Friday 10th July
Maybe I should start at
the very beginning then perhaps if someone finds this, it will all make more
sense. That is, if what has just happened can make sense - to anyone.
I live (lived) in a
beautiful village in the south-east of England. I don’t want to be any more
exact than that, just in case they find this.
A week ago, we had the
village fete, with all its usual sunshine, and games and I remember thinking to
myself what a perfect place to live. Old misery-guts ran the whole show,
moaning, as he usually did, about everything. Yet the fete always seemed to
take place and, in the end, would always manage to be better than the year
The village has one great
pub called The Winston Churchill, which supplies the drinks on the day of the
fete. There’s a stall for strawberries, one selling flowers, another for
support of the local drama society and one where Mrs Laud tells peoples’
fortunes for a small donation to the church. Oh, yes and there’s a church which
you’ll see is very important – but I’ll get to that.
It’s a friendly little
place where everyone knows everyone else, and where everyone knows secrets (or
say they do) about the rest of the village. I think the village works on the
premise that everyone has at least one secret they would rather keep to
themselves. If people don’t know what it is, the kind folks of the village will
make one up. Not much different, I would imagine, from anywhere else in this
I think I am going to use
this notebook to record two things. The first is to record what is happening
right now to the place where I live and the second is to recall stories about
the great, the good and the downright stupid who have lived in the place since
I came to stay here – which must be about 20 years ago; time flies.
I discovered it by
accident. I just happened to be driving along the high road when I saw a sign
for the village and fell in love with the place immediately. It’s that type of
place – the kind of village you only find once in a lifetime.
The first sign of anything
unusual was the ‘phones going dead – any and every ‘phone, it seemed. Sometimes
this happened in a small village. Sometimes it snowed and we’d be cut off for a
day or two. I mean, it’s only 20 miles from London but you can still be
isolated down here.
I had gone down to the
Winston to see if anyone else had the same problem. The owner, Annie, told one
of her staff to turn on the television to see if there was any news. And guess
what? That was only showing a blank screen with the odd spark every so often.
“Maybe some transmitter’s
down,” said Annie in her usual re-assuring way.
“What transmitter?” Asked
old Jake, who questioned everyone and everything.
“How should I know, Jake,
just sit there and sup your beer,” she scolded which was quickly followed by a
“It’s them Russians,”
scowled Jake. “Probably marched through Ukraine all the way to London, like as
The rest of us gave Jake a
smile, the way we always gave Jake a smile.
It was just before seven
that someone mentioned they hadn’t heard any trains that afternoon and I
quickly realised they were correct, I couldn’t recall hearing the London train
“Maybe someone should ring
the church bells, let the village folks know that it’s seven o’clock,” said
I mentioned that people
could just look at their watches or clocks but as Jake pointed out they had all
So when the rest of them
in the Winston looked at me, I knew I had been volunteered to go and ring the
bells. I had messed about with bell-ringing once upon a time.
I walked into a beautiful
summer’s evening. The village has no street lighting (although that’s common
around these parts and won’t give a clue as to where we are) – and as I walked
up the street I could see through windows families sitting down together, maybe
for the first time without the television invading their evening meals.
As I crossed the street to
go through the church gate, I noticed the last house suddenly go dark inside.
At the time I didn’t think much about it, until I tried the switches in the
church hall and every one of them failed to work.
I had climbed up to the
church tower many a time to look at the bells (eight in all) – so accomplishing
this in the dark wasn’t a hardship.
I pulled my way carefully
up the iron-rung ladders and balanced my way across the narrow beam which took
me to a small platform on the other side of the tower. There was only enough
room for one man or woman up there. The bells were looking okay and standing
up, so I thought I’d go down a start ringing down one of them.
That was when I heard the
noise. I wasn’t sure who or what it was, but it sounded like a train on the
rails was in trouble. Then I heard men shouting. Perhaps a train had crashed
into a transmitter or something and knocked everything out.
I climbed the last ladder
(which took a person up to the very top of the church tower) to have a better
look. I don’t know what made me hesitate - most probably my fear of heights -
but I decided not to stand but look through one of the holes in the brick which
let rain water out.
I remember once, when I
was making a parachute jump up in Scotland, my brain had decided to take a back
seat – it’s the only way I can describe it – and it felt as I plummeted to the
ground, that I was watching a movie and all this wasn’t happening to me.
This was the same feeling,
as I looked through the hole in the church tower, I could see tanks – the
military sort – followed by soldiers with guns. I could just make out their
shouting and it wasn’t any language I had heard before.
The village was being invaded.
I could see from the tower, the same uniformed men coming in from both sides of
the High Street.
As the tanks turned the
corner into the street below the church, several of the soldiers broke off and
ran to the doors of the houses, kicking them in.
I saw the Smith family,
who lived in the first cottage, being dragged out and made to kneel in the
middle of the road.
That was when I felt my
world changed on its axis. The Smith’s eldest son got up to challenge one of
the soldiers and another of them shot the boy dead.
I fell back on to the
floor of the tower and started to shake. Maybe they were making a television
programme? Something I hadn’t heard about. When I had pulled myself together a
little I had another look. The rest of the Smiths were being marched at gun
point down the street, Mrs Smith was being forcibly removed from the body of
her dead son.
My next thought was that
maybe the Smiths were terrorists but that too was cut short when I saw more
families being forced onto their knees in the street.
What the hell was
happening to my world? This group of people, whoever they were, were rounding
up the whole village. I heard some of them kick in the church door below me.
There was more shouting in this strange language as they knocked over furniture
in the church.
I could hear someone try
to climb the iron ladders – they were coming up for me. I made myself as small
as possible and pushed my body into the corner of the tower.
It sounded as if one of
the soldiers was helping the other up the ladder. I waited on them finding me.
Suddenly the soldier fell
from the ladder and must have landed on the other because I could hear them
argue – whatever the language was.
This must have deterred
them because I saw them run out of the church and back on to the street. I
stayed hidden until the sky was pitch black and only the stars above me.
I was desperate for some
water and decided as I hadn’t heard anything for a long time that I might try
to find something to drink.
I held my breath and
lowered myself down to the middle platform – I put my ear to the floor but I
could hear nothing. I descended into the church and it was totally black,
although I could feel chairs and tables lying upside down.
I knew the bell ringers
kept some bottled water at the back of the church and guessing where I was, I
crawled towards the rear wall.
I located the cabinet and
found three bottles of the stuff. I drank that first bottle in one go and it
was just as I wiped the corner of my mouth that I heard the church door open.
I had slept badly in the
church tower resting my head against one of the larger bells. The young girl,
who couldn't have been more than nine or ten, lay hidden in a little cove at
the western end of the attic.
Her name was Elise and she
had managed to hide herself in an outhouse at her home. She had heard her
family being dragged out the door by some people she couldn't see.
"I heard my mother
call my name and then my mother shouted 'coming Elise'," this is what she
shouts when we play hide and seek and she wants me to hide.
"So I didn't make a
sound, or move."
Elise had waited for
several hours before she made a move. Her home, she said, had been left with
furniture and books scattered all over the house. Her father had always told
her that if she couldn't find her family she was to go to the church as she
would be safe there. So that is what she had indeed done.
Elise was as mystified as
me. We live in what is known as one of the most beautiful spots in the country,
and possibly the quietest, and safest, and yet within a matter of hours all of
that has changed.
She was a brave little
soul, perhaps braver than me and here we were, the two of us lost.
Just after dawn I heard
the sound of a gun being fired in the hills above the village. Normally, I
would associate it with a farmer killing some vermin or other – but then the strange
thought crossed my mind that it might be the vermin shooting the farmer –
whoever the vermin were; I was still unclear who was actually carrying all this
When it became light
enough to make out certain landmarks, I managed to get to a position in the
church tower which let me see much of the surrounding area - without giving
away my presence (I hoped). Once or twice, I heard small vehicles coming and
going on the High Road. I had the thought that perhaps those responsible had considered
this part of the village cleared of all people and that maybe they were no
longer showing any interest in the church.
I saw a dark figure making
their way along Church Street towards me, keeping mostly to the shadows. I also
noticed that there was a large gap between the shadows in front of the Old Post
Office and those in the car-park of the Winston Churchill. It meant whoever this
was would be exposed for some amount of time.
When they ran from the
safety of the first building, I saw it was that of a man – known to us as the
president of the Parish Council, Thom Drey, whose family had lived in the
village for generations.
As he came out into the
light, a small armoured vehicle appeared from nowhere and shot him first in the
legs and then in the chest. Some man in a khaki uniform jumped from the vehicle
and dragged Thom by one leg - finishing off with two of them eventually
throwing his body like an old dog in the back. I assumed from his motionless
body that Thom was dead but as the jeep turned the corner in front of the
church, Thom had one last go at upsetting the enemy and he appeared to try and
hit the driver with a wrench. It was the last thing he did – I don’t want to go
into too much detail here except to say, it wasn’t a pretty death.
I must have made quite a
noise because it brought Elise up to the roof, and she could see I was upset. I
tried to stop her looking over tower but it was in vain, and when she saw what
had happened to Mr Drey, she let out a piercing scream. He had been her
As I pulled her down from
view, I saw enough to know that the two soldiers had stopped what they were
doing and were indeed heading towards the church.
What the hell was I going
to do? Not only was I trying to look after myself but I had a young girl to
protect as well. Leastways, that was how I had read the situation - but how
wrong can one desperate person be?
Bobby Stevenson 2015