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A Fit Day For Dark Disgrace

A Fit Day For Dark Disgrace

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A Fit Day For Dark Disgrace

494 pagine
7 ore
Sep 3, 2018


Cheeky, hardworking, British lad Freddie Foster is obsessed with films and pulp fiction. At the age of eighteen, after finishing his two year conscription, he finds it hard to find work. Many of his mates have hopped on ships bound for the Antipodes. Freddie decides to join the ten pound Poms but discovers Australia and New Zealand isn’t anywhere near the promised land of milk and honey. Instead, New Zealand is still suffering the turmoil of social depression from the last war. People are living in fear of communism, American influenced teenage delinquency, moral decline, and horrific murders committed by young women. Two years later, at the age of twenty seven, Freddie finds himself a victim of the Brylcreem, Rock ‘n Roll‘, Rebel Without A Cause’, Cold War era.
When the love of his life, Sharon Skiffington, 19, is tragically and accidentally killed, The National government capitalise on his behaviour to send a swift, strict message to their debauched youth. To the people of New Zealand Freddie is just another unwanted immigrant, another young man living in a distorted reality, using half-truths and wearing outlandish clothes, which only confirm the worst fears of the establishment and parents. At his trial the Crown play up to the virtuousness of the Judge and Jury, declaring their client ‘obsessed with sex’. They attack Freddie’s loose morals and sentence him to death.

Sep 3, 2018

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A Fit Day For Dark Disgrace - Kerin Freeman



On 28th March 1955, in Somervell’s, a popular milk bar in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, nineteen year old Sharon Skiffington’s life ended abruptly when half her face was blown away. The force of the blast left her lying on her back in a widening pool of blood. A few feet away, Frederick Foster stood in shock, his ears ringing from the blast of the shotgun hanging down by his side. The noise had been terrific in that small space. People were screaming and the smell of cordite lay thick in the air. A travelling salesman who had just walked in the door grabbed Fred from behind before the twenty seven year old lad from Liverpool, England, slid to the floor and began, in a bizarre act, plucking at a potted plant in the corner of the milk bar while muttering silently to himself.

Seven weeks later, following a blaze of publicity, people, some with their children in tow, arrived early at the Auckland Supreme Court in New Zealand to obtain a seat, anxious not to miss a word of Fred Foster’s sensational trial that came hot on the heels of two other famous New Zealand crimes: the internationally known infamous Parker Hulme murder of 1954, a story that years later inspired Peter Jackson’s movie Heavenly Creatures, and the scandalous, nationally known killing of John ‘Bill’ William Saunders (known as ‘Sexy Saunders’ by his friends) at the end of 1954 by his over-wrought ex-fiancée Senga Whittingham. The crime of murder was rare in New Zealand and all three cases in their own way were as sickening and revolting as each another.

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, 16 and 15, two educated and narcissistic girls, who many believed were lesbians, had plotted the murder of Pauline’s mother with meticulous care. They schemed, dreamed and gloated over it as the fatal day approached: Pauline wrote in her diary: ‘Why could mother not die? Dozens of people are dying all the time, thousands… The pleasure of anticipation is great.’ The girls were euphoric after committing their crime. Confident of escaping the hangman, their cold, calculated demeanour horrified the whole of New Zealand. Photographed leaving court after being told they must stand trial for murder, they were captured smiling conspiratorially side by side, the embodiment of adolescent evil.

Murder by teenagers – the two of them together – was unheard of in this small country. The two girls lured Pauline’s mother, Honorah, on the pretence of enjoying a day at a Christchurch park, down a secluded path. Honorah was battered by Pauline with a brick in a stocking twenty or thirty times. Next, Juliet smashed the injured woman repeatedly over the head. One of them held Honorah by the throat as the other girl hit her then the other girl did the same. Pauline’s mother sustained forty five discernible injuries on her body. Her killers, branded Satan’s Daughters in the media, were released back into society under new aliases after spending just over five years in prison.

Senga Whittingham, a refined lady doctor who was the same age as Fred Foster, shot her ex-fiancé (also a doctor) in the back in the toilet in the hospital where they worked. She claimed it was an accident, a crime of passion, but evidence showed otherwise. Her crime was later likened in many ways to Fred’s, only her sentence was vastly different. The public and the media argued that both cases were very similar given they were crime passionels but from a sentencing point of view the two cases were vastly different. Dr Senga Whittingham received manslaughter and sentenced to prison, allowed out after only three years, while Fred, a common labourer and a bastard Pom, was sentenced to hang by the neck until he was dead.

Fred’s story, set against the powerfully dramatic changing times of the 1950s, provides a disturbing insight into not only how New Zealand was continuing to grow but also what it was like to live in a conservative, racist society with moralistic values that had persisted beyond their societal relevance. High-profile cases such as the Parker-Hulme, Whittingham-Saunders and the Foster-Skiffington murders were linked to wayward youth. Core values of the straight world - sobriety, ambition and conformity – were considered to have been replaced in New Zealand’s youth with defiance of authority and the quest for thrills and enjoyment of depravity. So why did those three crimes receive such radically different sentences?

Hanging was so much a part of the British way of life during the 1950s that it was considered sacrilege in the Commonwealth to restrict or abolish it. So there could be no reprieve for the likes of Frederick Foster whose punishment was largely derived from party politics in England and the Commonwealth. Capital punishment was as much entrenched in the more inflexible, authoritarian dogma of the New Zealand National Party as abolition was in the left-wing, humanitarian principles of New Zealand’s Labour Party. It is clear in hindsight that Fred Foster would not have been hung if Labour had come into power in 1949, six years before he committed his crime.

When I first came across Fred’s crime I believed he was guilty. All the facts pointed to that verdict. He had committed murder, just like they said at his trial, so he deserved to hang. But something urged me to go back over the details again; something wasn’t right. Delving deeper into his life in order to find out the kind of man Fred was, his background, what people thought of him, the society in which he lived, it radically altered my whole way of thinking. There had been a great miscarriage of justice and a senseless execution.

A Fit Day For Dark Disgrace is Fred’s story, just to set the record straight. It’s a story of morals, of love and betrayal, heartbreak and murder, and of skewed party politics that prevented him from being punished appropriately. His crime, and the following crimes in the same year, led to a complete reform of the New Zealand legal system and the abolishment of capital punishment. On a personal level, this is the tragic story of two star-crossed lovers set amongst the turbulent and unstoppable social changes of the 1950s.

Kerin Freeman 2018



Frederick Foster slid into the world on Christmas Eve, 1928, in the town of Rock Ferry, Liverpool, England. The year when a number of momentous events made world headlines: the banning of Lady Chatterly’s Lover for being explicit, Amelia Earhart being the first woman ever to fly an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, and the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming.

Fred, known as Freddie in his family, was unlike his two brothers: William Richard, the oldest, (known as Bill in the family to avoid any confusion with his father) who was around 5’10" in height and sturdily built, and Phillip Thomas, matching him in height and build). Hilda Rebecca, his sister, was also healthy and robust and loved her little brother fiercely. Fred, born three years after Becky, was a slightly built nervous child. He had a thatch of blonde curly hair, blue eyes, and pale Anglo Saxon skin, his arms and legs thin as garden rakes and never seemed to fatten up. Being made fun of or treated as the butt of somebody’s joke at school teared him up at the slightest injustice. Freddie’s dad eventually lost his patience with his son’s ‘nancy’ ways and ordered him to toughen up else he’d do it for him when he arrived home from the pub often sporting black eyes or bruises. His brother Phil, seeing Freddie on the brink of tears standing in front of their hard working, hard drinking, unyielding father, announced ‘Don’t you worry, I’ll be teaching you boxing so you can wallop those ejits right between the eyes, so you will.’ And that would have been ideal except Phil was always too busy working or chasing girls.

In the days of the Depression money was tight, every penny had to be accounted for in every single household across Britain, and bread a dripping became a family favourite in most houses. Having struggled with a low economy to pay for the effects of the Great War, the country also had to deal with the crash of the US stock market in which world trade had slumped. Prices had fallen and credit had all but dried up. British export values had halved, and the industrial areas of Wales and northern England had been hard hit by unemployment and poverty. Yet despite all this interest rates remained low.

The Foster’s home town ran along the west bank of the River Mersey on the Wirral Peninsula in Merseyside, a place well known for its ship building and seaport. Freddie’s dad, William, was willing to take on any menial job, and after spending numerous, soul destroying days scouting for jobs in the Liverpool Echo, standing in queues, or trudging the streets of Birkenhead in search of work, any work, in a city where a quarter of its population lived at bare subsistence level, he eventually struck lucky at Cammell Laird, known as the ‘Yard’, the major shipbuilding yard on the River Mersey. Everyone in the area had a connection with them – they employed thousands of local people, more during the war, to build submarines and war ships, one of the most famous being the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the RMS Mauretania and the battleship HMS Prince of Wales. William became a foreman boiler maker, work that was in high demand. His wages were steady, greatly easing the pressure of providing for his large family.

William and his wife Alice met in Birmingham when he was in the army during WWI, and when William was demobbed he brought with him the ravages of war. Alice became a loving mother and a good wife but she too was feisty, and a right battler. William was a hard nut, even his wife wasn’t immune from his contentious nature. He worked long strenuous hours at the docks, and working hard meant playing hard, and playing hard meant propping up the bar at the nearest pub dousing down pint after pint and often beating the shit out of people, including his family.

After the klaxon hooter sounded at the end of the day at the Yard, William and his dockyard chums, energised with the prospect of supping warm ale on the corner of Albion Street, found themselves mingling with a dozen other raucous dockies. William mostly kept his promise to Alice that he would have only one beer unless, of course, some kindly soul generously picked up the tab for another round. Another round meant William was staying where he was, glued to the bar, repaying the kindness. Any more than two and William fast became belligerent, leaving the family wondering what mood would be pouring itself through the door... a man full of bonhomie and the life and soul of the party or mean and ready to wage fight with one of his older sons or even Alice. If it was the former it didn’t take the two boys long to gauge his mood and disappear into their rooms or out the back door. Despite his mood, he’d always walk in the door covered in grease and oil, his hair peppered thick with dust, metal and wood chips. On a good day, rare though they were, a huge grin would be plastered on his face.

When Fred’s brother William, Bill, older than him by seven years, came of working age he followed in the family tradition of working at the Yard where he became a shipyard a rigger, a scaffolder. After a hard day’s graft he’d walk in the door of the family home with a blackened face with only the whites of his eyes peering out. Phillip, five years older than Freddie, also worked at the same place as a plater. His sister Becky, who could do nothing wrong in Freddie’s eyes, all of 5’ 6" in stockinged feet, found work in a café as a waitress, and later in Woolworths as a window dresser.

Out of all his family Freddie was the closest to his mam. The sun, moon and the heavens were encompassed in her good natured soul, though a firebrand when provoked. He loved sitting on a chair at the kitchen table, watching her deftly prepare and cook their dinner while humming a song off the radio. Hot and flustered with the heat she’d wipe away with the back of her hand a strand of hair that had fallen on her forehead while she chatted away to him, his eyes riveted on her every move. Alice was Freddie’s port in any storm his dad cared to conjure up, she was his safety net.

The Foster’s terraced house at 13 Duncan Street, Birkenhead, was crowded on either side of the road by similar homes set out in a long regimented row, from the outside and inside they were cold and damp – all built of dark stone with an outside toilet. Over the years the houses became blackened from the filth and crud of the industrial north. There was no front or back garden to entice visitors but were within walking distance of the local markets. A two up and three down, the house was a tight squeeze for a large family. It was the outside lavvy that scared the living bejesus out of young Freddie, especially on a dark evening when his mother practically had to push him out the back door into the cold to do his business. He’d whip his drawers down faster than a cowboy could pull out his gun, do what he had to do, fumble around carefully in case of spiders for the newspaper that had been cut into squares and hung on a hook, wipe, and pull his trousers up quick. Doing a wee was completed faster than a cat sprinting up the jigger.


Working at the Yard often meant a fifty five hour week with overtime in atrocious conditions. Times were arduous and money was short, all of which demanded stringent measures, so the government brought in means testing for the dole, and it was hated by everyone in Liverpool.

Nineteen thirty two saw the great unrest when thousands upon thousands of unemployed rioted in the streets. Freddie was four at the time, frightened to go out in the streets, dressed in grey baggy shorts that were too big for him and socks that hung in waves around his ankles. Police, locally known as the bizzies, raised their batons and attacked demonstrators. They made no distinction and struck the poor and jobless about their arms and legs and even their faces. Much blood was spilt on the pavements of Birkenhead. ‘Struggle or Starve’ were the headlines of a state programme of cuts in the living standards of even the most vulnerable. Hungry, angry workers swept down the main streets smashing shop windows, helping themselves to clothes, shoes and food, whatever they could grab, while the bizzies closed in brandishing their batons. The police were met with bottles, lumps of lead, stones, hammer heads and anything else the workers could lay their hands on. Manhole covers were lifted off sewers and thrown at them, wire ropes were stretched across the streets to stop mounted baton wielding police bearing down on innocent people.

Many in Freddie’s neighbourhood lived on stale bread three or four days old for months. William senior commented regularly to his wife about the raggedy arsed children waiting outside the main Yard’s gate for the hooter to sound the end of the day to see if there was a sandwich left over in the men’s lunch packs. Often, they were unlucky. Many wives couldn’t afford meat so they took to cooking a revolting dish called Blind Scouse, substituting Oxo cubes for meat – onion and potato pies with Oxo – like ‘Lord Woolton’ pies that was named after the Minister of Food. Some hard pressed mothers served up imitation bananas and custard for tea using boiled, sliced parsnips for bananas.

The occasional frozen rabbit or perhaps a chicken or two could often be found at the market if Alice was early enough and extremely lucky, then the meal would be eked with stock and vegetables from the back garden. Freddie’s growth spurts were a constant worry, he was always in need of some item of clothing. When Alice asked about new shoes for him she was told that if his feet were over a certain size she was eligible for extra clothing coupons... trouble is, they weren’t. Thinner socks then so his toes didn’t squench up inside them, and extra cardboard would have to do until she saved up enough to replace them. Pawnshops and banks were the only ones doing a roaring trade at the time.

Numerous demonstrations and more hostility than ever before were constantly surfacing, especially after hearing King George on the radio proclaim that he was on the people’s side, and if he had to live in those conditions he’d revolt too. The whole country was suffering. The government and councils were blamed and the people’s message was loud and clear: abolish the means test, extend work schemes, build houses, repair schools and roads, and give a twenty five percent reduction in council house rents and no evictions. Labour councillors had little sympathy for people’s demands for better living conditions, better health and a proper living wage.

Seven years after the riots something far more sinister happened – Hitler announced war on Europe and Liverpool became a target for the Luftwaffe because of its docks and shipbuilding.

One evening in the late summer of 1938, Alice and William settled down to listen to the radio, and received a nasty shock when it was announced that the Ministry of Health had developed a government evacuation scheme whereby the country had been divided into zones classified as evacuation, neutral, or reception. Priority evacuees, namely children, were to be moved from major urban centres and billeted in available private housing in rural areas. Constructed camps would provide a few thousand additional spaces. The codename given to this mass exodus was ‘Pied Piper’.

‘They’re not taking my children, Will. I’ll fight them tooth and bloody nail, so I shall. How can we be going to war with Germany again, not after last time.’

‘Can’t see another war meself, the fookin Germans ain’t that stupid.’ William carried on reading the newspaper while Alice fretted. They would not use her boys as cannon fodder.

As predicted, war did arrive and Liverpool would suffer badly from bombs and incendiaries, being the most heavily bombed British city outside of London. Every week, ships would arrive in the River Mersey bringing with them supplies and food and other cargoes from the USA and Canada. Without them Britain would have lost the war. To the sound of explosions throughout the city, Young Fred turned from a happy-go-lucky lad into a snivelling boy who wet the bed, much to his mother’s concern and his dad’s disgust. The bombing was close and terrifying. For his mother’s sake Freddie tried putting on a brave face but when bombs fell and houses around them exploded and people died, he sobbed and clung to her.



Apart from London, Liverpool was the worst hit area in the country seeing as it was a major shipping port and important to the British war effort – the docks brought in food and materials vital to the country. The city suffered 300 raids by the Luftwaffe during 1940, and some of the best known buildings were destroyed: Customs House, the Cotton Exchange, the Rotunda Theatre, and Lewis’s department store.

Between August and Christmas 1940 saw over fifty German air raids. On Saturday, 24th August 1940 the Luftwaffe dropped 103 tons of high explosive and 6,800 incendiary bombs on Merseyside Docks, full of military and merchant ships. The city was also home to the Headquarters of the Western Approaches Command, a strategic base for the Navy to plan the Battle of the Atlantic Sea.

There were only two batteries covering the whole of Merseyside: the 33rd Western Anti-Aircraft Brigade battery, with soldiers and rifles on the entrance gate guarding the troops’ living quarters, was situated not far from where Fred lived, while the new Vickers 3.7 inch Mk 1 Ack Ack guns were housed on well-guarded premises some distance away from houses, since shockwaves from firing them caused structural damage to surrounding buildings. In September and October the air raids occurred about once every two night, each raid lasting a few minutes up to ten hours. From 28th November, and 20th and 21st December came the Christmas Blitz when over 2,000 people were killed and many more badly injured. Many docks and their neighbourhoods were reduced to rubble, and a number of ships were sunk in the docks and river.


The guarded Ack Ack guns premises were no Fort Knox to Freddie and his mates. It didn’t stop them from sneaking up and taking a closer look at the gleaming guns. If they could gain easy access then someone intent on sabotaging them would have had a field day.

Children were drawn like moths to a flame to a Barrage Balloon site in Skelwith Road, one of their most favourite haunts in the city. Searchlights lit up the night sky, and there, high above them, to their bubbling excitement and sheer amazement, combating enemy aircraft, were stationed several massive barrage balloons that had three fins at the back that were made out of panels of tight fabric. The front of them was filled with hydrogen while the bottom half was left empty so that when the balloon reached a certain height it filled up with natural air. Hoping and praying with all their might, Freddie, Johnnie and Barry wanted nothing more than to see a Hun plane touch the cables and be destroyed in a blaze of fire within seconds, and watch bug-eyed as it plunged to its doom on British soil. They watched as the men topped up the deflating balloons with hydrogen and the beasts rise majestically up again to carry out their duty. Children knew only too well to keep out of the way because if one of those balloons fell on a fallen cable it could kill instantly anyone nearby.

Those gigantic monstrosities, tethered to cables that were fixed to winches on lorries, were sent up when a raid was anticipated or when enemy aircraft had been spotted. Deflated, they’d wallow about like ginormous floppy elephants. The kids stood around gaping in wonder at them, craning their necks to see them flying at great altitudes, maybe twenty or thirty of them at a time covering the sky, each the size of three cricket pitches.

One clear night two balloons were being struck by bolts of lightning. One after the other they exploded in the air, falling to earth covered in brilliant orange and yellow flames. It was all they talked about for days. The only hindrance to the children’s’ nocturnal jaunts, apart from their parents, was the belligerent Parky who wore the official Parks and Recreation peaked cap. The Parky had the magical ability of being in the right place at the right time – if he caught sight of them he’d run after them at a fast walking running gait brandishing his large hefty stick he kept for such purposes, chasing them away with curses following in their wake. ‘Get out of here, ye little buggers. I know your parents. Catch you again and I’ll beat the living daylights out of ye.’

It was most boys’ lifelong ambition, perhaps more of an obsession, really, to collect jagged pieces of heavy shrapnel that fell from a great height that had the capability of killing or maiming anyone nearby. They soon discovered how different pieces of shell case fitted together, much like a jigsaw puzzle. During the raids boys hid in their various houses or shelters until they heard a loud CLANG indicating a large piece had landed nearby. That was a given sign to rush outside, followed by their parents’ shout of ‘Come back ‘ere’, to try and retrieve the red hot pieces. Their highly prized treasured possessions were shells and fins which they hid at the bottom of their wardrobes or under their clothes in drawers in their bedrooms. Later, after a serious bombing, the boys would get together at one of their houses to inspect, a enviously, each other’s trophies.

During the early part of 1939, just before the war began in earnest, Freddie’s teacher told her class a war was coming and that there might be bombing raids. As she went from child to child, handing out gasmasks to each one, she said. ‘We are going to learn how to use your gasmasks and go to the shelter being built at the end of the playground.’ Most children hated those hideous monstrosities, like something out of science fiction. That sweet, sickly rubbery smell made them want to puke and then he’d have a face full of sick in their eyes. They refused to wear them.

‘It’s the law, children. I’m sorry but you have to,’ she said from the front of the class, observing every child’s face. ‘It is very important you keep these masks in their little cardboard boxes at all times and carry them with you wherever you go.’

‘If Harry the policeman sees any of you without your gasmask boxes, you will be severely reprimanded and sent back home to fetch them. Do you understand?’

They all nodded.

His teacher’s last piece of news frightened them all into shocked silence.

‘To avoid the bombing raids,’ she said, ‘all you children will be evacuated from the area to other homes in the country until the bombing ends. Your destination will be kept secret so the Germans won’t find you.’

‘But, Miss, how’s me mam gonna know where to find me? What about me sister? Is she coming too?’ Freddie snivelled. ‘Are we gonna live with strangers for ever?’

‘Don’t worry, you’re mam and dad’ll know where you are going, and most probably Becky will be with you, too, but they won’t tell a soul. They’ll come and get you and your sister when it’s safe for you to come home.’

‘Will we be away for a long time?’ asked another frightened child.

‘No, not too long. Just till the Germans have gone. We’ll have a list of where everybody is sent. Don’t worry, we won’t forget you.’

Freddie didn’t believe a word she said, he couldn’t wait to talk to his mam, she wouldn’t send him away, she loved him.



Many anxious discussions followed involving family, friends and neighbours resulting in Alice and William hurriedly making plans to pack Freddie and Becky off to the countryside, which came as a huge shock to the eleven year old lad and his fifteen year old sister. When the day of reckoning arrived it rapidly became the worst day of Fred’s young life, but he didn’t give in easy. He kicked and cried, made such a racket that he wasn’t leave his mam, she needed him – the whole nine yards, but it made no difference.

Freddie refused to be placated that day or days following. After school he took to his bed and stayed there all evening and night, not eating. What had he done wrong? Why weren’t his parents coming with him and Becky? What about his brothers, would they go to war? They would die because everyone knew that’s what happens when you go to war. What if his parents died or forgot where they’d sent them and no one came?

A week later, an unhappy tear stained Freddie, and Becky who was having trouble putting on a brave face, stood on the platform at the train station with their anxious parents who were trying to assure their offspring, with no result, that the war would be over in a matter of weeks, and then they would come and collect them. Wearing his flat grey cap, Freddie grasped a firm hold of his small brown cardboard suitcase containing his meagre worldly possessions which included his well-loved teddy bear and a few favourite books and some clothes. The hated gasmask box was slung over the shoulder of his dark grey woollen coat.

The hullabaloo of hundreds of children packed to capacity on the train station only magnified the dread building inside the boy’s head and heart. What if mam gets blown to bits by a bomb? What if a bomb blows up their house while he’s away? Whose gonna come and collect them then?

A stalwart no nonsense grey haired woman, dressed in snug fitting brown suit with a belt pulled tight around her ample waist, brogues, Lisle stockings encasing sturdy legs, and a dark green felt hat with a black and brown feather sticking jauntily out of the brim, strode stoutly over to the family. Armed with a British upper crust accent and a clipboard clutched importantly in her right hand, she announced herself as a government official and checked off the children’s names. Without further ado she ordered the children to say goodbye to their parents, grabbed hold of Freddie and Becky’s hand in a tight clinch and assured their parents they would be well looked after. The boy kept squirming round to get one last glimpse of them as tears streamed down his face. Their parental assurances had done absolutely nothing to alleviate their fears. Nothing could stop his anguish or his snivelling or the wiping of his nose on his coat sleeve.

Freddie stared miserably out of the train window at the passing towns and countryside. Becky, next to him, placed her arm placed around his shoulders.

‘They won’t keep us long, Freddie. The Germans will run away with their tail between their legs soon enough and we’ll be back home before you know it, you’ll see,’ she said as she worried her bottom lip with her top front teeth.

The boy’s anguish at his predicament changed in a blink of an eye to one of excitement when he spied two middle aged women coming along the aisle towards him pushing a trolley. They were handing out cups of milk, free bars of chocolate as well as biscuits, juicy crisp apples, and jam sandwiches to every child to take their mind off the trip. Freddie ate his sandwich in three greedy gulps, gobbled the biscuits, and munched the apple, savouring it slowly. He shoved the chocolate in his pocket for safe keeping to eat later – he couldn’t remember the last time he’d such a treat. The only sound heard in their carriage was one of crunching, slurping and the rustling of chocolate wrappers.

Freddie and Becky ended up in North Wales in the town of Owestry, an old Iron Age hill fort border settlement dating back thousands of years, situated close to the north eastern border of Wales and England. Used to living in industrial Liverpool, the two children were now faced with Welsh language street and place names they couldn’t read or pronounce and having to interpret a mixture of an English and Welsh speaking population.

Horrified to find that he and his sister would be attending two separate schools, Becky was going to Moreton Hall, a high achieving, all-girls boarding and day school, while the imposing, red bricked edifice of Owestry School waited for his presence. Homesickness and loneliness consumed him. His sister quickly found her feet and settled in, making new friends on her first day, while Freddie lapsed even further into apathy as one miserable day followed another. Often tired and restless he found it painful making new friends because to his way of thinking they weren’t his proper mates so what was the point... he’d be home soon enough and any mates he made would be left behind. Either that or once made, they and their friendship would disappear just like his mam.

Their spell in north Wales was just long enough for Freddie to attend Owestry, Our Lady’s Primary School, St. Oswald’s Catholic Primary School, and Woodside Primary School, all of which he hated. Becky’s efforts in trying to soothe her brother after daily doses of scrapes, and bullying from other kids because of his accent and his refusal to mix were inadequate and ignored. He chose to remain alone, eat his lunch alone, and hitting out at anyone with a grievance.

Their stay with caregivers was a short one. Freddie continued to wet the bed, his carers unsympathetic and forgiving. Becky stood up for her brother, stating he was scared of the bombing in Liverpool, of his parents being hurt, and being away from them. The uncaring hosts were belligerent people and dissatisfied with their charges, but had been informed they were obliged to take in evacuees. If they refused they faced the threat of a fine. The only good thing as far they were concerned was payment collection day at the Post office. The only reason they had taken the Foster children was because the girl was strong enough to work in the house and the boy, once they had fattened him up, would help out with the heavy odd jobs around the place. They were not looking for shirkers.

Two weeks went by before the billeting officer called to check on the children. When she appeared they raised holy hell about the treatment they had endured and the lack of food, so much so the woman officer angrily informed the elderly couple she would return the following morning to collect the children and they could forget about payment. Remarkably, Freddie’s countenance changed instantly, laughing and joking with his sister until even she shook her head in disbelief at how quickly his moods turned.

They thought once was more than enough to be sent to Coventry, the name they dubbed Wales, but yet again, after returning home for a very brief stay to the wail of air raid sirens and the explosive sound of bombs dropping, the two distressed children were once more placed on a train bound for north Wales. Their new home and their new carers’ warm smiles instantly put Becky at ease.

Freddie, now a year older and far more wiser and wily, wasn’t easily influenced by their generosity, and refused to be believe they didn’t have an ulterior motive despite Becky’s pleadings to cut them some slack. She enjoyed being fussed over, which was mostly due to her being a girl, he thought snidely, and allowed to do what she liked as long as she attended school and did her homework and a few chores around the house. Freddie couldn’t, wouldn’t, settle, especially after attending more than one school the second time round due to the influx of children flooding into the district. Staying there wasn’t an option because his mam needed him. This latest foray to Wales taught him that if he misbehaved and kicked up a stink he’d always get what he wanted.

After school finished for the day Becky and Freddie raced to Parish Church, dumped their bags just inside the vestibule, and climbed the ancient worn stone steps leading to the top of the tower to watch the bombing raids in the distance over Liverpool. They listened in terrified silence at the echo of the Ack Ack guns pounding away in the distance, saw the Luftwaffe dropping bombs daily, more so during the night and mainly round the docks area, the railways, factories and the middle of the city. The noise, the thumping of heavy artillery, even from where they stood, was incredibly loud. Numerous out of control fires raged, reducing landmarks that had survived for hundreds of years to piles of ashes. Freddie stopped eating for a while, but then realised he could only do that for so long otherwise he’d wither away to nothing, like his grandma used to say, and never get to go home. He was certain his foster family would eventually admit defeat and send him packing.

His carers wrote to his mother explaining their son was not settling in and was pining for his mother. They had done everything they possibly could to make him welcome but still he pestered them into sending him home. Alice replied in a telegram, agreeing that was the best thing they could do in the circumstances.

He couldn’t believe his luck. He lay awake most of the night thinking about how happy his mam’s face would look when she saw him. The very next afternoon Freddie settled into one of the train’s compartments with wrapped up, still warm slices of homemade cake that smelled delicious, jam sandwiches and apples. He grinned and waved a hearty goodbye to his elderly carers and his sister, who looked sad as they waved from the platform. Freddie desperately wished the bloody Germans would bugger off out of England, he wanted his family all together again under one roof and be with his mates.

The countryside hurtled by to be replaced with the industrial greyness and grime and steel coloured, threatening clouds that seemed to permanently settle over Liverpool. Peering out the window it finally dawned on him that if he held out long enough for what he wanted and made a complete nuisance of himself into the bargain, he’d always get what he wanted. He grinned. Life wasn’t so bad after all.

And there she was, waiting on the platform as the train pulled in. Excitedly, he grabbed hold of his suitcase and his gas mask box in haste and shoved his way, completely forgetting he had left Becky behind, through the throng of people in the aisle waiting to disembark. His mam was gonna be okay now he was home, he’d make sure of that. With a smile as bright as the sun on a hot summer’s day she held out her arms and he ran into them. He was home, he was safe, mam was safe, and that’s all that mattered.

The carer mentioned in her letter that Freddie’s behaviour had been of constant

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