to report to Hadrian’s Camp, Carlisle, the following Saturday, with his toilet articles only. Clothing would be provided.

  Mrs Waters, her eyes full of tears, looked at her son and sighed. Of her three sons, she thought Alex was the least likely to make a soldier, for he was a gentle, well-mannered, cheerful boy who lived only for his sport.

  “It’s only for six months Mother, it will soon pass and I’ll be back to eat you out of house and harbour. Well I should get enough football now. They say that the Army encourages sport!”

  Alex spent the next few days in a dream. He had ascertained that the village was producing two recruits only and the other boy was going to Wales. That was a pity for he would have had company until new friends were made. Saturday morning came and Alex rose as usual, trying to appear nonchalant as he ate his breakfast and packed his small case, a brown, cardboard case costing sixpence from Woolworth’s of Clayton Street, Newcastle. Alex had left home many times on cycling holidays and usually left with a grin and a wave of his hand but this was different. He had a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach as he kissed his Mother farewell.

  “I’ll be back soon Mother, they’re sure to give us leave soon” he said, and taking a last look round the house, set off down the street with a jaunty step, knowing that his Mother would be watching him all the way. In a few minutes the bus came, gathered him in and deposited him at Blaydon Railway Station, from here he would get a train to Carlisle.

  He strolled on to the station and saw to his surprise several other young men of his own age on the platform. Each carried a small bag or parcel and it was obvious that they were all heading for Hadrian’s Camp. Soon they were all engaged in animated conversation and Alex cheered up immediately as introductions were made and promises that they would stick together were affirmed. The journey to Carlisle passed very quickly as each man propounded his views on the Army, football and girls. During the conversation Alex became a good listener. He had to, for he had never taken out a girl and knew nothing of what was now termed ‘Sex’.

  An Army lorry was waiting for them at Carlisle Station and standing in the back of the jolting vehicle they were driven to Hadrian’s Camp. To the group’s astonishment, on alighting, they found themselves in a field and in
front of them stretched out rows of bell-tents and several marquees.

  So much for the luxury apartments they had discussed on the way up. Their thoughts were interrupted by their guide who took them to a large marquee and handed them over to a soldier with three stripes on his arm, a sergeant. He threw a bolster case at Alex and his new friend Ted, “Go away and make your palliasse,” he said in a loud voice.

  “What’s a palliasse? Ted asked Alex softly.

  “It’s a friendly donkey,” Alex replied with a grin.

  The Sergeant overheard this remark and barked out sarcastically, “Oh! We have a clever one here, have we? What’s your name?”

  “Waters.” said Alex unsure of himself now.

  “Waters what?” roared the NCO.

  “Alex!” came back the reply.

  The Sergeant nearly choked. He approached Alex and said pointing to his stripes, “Do you see these?” Alex nodded, “These are stripes - three makes a Sergeant, who must be treated with great respect. In future when you speak to a Sergeant you must call him Sir, or by his rank, do you understand?”

  “Yes sir - Sergeant,” came the reply from a very subdued Alex. He then walked away to fill his palliasse, wishing he had curtailed his sense of humour.

  “I’ll remember you - Waters!” the Sergeant shouted after him. Ted smiled at Alex and said, “You’ve made a great start to your army career, come on, let’s find the straw to make our beds!”

  Conversation was limited as Alex was still upset by the not-so-friendly Sergeant, but having filled their palliasse with straw for their beds, the two friends made their way to the tents. They were the first there and Alex and Ted dumped their beds and kit and made their way to marquee number two. Here, amid much laughter, they were fitted with boiler suits and a sports coat and flannels together with a uniform of World War One vintage. The fitting of these caused much hilarity but Alex was lucky as he found one which actually fitted! It was only after all this that they were allowed to go back to their tents: Alex, Ted and Jackie together.

  Alex looked around his tent, it seemed impossible to sleep eight people with all their accoutrements but if it had to be done, he could sleep well away from the door and duly deposited his bed and kit furthest away from the tent flap. Soon they were joined by other youths; a motley collection from Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, Lancashire and Yorkshire.


  Life began in earnest on the following morning at six o’clock when the strident trumpet call of ‘Reveille’ shattered the silence of the Camp. Alex lay still for a moment, collecting his scattered thoughts. What a night it had been; he must level out his palliasse before he slept in it again and who was the culprit who snored so loud it reverberated round the tent?

  The next Saturday quickly arrived for the days were full; drill, exercise, military training and searchlights. All the soldiers not on duty were allowed out but had to be back in camp by 10.30 pm. Alex had discovered in the first few days that he enjoyed soldiering. Being an outdoor, village boy, he found himself appreciating a regular routine and now he was looking forward to enjoying his first visit, as a soldier, to Carlisle. He put on his new sports coat and flannels as did the other nine hundred and ninety nine and made for the camp exit. Outside the camp, a few yards away from the camp gate, stood a group of girls, obviously from the local village and some soldiers stopped to speak to them. Alex hurried past, averting his eyes and whistled gently to himself. Suddenly a young girl left the group and hurried after him.

  “Wait a minute, soldier. I can’t keep up with you,” shouted the girl.

  Alex stopped, horrified. He turned to look at her. “You mean me?” he said. “I didn’t ask you to come with me.”

  His blue eyes were wide – he hadn’t met this situation before.

  “Yes, my love. You’re a handsome boy – will you take me into town? I’ll let you kiss me!”

  Alex blushed scarlet, his mouth dried up and he had difficulty in speaking. “No! I don’t want a girl. I’m going to Carlisle to see a football match.”

  The girl looked at him, moved closer and kissed him on the cheek. “I think you’re lovely. I’m going with you!”

  “That’s what you think.” shouted Alex as he sprinted down the road like a startled rabbit. After half a mile he slowed to a walk and looked behind him to see if she had followed. He was confused. What should he have done, accepted a kiss and taken her into the city, after all, he was twenty years of age; or stood and talked. He shook his head and proceeded on his way to Carlisle where he saw his football match and returned early to camp, spending the rest of the night in the NAAFI canteen.

  He lay awake for a long time that night, re-enacting his encounter with the young girl and digesting all the girl talk of his mates. The following Saturday arrived and once again he was off duty so left the camp for freedom. Passing the guardroom, he froze. There waiting alone was the girl who had pestered him the week before. He watched her covertly; she was a nice looking girl, probably about sixteen years old. She must be boy mad to be waiting there again.

  Waiting until she was looking across the field, he made to stride past her but she turned and saw him. Her expression changed. A smile lit up her elfin face and she confronted him.

  “I’ve been waiting for you. I prayed you would come.” she said, looking up into his blue eyes. “You’re the nicest boy in camp!”

  Alex flushed. “I’ll bet you say that to all the boys.” was all the tongue-tied young man could muster.

  “Indeed I don’t! I’ve been waiting two hours today and every night just to see you. Come on; let’s go for a walk, away from here.”

  Alex looked around uneasily and began to walk down the road. She looked up at him, smiled and said, “My name’s Mary, what’s yours?”

  “Alex,” he replied, “and I’m too old for you. I’m 20.” She gave a squeal of delight and took his hand.

  “Well! Well! Aren’t we grown up! I’m 18; do you think I’m nice?”

  Alex looked away most embarrassed then boldly said, “You’re the nicest looking girl I know!”

  She laughed. “Then kiss me.”

  She pulled him into a gateway. Alex became even more flustered and after a long pause, pecked her cheek.

  “No! That’s not a kiss. Here, put your arms around me. There that’s better. Now kiss my lips, gently at first and then a little more.”

  Alex, completely under her spell, did as he was requested and felt a strange feeling engulf him. Seconds later, still panting, he released her. Mary looked at him and murmured, “Well, well. A boy of 20 has just had his first kiss. I can’t believe it.”

  Alex, un-nerved by this experience, turned and ran back into camp. He had had his first lesson on girls. Alex continued to enjoy the training. He found himself on searchlight duty and spent the time searching the sky for any sign of a plane through his powerful army binoculars. After training finished many soldiers went into Carlisle looking for girls or for pubs. Alex, however, was quite happy to stay in camp playing table tennis, a sport he was good at. Every Friday a table tennis tournament was held there, the winner receiving 200 cigarettes and the runner up 100 cigarettes. Ted and Jackie were smokers whereas Alex had never touched a cigarette, and knowing this, Ted and Jackie and their two girlfriends frog-marched Alex to the canteen and ordered him to win to keep them in cigarettes for the week. Alex responded by winning most nights to their obvious delight.

  A cross-country run was organised by the Regimental Sergeant Major and hundreds entered while the rest of the camp watched. It was a gruelling eight miles but Alex managed to overtake the leading group to be the champion. His elation lessened when the RSM told him that he would represent the camp in all cross-country races. This didn’t upset Alex but his next sentence made Alex groan.

  “Well done Waters, representing the camp is a great honour and so you must be very fit to do so. We will start training tomorrow morning at six o’clock.” So while the rest of the camp were snoring Alex was
pounding the country roads around Carlisle.

  The weeks went past smoothly, Alex really enjoying himself in the sports provided by the Army, going on weekend leave when he could, but not venturing into town, in spite of, or because of, messages brought in by his friends from a lovely girl waiting outside of camp.

  Once War had been declared, however, the camp atmosphere changed immediately. The light-hearted training ceased and training for War began. Volunteers were required to join the Chemical Warfare division of the Royal Engineers and Alex stepped forward. So began anew life. Six hundred volunteers (and pressed men) entrained at Carlisle station and at 6.00 pm left for an unknown destination. The soldiers were excited and sat back to enjoy the journey, loosening their puttees to be more comfortable.

  The train stopped and started and the men dozed. Dawn broke, the soldiers roused themselves and dressed again. At half past six the train stopped and the raucous voice of the Regimental Sergeant Major ordered everyone off the train. The soldiers lined up, gazing around the unfamiliar surroundings.

  “Where are we Sarge?” asked a soldier.

  “You’re on Salisbury Plain my boy. The home of every soldier,” grunted the grizzled old soldier.

  Transport was waiting and the soldiers were driven a few miles away to a completely new camp. After a marvellous breakfast of bacon, egg, baked beans and fried bread the soldiers were led to their barrack rooms, twenty-four to a room. In the spider block were toilets and bathrooms – no more using a trench in a field. This was luxury indeed and there was great excitement as the soldiers unpacked their belongings. Almost immediately they were sticking up pictures of their wives or girlfriends.

  Alex felt lonely. Looking along the row of cupboards he realized that he was probably the only man without a photograph. He would remedy that, he would write to his favourite cousin for a photograph. He felt sure that she wouldn’t mind. The thought cheered him up. The camp was heaven to Alex; it had football and rugby pitches and it had, much to his delight, a massive room for table tennis where he could show off his skill at the game.

  Saturday came and the camp was deserted. Every soldier had gone to explore Salisbury, the nearest town, about five miles away. Alex was no exception and enjoyed looking at the ancient buildings, especially the cathedral. He had been warned to leave the city early for the last bus to camp was at 9.30pm so he leisurely made his way to the bus station about 9pm. There were many soldiers about as the Plain had dozens of camps on it and all the men went into Salisbury to satisfy their various thirsts.

  The bus drew up and the people moved forward to board it. Suddenly, a drunken soldier held up the proceedings by blocking the entrance to the bus, speaking in a foul-mouthed voice to every lady stepping into the bus. Alex was behind a middle aged lady and she was about to climb into the bus when the soldier swore at her. Without a moment’s hesitation, Alex took hold of the soldier by the tunic lapels and lifted him into the air and deposited him, on his back, in the gutter. “Get where you belong!” he said.

  Alex followed the lady onto the bus, marvelling at his own deed for this aggressiveness was completely foreign to his nature. The lady had climbed the stairs but Alex took a seat on the lower deck, just inside the door. The upper deck was full, however, so the lady came back downstairs to a full bus. Alex saw the situation and gallantly offered his seat to the lady. She accepted with thanks and also thanked him for his efforts at the bus station. Alex blushed and told her quite frankly that he was no hero but tried to be a gentleman. In the conversation the lady introduced herself as Mrs Rowdon and suggested that he visit the Church Hall at Winterbourne, a half mile from the camp, any evening of the week. The vicar had opened it to the troops. Tea and cakes were available as well as table-tennis and other games. Alex promised to do just that on his first night off duty.

  It was Wednesday when he was free to leave camp and he strolled down the road to the hall. It was sparsely filled but at the far end he saw Mrs Rowdon serving teas to two servicemen, their hats tucked into the epaulettes. He walked over and waited to be served. She looked up and instantly recognized him, she smiled and turning to the lady beside her, introduced him as ‘that lovely young gentleman that I met on the bus.’

  Alex drank his tea slowly, looking at the people in the room. Some he recognized as soldiers from the camp, smiling as he heard the distinctive, harsh accents of the North Country folk. He watched the table-tennis, highly amused at the long handled, pig-skin covered ping-pong bats they were using. It was then that the door opened and a girl walked in, she was tall, dark-haired and open-faced. Her beauty took Alex’s breath away. She was very attractive and he noticed that several soldiers turned to look at her as she walked up to the refreshment table and spoke to the ladies. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her as she took her refreshments to a seat on the far side of the room; he was pleased it was the other side for he could watch her all the time. He watched with envy as soldiers spoke and laughed with her. She was even more attractive when she laughed, her face lit up and her hazel eyes sparkled. What would he give for a girlfriend like that, he thought? She must have a choice of dozens of boys.

  She suddenly rose and walked to the table tennis table, picked up a bat and glanced around. Alex gasped, she was looking for someone to play with. Dare he – why not? He rose to his feet, walked eagerly over to the table and asked if she would like a game. She looked at him and smiled. Alex’s heart pounded, she was even lovelier than he had thought.

  They played and (although Alex was of County standard) the girl won 21 to 19 but she smiled again and denounced him as a fraud and insisted that he played his usual game. This delighted Alex for it meant more time with this beautiful creature and he proceeded to win 21 – 3 which amused his opponent. The game over, he was loathe to leave her but she said she had some shorthand to do but that they could probably play again some other evening.

  Alex watched her go, his heart pounding. He had actually spoken to the girl of his dreams. He walked back to camp that night, walking on air, singing to himself as he made his way to his room. His mate, Ted, saw him come in, saw the flushed face and smile and demanded to know what had happened. Alex sat on the edge of the bed and told them about this dream of a girl he had met in the village.

  “What’s her name?” asked Ted.

  “I don’t know, I forgot to ask,” replied Alex.

  Ted acquainted the others in the room in a loud voice that Alex was in love but that he didn’t know who it was! There were many sarcastic remarks and Alex blushed, jumping on Ted to shut him up.

  The next day seemed endless and just as Alex was changing to go out to the Church Hall again, the sergeant poked his head around the door and shouted, “Waters – to the cookhouse you’re spud bashing.”

  Alex’s heart sank. Another twenty-four hours seemed like a life-time. Then he spotted Jackie Emmerson, a Geordie friend of his.

  “Hello Jackie! Are you playing cards tonight?”

  “I can’t, I’m skint. I can’t even get a cup of char,” he replied, flopping back onto the bed.

  “Well, old son, here’s an idea. Go to the cookhouse as Alex Waters, do my spud bashing and I’ll give you sixpence.”

  Jack was off the bed in a flash. “Done!” he said, grabbing the offered money, and off he went to the cookhouse to face the mountain of potatoes. Alex grinned broadly. It was going to be his lucky night. He raced to the village, checking in at the guardroom to look in the large mirror which stood there to ensure that all soldiers were properly dressed on leaving camp. He smiled at himself in the mirror, waved to his friends in the guardroom and then set off again down the road, mentally practising speeches for when he met this girl. Suddenly he stopped. Perhaps she had a boyfriend or perhaps she thought his Tyneside accent was uncouth. His joy evaporated at the thought of anything happening that would mar this evening.

  He walked up the hall and bought some tea and a delicious looking cream slice. He made his way to a small table which commanded a view of the whol
e room and sat down. He sipped his tea and looked round; was he too late? Had someone else taken her first? He couldn’t bear the thought and looked everywhere. Alex breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t arrived. So he enjoyed his cream slice.

  Idly watching the crowd he saw two of his friends. I hope they stay and see me speak to her, he thought. I might even introduce them. But he knew he would need all his courage to even speak to her. It was an hour later when she came in. Alex had become downhearted and was contemplating going home when the door opened and she entered, carefully closing the door behind her. She was wearing a green dress with a cardigan to match and Alex drew a sharp breath as she turned up the room. Passing his table, she paused slightly, smiled at him, and continued on her way. Alex’s delight was unbounded and he watched with bated breath as she talked to the ladies before turning to survey the room.

  Alex looked at her and she probably sensed that he was willing her to join him for she made her way to his table and sat down. Alex blushed and looked at her with shining blue eyes. “I’m glad you came,” he said.

  “You only want to beat me at table tennis,” she rejoined, “but this time I’ll score more than three.” Both laughing they made their way to the table.

  “What’s your name please?” said Alex, full of delight.

  “I’m Ruth – and yours?”

  “Alex.” He said, “Alex Waters from Newcastle.”

  “I know that,” she replied, with an impish grin, and Alex blushed inwardly, determined to improve his speech. They played each other for the rest of the evening, both enjoying themselves tremendously. The end had to come and she told him it was time to go home. Alex drew breath. Here was the moment he had been waiting for. Now for the speech he had rehearsed so often. “Please can I take you home?”

  She looked startled. Her eyes dropped to the floor. “I don’t know, I’ve never been taken home before. I’ll ask my Mother.” and she walked away to the far end of the hall. He stood amazed at his courage. The Army had taught him something but would he be successful? Alex watched in surprise as the girl walked up to Mrs Rowdon and spoke to her. He saw her shake her head and then look down the room. She spoke again to Ruth who turned and pointed to Alex. Mrs Rowdon beamed and waved him up. Alex walked smartly up to the table and was warmly welcomed by the girl’s mother.

  “Hello Alex. Of course you can take her home, I’d trust you anywhere.”

  Ruth smiled at the embarrassed young man. “Come on then, I’ll show you the way home.” An excited young soldier walked outside the hall. Wait till he told his pals of the marvellous night. They walked slowly back up the road to the camp and stopped after a hundred yards.

  “I live here,” she said with a smile, “not very far is it?”

  The front gate led on to the camp road and here they stayed talking for several minutes during which time several soldiers passed, shouting remarks at him as he stood in the darkness. There were no street or house lights and Alex was glad that Ruth could not see his face as the suggestions were hurled at him by these drunken people. When Ruth finally said she had to go in, Alex was in a quandary. Was he supposed to kiss her or shake her hand? He chose the latter after asking if she would be at the hall next night. She promised that she would try to be there and Alex left in a daze. He ran up the road, singing and reaching the verge of the camp did a complete cartwheel, to the amazement of the camp guard who thought he was drunk.

  On arriving back to his room, instead of quietly walking to his bed as he usually did, he let out a whoop of delight and tipped his friend Jackie out of bed. Jackie retaliated and soon the room was in an uproar, causing the sergeant to burst into the room, demanding to know what was going on. “Alex’s in love Sarge,” yelled someone, “he’s made love for the first time.”

  “I didn’t say that you nit! I took her home that’s all,” said the exasperated Alex.

  The sergeant grinned. “Get to bed all of you or I’ll have you on jankers tomorrow.”

  Alex couldn’t sleep. He had just taken home the most beautiful girl in the world and he wanted to relish every moment of it. Gradually he dropped off to sleep, but at the first call of Reveille he was awake and thinking of Ruth.

  There was no doubt of it – he was in love!

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