Thursday, 3 September 2015

One Weekend In Shoreham, September 1939

He looked at the little calendar which his young sister, Emily had made at school. She had written the 9, of 39 backwards at the top of the sheet. She hadn’t even spelled September correctly – but against the day of September 2nd was a reminder that her big brother, Robbie was in the final night of the play at the village hall.

He had hated the whole process at first, having to stand up in front of folks and say things. Learning the lines was even worse, and it wasn’t just Robbie who forgot them. When someone else dried up, the rest of them tended to make it up as they went along – although he did remember his father in Midsummer Night’s Dream saying the word ‘spiffing’ which he was sure Shakespeare hadn’t written.

And now it was the final night of whatever play it was that he was in. He’d fancied himself as the dashing male lead but that part had gone to Archie Conway, just like all the girls – Archie could have his pick of any of them.

Robbie had thought that maybe standing up in the village hall would have made him a bit more noticeable to the female population but, so far, it hadn’t happened. He was going to be 18 next week and he couldn’t wait. His father and he were going to go to a football game and then maybe have a beer.

Robbie got really nervous just before he was due to go on stage – not that he had that many lines to say, but he was on the stage a lot of the time. If he grew bored, he would just look out at the audience and last night he had seen the vicar sleeping on the front row. On Thursday night he had seen Tommy and his girlfriend kissing in the back row, until Tommy’s mother slapped him on the back of the head. Robbie let out a little laugh which didn’t really fit in with the play but no one was really paying that much attention anyway. Well not except Archie’s family and all the young girls in the audience who seemed to Robbie, to be swooning every time Archie said something.

Some folks get life too easy, thought Robbie. Just then he noticed everyone looking at him and realised it was his line. What was it again? Was this the long speech or the short one?
He decided it was the short one and said, ‘sure thing, Elsie’.

The rest of the cast looked pleased and carried on, so he must have got the right part of the play. Although on the opening night he had said ‘sure thing, Elsie’ to Roderick who was playing an army Captain, which had caused a bit of a titter in the hall.

This acting life wasn’t that easy as far as Robbie was concerned, but he still had a passing fancy that he might become a matinee idol of the silver screen – assuming this war thing all died down.

It had been the talk all week with the cast – ‘what if we go to war with Germany’, ‘what if the Germans invade Kent’. Archie Conway blurted out loud that he’d just bang the Krauts on the nose and show them who’s boss. All the girls in the room started to swoon. Robbie stuck his fingers down his throat as if he was going to be sick, which caused a few of the men in the room to smile.

Like a family, this village was a wonderful, safe place to grow up. What would happen if the Germans turned up? Okay so everyone lived on top of everyone else, and that sometimes caused friction but didn’t that happen in all families? And that’s exactly what this village was, a family.

The final night of the play went extremely well. Robbie thought that maybe folks were having one last night of fun and forgetting their troubles before……well before whatever was going to happen. Robbie wasn't exactly sure what.

They took their curtain call and the audience stood up and applauded (they hadn’t done that on the other nights). Robbie could see the vicar was there again but this time he wasn’t asleep.

As much as he had hated all this acting stuff, he was sure he was going to miss it all. Really that was why folks acted in these plays in village halls, it brought people together and allowed kids (like Archie) to show off and make people swoon.

Miss Trebor, who had directed and produced the play, clapped her hands for attention and reminded everyone that after church, they were to come to the hall and help clean up.

Robbie whistled all the way to the village hall on the Sunday. One girl, Jenny had asked him for his autograph after the performance. He couldn’t sleep that night thinking about it.

They all met in the hall at 11.00am the next morning,September 3rd, and Robbie was given the task of sweeping up. A short time later, Miss Trebor came rushing in and told everyone to hush as she switched on the radio. She informed everyone that it was the Prime Minister and we all had to listen:

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.

I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

Robbie looked over at Archie who was comforting his sobbing mother.
It was going to take more than a punch on the nose to fix this, thought Robbie.

bobby stevenson 2015

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