Jinnie and Penny entered King Charles the Martyr Church in Mutton Lane, Potters Bar. Jinnie shivered, despite it being a pleasant sunny early June day, the brick-built church felt chilly. But then maybe it was the occasion. The Anglican church was a little unusual in that it had only been built in the 1930s and was modelled on a Jacobean barn. The sun was streaming in through the tall stained-glass windows behind the altar. It was twenty minutes before the funeral service was due to start, the church was already quite full and they had seen a growing, respectful, crowd outside and even some American TV crews, as they had made the 10-minute walk from their home to the church. The girls found their preallocated seats in the third row of pews and sat down.
Jinnie’s mind wandered to how just over two weeks earlier she had discovered Ethel’s body on the living floor in her retirement flat. Realising the body was cold and must have been laying there for some time she had pulled the emergency alert cord and one of the retirement home staff had arrived moments later. To Jinnie the woman had seemed to have taken hours to get there. She had been efficient and polite, ushering Jinnie out of the room, comforting her, calling colleagues and putting the death machine into action. Jinnie had been taken to a private room and given a strong cup of tea. She had been joined by first Jimmy and then Fred and Bert. For a while they had talked about Ethel. Fred said that in recent months Ethel had worked harder for the resistance than any one of her great age ever should have done. She lived for freedom and once London was back in allied hands he said he thought she had nothing else to live for.
Having thought about the whist club members Jinnie glanced around the church and saw them in the front row on the other side of the church. Bert saw her, nodded to her and nudged his companions. They both turned to her, smiled and nodded, she nodded back. There was ten minutes still to go before the service was due to start and the church was very nearly full, but the two seats next to the girls were still empty. Moments later they were filled by the newly appointed Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Potters Bar, neither of whom Jinnie had ever met. The Mayoress whispered into her husband’s ear, (well Jinnie assumed it was her husband) and they both reached over and shook her hand. Mr Mayor whispered in her ear, “May I be the first to congratulate you.” Jinnie had no idea what he was talking about, but smiled back sweetly and said, “Thank you.”
A week ago the residential home manager had rang her on the family’s landline. He said he was trying to get a list together of those who would be at Ethel’s funeral. He explained that due to unprecedented demand, attendance at the church was going to have to be by invitation only, as was the interment at Trent Park Cemetery. Jinnie said of course she and Penny wanted to be there. He continued saying, “You don’t drive do you?” and without waiting for her reply said, “I will ensure you get a place in one of the mourning cars to the interment and then back to the retirement home for a bite to eat.” He then told her the day and time of the service, that KCM, as the church was known locally, had been booked and would she be making her own way there? Jinnie knew the church well and it was within easy walking distance, so she said they would make their own way to the church.
Someone, Jinnie guessed one of the oldies, had leaked the news of Ethel’s demise to The Potters Bar Press and it had splashed on the story, with the headline, “Death of a Heroine”. The story had the basic detail of her life story and praised her for still being working for the resistance at 99. Jinnie then realised that Ethel must have had a birthday while she was away in Germany. The local paper further explained that Ethel had no living family and her friends at her retirement home feared that only a few people would attend the church service. The story had been pickup by the national press and even made the local BBC radio station that had just been started up. Suddenly hundreds of people wanted to honour the little old lady who had dedicated her life to her country. The media were all over the story like a rash and a few more details leaked and were published, like the internment and subsequent disappearance of her beloved husband, Gerald. It soon became obvious that many more people than the church could accommodate wished to attend the service, hence it was made by invitation only and arrangements were made to relay the service to a crowd that was expected to gather in the church grounds and car park.
The female vicar led the beautiful service and several resistance leaders, including Fred Bear, spoke of Ethel’s dedication to the cause and how the old lady was universally loved by all who met her. The final speaker was pushed down the nave in a wheelchair. It was only when he was turned to face the congregation that Jinnie realised that it was Mike. A microphone was placed in front of him and he explained that he was currently supposed to be in the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington DC, preparing for another operation on injuries sustained while leading an action in London for the resistance. He had heard about Ethel’s death on the BBC World Service and had begged his doctors to let him fly home for the funeral. When the military doctors heard just what a heroine Ethel was and her part in Mike own resistance story they arranged for him to join a British Nightingale flight bringing British soldiers back from treatment in US hospitals. The Walter Reed doctors had also ensured Ethel’s story was widely publicised in the States hence the American TV crews in the car park.
Mike told how he was the last resistance fighter and controller recruited by Ethel before her official retirement and that no records existed of just how many people she had recruited over the years but it was estimated to be in the hundreds. He talked about how Ethel had never really given up work and how even in her retirement home she had, and here he paused and looked directly at Jinnie and Penny, continued to find recruits. He revealed the part she played in the liberation of the local area by running the local comms room and finished by saying how much she would be missed by all who knew and loved her.
After a further hymn, the service ended and the vicar encouraged all those going to the interment to quickly join the fleet of mourning cars outside as the hearse was ready to depart. Jinnie and Penny took their places in a big black limousine where they were joined by Fred Bear. Before the car pulled away she heard applause from the gathered crowd as Mike was wheeled to his transport, an adapted car with rear wheelchair lift. He was surrounded by US TV reporters shouting questions at him
Trent Park Cemetery looked lovely in the warm June sunshine. Jinnie looked around for Mike, but still couldn’t see him at the graveside, she desperately wanted to speak with him and hoped he would be back at the retirement home when she got there. Jinnie couldn’t help shedding a tear as Ethel’s body was lowered into the grave. Ever practical, Penny had a packet of tissues in her pocket and handed one to Jinnie. The girls joined a line of mourners to throw a handful of earth into the grave. They then walked over to where hundreds of wreaths and sprays were laid out by the little cemetery chapel. The girls spent a few minutes wandering among the beautiful floral tributes and failing to find theirs amid the masses.
The limousine pulled up outside the retirement home where Jinnie immediately spotted Mike’s adapted car. She and Penny, having worked there and knowing their way around, made their way to the staff toilets for a quick wash and make-up repair, knowing that the visitor and resident’s toilets would be a madhouse. They joined the melee in the resident’s Lounge where the sliding doors to the resident’s dining room had been opened revealing that many of the dining tables had been laid out with mountains of buffet food. Two of the catering staff were behind a table handing out cups of tea or coffee. Other of the home’s catering staff were scurrying in and out of the kitchen with trays of hot snacks and hors d’oeuvres to supplement the trays of cold food already on the tables.
The girls got themselves a cup of tea and each filled a plate with sandwiches, bridge rolls and sausage rolls. Looking around the packed lounge Jinnie still couldn’t see Mike. The girls made their way through the open patio doors onto the outside paved area expecting to see Mike there, but no he wasn’t there either. But the remaining three whist players were, each struggling with a cup and saucer and a plate full of food. Jinnie and Penny joined them and Jinnie guided them all over to a table where they could put things down and make eating much easier. The group chatted about Ethel, what a beautiful service it had been, how much they missed her and the oldies search for a new recruit for the Thursday night whist club. Penny and Jinnie promised to do their best to make up the numbers if they could not find a full-time recruit to make the number up to four.
The home’s manager joined them and said he had some great news for them, but they had to agree to be strictly sworn to secrecy before he could impart it. The group all agreed and the manager when onto explain that Ethel had been nominated for a medal and it had been agreed to make her a posthumous OBE. It was to be announced in the awards list published for the new King’s forthcoming coronation. Jennie spotted Pandora standing on her own with her tea and sandwiches and called her over to join them. She had hadn’t seen her at the church or Trent Park, but with such a throng it was hardly surprising.
The next person to join the small group was Fred Bear, he was grinning from ear to ear and although he didn’t say so, he had clearly heard the news about Ethel’s award. After chatting generally for a few minutes, Fred edged up to Jinnie and quietly said to her to follow him as there was someone who wanted to speak with her. Jinnie followed him and soon realised they were heading up to Ethel’s flat. Fred pressed the doorbell, then stood back and waved her in. Mike was in his wheelchair in the middle of the room, a pretty dark-haired woman stood holding his hand and two small children were playing on the carpet at their feet. Mike smiled at her and said, “Hi Jinnie, meet my wife Donna and our two little ones.” Jinnie walked over to him took his other hand, sunk to her knees beside him, said, “Hi Mike,” and kissed him on the cheek.
Mike smiled and laughed, while his wife looked puzzled. He said, “I suppose it’s safe to tell you now, but Mike was only my resistance persona, I’m actually called Richard.” Jinnie asked how he was and he quickly replied, “OK”. Donna looked at him and told him not to lie. He shrugged and explained that several rounds had shattered his pelvis and he was undergoing a series of operations to rebuild it. The one he was preparing for should allow him to walk again but nothing was guaranteed. He was in constant pain and tired very easily. Hence he needed to rest after speaking at the funeral and when the use of Ethel’s empty flat had been offered to him he considered it ideal. As he said at the funeral he was only on a flying visit. He was scheduled on an outgoing Nightingale flight back to the States tomorrow and his wife and children would follow on a commercial flight the day after.
Mike/Richard told her that he had been shot during a raid on a train stabling yard in London. His group had extracted him in the back of a van and had probably saved his life by controlling the bleeding with emergency first aid and field pressure dressings. He had been passed from group to group, occasionally seeing doctors who could administer only pain relief, until finally being smuggled over the mountains into Wales. There he was patched up a little more by British Army medics and shipped out to a military hospital near Belfast where the first operations had been carried out on him. When the medics decided that further specialist treatment would be better off carried out in the States, his wife and children had been smuggled out to Northern Ireland and then joined him in Washington. They were now renting a house in DC and were being supported financially by the BCN.
Richard, as Jinnie now forced herself to call him, continued, saying he had been following her career from afar with pride. He had seen reports on her actions and wanted to congratulate her on her success. He didn’t know if he would ever see her again but he wished her all the best for her future. Donna stepped in and said she could see how worn out Richard was and that he really needed to rest now to be ready for tomorrow’s flight. Jinnie wished him goodbye and good health. Donna saw her to the door and spoke quietly, telling her the doctors only gave him a 50:50 chance of walking and that he was much sicker than he liked to admit. Jinnie was the only person he had insisted on seeing, he had spoken of her many times and he had described her as his star pupil.
Jinnie was weeping again for the umpteenth time that afternoon. The thought of Mike, she quickly corrected herself to Richard, being stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life was just too awful. Passing the staff toilet she popped in once again to sort herself out. Back with the group on the patio, Penny sensed something was wrong. Jinnie felt that if she spoke about it now she would burst into tears again as it was such an emotional day. She decided another cup of tea and a big slice of chocolate cake might help.
A few days later the population were told that on Sunday King Charles was going to make a special announcement from the balcony of the partially refurbished Buckingham Palace. For the special occasion the regular palace guards would be replaced by the troops from the Yorkshires and the tanks of the Royal Tank Regiment who had relieved the Palace on that fateful Sunday night. The media speculation on the announcement was that the King would announce the formal signing of a cease-fire with Germany. Fighting had as good as stopped weeks ago and it was simply a matter of whether the German Army went home without their guns or were crushed. The speech was going to be carried live on the BBC Radio and new national television service, but Jinnie and Penny sensed that this was going to be a historic day and wanted to be there in person.
Sunday just happened to be the 21st June and Jinnie’s 19th birthday and as she ate her early breakfast and opened her presents she couldn’t help but reflect on the year she had just had. Dad dropped them at the station for a very early train. When it pulled in there were already lots of people on it with the same idea as them. The Union Flags were very evident. They changed onto the underground at St Pancras, the International had been quietly dropped. When they got off the tube at Charing Cross and walked up the Mall, the crowd was being to grow and in festive mood. The girls managed to get a seat on the steps of the Victoria Memorial and joined in the cheers of the swelling crowd when at midday the Yorkshire’s and the RTR arrived to take over guard duty for the afternoon. This time Joey didn’t have to crash his freshly repainted and polished Challenger through the gates.
The King appeared precisely at the appointed time of one thirty and his amplified voice boomed out through the loudspeakers that had installed by the Germans. He said he had several announcements to make. The first was the expected formal cease-fire, the Germans had finally agreed to leave their armaments behind and in return had been granted free passage across the channel. In future 21st June was to be a bank holiday known as Victory Day. Great thought Jinnie, a bank holiday for my birthday! Then he announced that the Pound Sterling was going to be restored as the official currency from 1st August and the current situation were the Mark could still be used would end. Also on the 1st traffic would switch to the left-hand side of the road as in Scotland and Ireland. Everything the King announced was greeted by enormous cheers. The next announcement was that Parliament was to be restored as two elected houses. A Royal Commission would work out the details, but it was expected to be along the lines of a lower house with the power and a second oversight assembly. The Commission had to report by the end of August. Political parties would be allowed but the Communists and National Socialists parties would be banned. The fixed point was a general election and local council elections for the 3rd Thursday in November.
However, it was the final announcement that stunned and initially silenced the crowd. Charles announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, had been told that he only had a few months to live and was consequently abdicating with immediate effect. The monarchy would follow the normal line of succession. He then invited the brand new King William III, Queen Catherine and their 3 young children onto the balcony with the loudest cheers of the afternoon.
On the train back to Potters Bar, although jam-packed the atmosphere was amazing. The war was over, there was going to be a general election and the military rule, however benign, was going to replaced by civilian government. That couldn’t be bad. But it was the prospect of King William and his pretty wife that inspired people. Not that people wished Charles any harm but in the few months he had been king he had come over as a little cold and uninspiring. The crowd had great hopes for the future young king who like many of them had fought against the Germans.
The following morning was a normal working day. Mum and Dad had gone to their teaching jobs and her sister had gone off to the Dame Alice Owens Sixth Form. Jinnie was sitting on the patio in the sun, enjoying her breakfast of tea and toast while reading the Daily Express and its take on yesterday’s events, when she heard the letterbox rattle. She forced herself to get up and retrieved an envelope from the mat. It was simply addressed to “Miss Jinnie Walsh”, no address, no stamp, no return address. She sat back down in the sun and turned the letter over a few times before opening it.
Inside the envelope was a letter from a firm of local solicitors. It explained that they had been appointed to administer the estate of the late Ethel Jennings and that Jinnie had been left a legacy in her will. Could she call into the solicitor’s office as soon as possible with photo ID and details of her bank account? Jinnie decided she better put on some smart clothes and present herself at the solicitor’s office.
The Solicitor’s receptionist put the phone down, asked Jinnie to take a seat in the reception area and told her that Mr Mann, a senior partner, would be out to see her shorty. Mr Mann sat on the opposite side of the massive meeting room table, he was tall, thin and had a bushy white beard like Father Christmas. He thanked her for responding so promptly and asked if she had brought the paperwork he had requested. He put on his glasses and viewed Jinnie’s national ID card, her ADH access card and details of her bank account number, sort code and account name. He said, “I’ll just have these photocopied, if you don’t mind,” and shot out of the meeting room. Mr Mann was quickly back and explained that the receptionist was making the copies and would bring the paperwork back shortly.
Mr Mann opened an A4 folder and pulled out a document and read her an extract from Ethel’s will. It said that after duties and some other legacies were paid Jinnie was to inherit 85% of Ethel’s after-tax estate. He continued saying that the other legatees had all been informed, bar one. The solicitor pulled out a second document and explained it was an appendix to Ethel’s will and she had directed it be read to Jinnie after her death. It said that Ethel had chosen to leave small legacies to her old friends Burt, Fred and Jimmy. They didn’t need her money as they were already independently wealthy, but the 2% of her estate each, she had left them, was to buy something to remember her by. She had left her new young friend Penny 9% of her estate to allow her to go to university without incurring any debt. The remainder of her estate she left to her good friend Jinnie who had always had time for an old lady, had risked her life for her country on numerous occasions and would be able to make good use of the legacy. Jinnie dabbed her eyes with a tissue.
The receptionist returned the documents in two bundles, originals and copies. She gently closed the door behind her as she left and Mr Mann slipped the copies into the folder and slid the originals across the table to her. He said, “I expect you are wondering how much your legacy is. Well, I can tell you that Mrs Jennings was a very wealthy woman. I have been liquidating substantial assets and these are now complete with the exception of the sale of her flat which is due, and he looked up at the large wall clock, to complete in 55 minutes. The accounts are not 100% complete yet, but I can confirm it will not be less than £1.2 million and I expect to be in a position to pay it into your bank account later this week.” He went on to explain that as Penny was still legally a minor he would need to see her with a parent or guardian, but letters were in the mail. Due to the size of Jinnie’s legacy he had personally hand-delivered her letter on his way into the office that morning.
Still in a daze, Jinnie opened the front door and picked the day’s post up from the mat. She took them into the living room, sat down on the sofa and shuffled through the pile. A bill for dad, a letter for her mum from her sister, Auntie Jo, another letter for Dad that was postmarked Potters Bar and a similar one for Penny, she guessed what they were. Finally, there were two letters for her. Without thinking she open the first. She read it through, put it down by her side and shook her head in disbelief, unable to take in what she had just read.
On the second reading it became clearer in her mind. She was being asked to attend an interview in two weeks time at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, to read for a degree in German with French. The letter stated that she had been highly recommended and that if she passed the interview, there would be no minimum grade requirements as she already had three A*s, she would be offered a position on the course starting in September. Jinnie leaned back and contemplated just who might of recommended her. After thinking for five minutes she concluded it could only have been Dirk.
Jinnie remembered the second letter. She hadn’t noticed before, but it was marked OHMS and wasn’t postmarked. Jinnie opened it and the letter in it was written on fabulous thick paper. This time it was only on the third reading that it sunk in. It said that the King’s Personal Private Secretary took great pleasure in informing her that the King had included the award of the George Medal to Miss Jinnie Walsh in his abdication honours. The award was for her work in the resistance. Due to the nature of her work the award would not appear on the published list. A special “in camera” resistance awards ceremony was expected to take place at Buckingham Palace in mid-October and she would be entitled to bring 3 guests. All details were to be confirmed later.
As Jinnie sat with her head spinning, her mother came in the front door. She stood in the entrance to the front room while taking her outdoor shoes off and said, “You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had.” Then looking at her daughter she added, “What’s your day been like darling?”
Watch out for Jinnie’s Story Volume 2 – hopefully in summer 2021.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file