“How can you possibly take an innocent six-year-old child to Berlin of all places?” Mrs Harriman asked her daughter indignantly.
“Mother!” Kathleen pleaded, “Gatow is just another RAF station!”
“In the middle of Germany! You’ll be surrounded by Nazis!”
“The war has been over almost three years, Mother. Besides, I have housing on the station and Hope will go to school and have daycare there. We won’t need to go into Berlin for anything.”
“Then why go there in the first place? Why don’t you just quit the WAAF and take a nice, sensible job? You trained and worked as a sales clerk before you married, and I see signs in windows saying, ‘help wanted’ all over the place. There’s even a vacancy at Marks and Spencers on High Street! That would be perfect for you, and you would meet lots of nice, respectable people. You and Hope could move back in with us.”
The last thing Kathleen wanted was to live with her parents. It was nine years since she’d married and almost five since her husband Ken had been killed. She treasured her independence.
As if reading her thoughts, her mother hastened to add, “Think of how much better it would be for little Hope if you didn’t have shift work, Kathleen. As a shopgirl, you’d have regular working hours and could live a normal life again. It was one thing during the war when it was a national emergency and Hope was so little. I understand that working at an airfield helped you get over your grief, but it’s time to move on. You’re still an attractive young woman. No one would think you were 28 just by looking at you. Your hair is still so dark and thick. It is time to find a new daddy for poor little Hope.”
Kathleen reined in her temper and tried to answer in a civil tone of voice, but she was not open to further discussion. “Mother, I volunteered for this posting. It was an urgent request, and I already have my orders. I’ll be leaving first thing on Sunday.”
“That’s only three days from now!”
“Exactly, and I was very much hoping you’d be willing to look after Hope until I’m settled into my new position. There is a daily BEA flight into Gatow, and I’ve already looked into arrangements for an unaccompanied child to fly on it. All you’ll have to do is get her to Northolt when I send you a cable with the date and details.”
“You expect Hope to fly alone to Berlin! That’s dangerous and must be outrageously expensive!” Her mother protested.
“I can afford it and the flight will be much safer than for her to travel with me via Dover, Brussels and Hanover. I’ll be en route for roughly 48 hours. But, if you don’t want to have Hope with you for the next ten days, then I shall take her with me.” Kathleen left no room for doubt that she meant what she said.
“I would never impose such a horrible journey on a child!” Her mother countered indignantly. “If you insist on throwing your money away on airfare for a child, of course, we’d be happy to have Hope with us until you send word. But I don’t understand you, Kathleen. Honestly, I don’t. What on earth do you hope to gain by going to Berlin?”
Kathleen drew a deep breath. There was so much she hoped to gain but her mother would understand none of it — not the chance to do radar controlling, or to be the senior WAAF on the station, or to be near Ken, who was buried in the Commonwealth War Cemetery there. Kathleen secretly hoped that going there and seeing the grave would at last free her to love again, but the last person she would ever confess that to was her mother. So, all she said was, “Mother, it’s my life.”
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