Wartime Sweethearts by Lola Jaye
An English Girl. An American Soldier. A twin secret…
When Rose meets American GI William there is no denying the attraction between them…And even though she knows her family would not approve of her relationship with a black soldier, they can’t help but fall in love.
However Rose has a secret of her own and when war separates the sweethearts before she can confide in William, it is Rose who will have to deal with the consequences…
From the author of Orphan Sisters comes a moving and unique saga which gives a voice to the untold tales of our past.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) Hello there! I’ve been a published author for ten years now and I’m also a registered psychotherapist. I’ve written five novels and a self-help book and was born and raised in London, England. I’ve lived in Nigeria and up until recently, the United States. My books have been translated into several languages including Korean, German and Serbian. I love writing saga novels and Orphan Sisters was released in 2017 charting the fictional journey of an immigrant family and the issues faced in post war London. My current book Wartime Sweethearts is out now:
When Rose meets American GI William there is no denying the attraction between them… And even though she knows her family would not approve of her relationship with a black soldier, they can’t help but fall in love. However Rose has a secret of her own and when war separates the sweethearts before she can confide in William, it is Rose who will have to deal with the consequences…
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea, to writing and finally to publication?
A) I have an idea. Then the characters are born. If these characters start to invade my thoughts, it’s time to tell their story! I became interested in learning more about the large numbers of babies born to African American solders and British women during WWII after listening to a segment on BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour. Brown babies was the term used and I felt I needed to tell their ‘forgotten’ story.
When I write, I not only want to entertain, but I also like to weave in the contributions made by people of colour throughout the years. For example, it isn’t widely known that during both World Wars there were a significant number of African, Caribbean and Asian soldiers who volunteered and were recruited to all branches of the British armed forces. Although the story of William and Rose focuses on the African American allies, the cover for Wartime Sweethearts at least offers us a rare glimpse…
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was/is a phenomenal woman. There’s something quite beautiful about the prose and raw emotion which sings from each page of this book.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I needed to be in a certain place mentally to really take on this book due to the harrowing subject matter, so it stayed on my shelf for over five years. When I finally opened the first page, I was hooked.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Every single page of this book felt like part of a feast I wanted to devour slowly. I was there with the characters too, living and breathing the life of a Japanese geisha and not sat on my couch on a rainy afternoon!
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I read this at a time I had newly arrived in America, so this novel felt like perfect timing. It contained so many references which gave way to a number of ‘aha’ moments like, what it meant to be an immigrant living in America- themes I recognised and could relate to on a personal level.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) Like millions of others, I enjoyed the Flowers in the Attic books by Virginia Andrews and the naughtiness of Judy Blume in Forever. Pre teen me also loved books by Rosa Guy who was a phenomenon because for the very first time, I was reading about characters who looked like me. One of her books which particularly springs to mind is Edith Jackson, about a 17 year old black girl trying to make her way in life.
Q) What are you currently reading?
A) I am just about to start reading Tell me your Secret by Dorothy Koomson -who made be feel very special by sending me a proof!
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) When a reader emails to tell me how much my writing has touched their lives.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) It helps to have a list of writer friends who are familiar with the neurosis, solitude and basic weirdness that come with being a writer!
She had never experienced this type of pain before. ‘Is the baby all right?’ she said in between deepened breaths and a succession of quick pants. Wasn’t the pain part supposed to be over by now? Why was she feeling as if she still needed to push something heavy out of her? When she was little, she’d accidentally walked in on Mrs Bunting giving birth next door. Rose had been mesmerised at the aftermath of bright red blood splattered across the bed sheets and a fully formed, yet purple and reddened baby wailing in its mother’s arms. The sight of something called the afterbirth, pooling out of her neighbour’s nether regions a little while later, was not what she’d expected either because no one had actually mentioned that part. Perhaps this was what was next for her too – she just couldn’t believe how much pain she’d endured so far, or that this beautifully formed, wailing infant now being tended to by her sister Flora, as Marigold, the oldest of the three, looked on, had actually come from her. In the blurred lines between pain and exhaustion, Rose was fighting pangs of envy at the time they’d already got to spend with the baby. Her first child. A little girl! She couldn’t wait to be alone with her and stare into her
perfect face. Absorb every single inch of this new person she’d got to know over the last eight months while safely cocooned in her stomach. She’d only managed a few seconds of a glimpse when Flora had placed her onto her chest right after she’d first entered this world. Their heartbeats had instantly connected and she felt an intoxication of love for this little being who had bombarded its way into her life at a time when the outside world had felt so uncertain. ‘She is a beauty!’ encouraged Marigold, standing at the end of Rose’s bent legs, an uncharacteristic smile spread all over her wide face. The earlier embarrassment at her sisters viewing parts of her she herself had never seen, had long since disappeared. She’d never felt more grateful for their presence nor more at ease. Marigold had already birthed two of her own as well as taking in a couple of evacuees at the start of the war, while Flora was just a natural at being organised; the clever one of the family. ‘Got a good pair of lungs on her too!’ said Marigold. ‘Time to give this beauty a nice clean and you can hold her,’ said Flora in that voice adults seemed to have hidden most of the time, yet regularly pulled out for babies and little children. Perhaps Rose herself would talk that way to the little one from now on as she fed her, combed her hair (when she had some) and bathed her. Rose couldn’t wait for these instances that would define her new role as a mother. At the age of thirty-one and already married for six years, she’d been waiting for this moment her entire life. This was her chance to do better as a wife and finally be able to prove to Pete, her husband, that she wasn’t a bad wife for not giving him a child or whatever other reason he would come up with. He’d often remind her he could find better among the dead cows at the knackers yard where he worked. He probably could. She wasn’t that much of a good wife. She sometimes burnt the food even though they were living on precious government rations and at times let the dust settle on the sideboards where
their wedding photo and ornaments took pride of place. Pete hated dust, said it made him cough. When one day he placed both hands around her neck until she couldn’t help but splutter in panic, he simply said, ‘Now you know what it feels like,’ before releasing her. She was a bad wife, but this, motherhood, she could do. She’d lost her mother Lillian at a very young age and she and her sisters and brother had been raised by a succession of aunties and neighbours while her father, Albert, sat in a chair smoking a pipe and stroking his moustache, lamenting the loss of the only woman he’d ever loved. Just like he still did every single day of his miserable life. Out of a line-up of three girls and the much longed for son, Donald, who finally came along and, with him, a change that would affect their lives forever, Rose could admit she’d been the favoured one. Flora the middle girl was the forever spinster with ‘too many big ideas’ and ‘just not ladylike enough’, according to their father, with Marigold the plain and ‘big’ one. At least Rose was looked at as the one ‘pretty enough’ to secure a decent husband who would earn enough money to contribute to the family pot. Rose had wanted that too. Hoping at least for a husband who could be a better father than hers and perhaps be more like her little brother Donald who at least took an interest in her life. What she’d ended up with was a man who did odd jobs when he could, refused to contribute anything to the Baker family and stayed away at least three nights a week, showing up drunk and reeking of other women. This baby was so important. Five months ago, she’d stood between Pete and the wall, his hand tightened around her wrist, his thigh jammed in the space between her legs, his spittle landing on her cheek as he reeled
off all the reasons why he should leave and never come back. Just like he usually did after a row. When, finally, she had landed him with the biggest reason of all – ‘I’m having a baby, that’s why!’ – her eyes had stamped shut as she waited for what was next.
Instead, he’d gently pulled her into his arms, punching the air instead of her face and cheering with happiness. And for the next five months as the baby grew inside her, Pete began to behave differently; rubbing her swollen feet and letting her know almost every day that he had never loved her more. She thought – had believed – he would never hit her again and especially not with his baby inside her. So now it was only his words that stung and usually when he was too drunk to care. Marigold said this was good, an improvement, yet for Rose his words sometimes felt like punches. Rose’s new fear was that Pete would be upset the baby wasn’t a boy. He may have said he didn’t mind what she produced and wasn’t fussed, but Pete said a lot of things. Having promised never to hit her again (many times but especially since she was pregnant), he’d recently succumbed with a sharp tug of her chestnut-coloured hair just after breakfast, the morning he left to work at the knackers yard four days ago. ‘Look what you made me do!’ he’d whined. Her hand had gently caressed the side of her head, she imagined would be a pinky red, as her other hand smoothed over her swollen belly. Thankfully, her baby was safe inside, moving around like normal. Seconds later, he was apologising as he pulled a pack of cigarettes and matches from his pocket. ‘Anyway, you’ve got those meddling sisters of yours, you don’t need me around. I don’t know why you’re moaning about me going away, anyway. Having a baby is a women’s thing, so it’s best I get back when it’s all done and with a bit of cash in me pocket. You’re both going to need feeding.’ He lit the match and placed it to the tip of the cigarette. ‘You’ve still got another month and I’ll be back just before or on the dot. Don’t you worry.’ He’d dragged on the cigarette as she imagined the instant joy she’d feel in stubbing it right into his cheek. The sweet little mite was crying wildly now, a reassuring sound as Rose felt an enormous need to push again.
She screamed louder than she ever thought she could. Louder than when Pete had first struck her that second hour into their wedding. Louder than when he had ‘accidentally’ twisted her wrist when they had rowed about the woman at number twenty-three. ‘Ahhhhhh!’ Marigold looked on, open-mouthed as Flora, always the most organised and sensible, placed the new baby into Marigold’s arms. ‘Please stop this pain – ahhhhhh!’ Rose’s screams were louder than when she’d been told her mother was never coming home after giving birth to Donald. What if a similar fate awaited her too? The thought had rushed through her mind many times and she was extremely angry with herself for not making it to the hospital on time for her own emergency. But as Marigold had pointed out helpfully or unhelpfully, their mother had died giving birth in a hospital anyway. ‘Marigold, hold that baby tight over there,’ said Flora with a warning tone to her voice. ‘Something’s happening here!’ Rose held her tears inside, the pain preventing such a luxury. This wasn’t meant to be happening. This was it. She too was about to go the way of their mother and never see her child again. ‘Oh my . . . No . . . This can’t be!’ shouted Flora, her hands now embedded between her sister’s legs. ‘What?’ screamed Rose, in between each desperate pant. The pain kept coming at her like a huge tank, she imagined. Steamrolling over her entire body and then backing up to do it all over again. ‘Keep pushing!’ urged Flora, her own face red with concentration. Marigold moved closer, still clutching the baby. ‘I don’t believe this!’ ‘Someone tell me what’s going on? Ahhhhh!’ The pain seared through her with an intensity she had never known. Every part of her enlarged with pain.
‘It’s another one!’ said Flora. ‘Another what?’ yelled Rose. ‘It’s twins!!’ Those final pushes were the toughest. The screams were the most intense and even though her eyes were stamped shut, Rose knew it was enough. She’d done it. She’d released a second baby into the world and she couldn’t have been more surprised . . . or happier. Her tears of joy, instant as she opened her eyes, but when she clocked the expression locked on each of her sister’s faces, her smile dropped. ‘What is it? Is my baby okay?’ She could only hear the cries of the first baby. ‘It’s a girl. Another girl.’ Gone was the joy in Flora’s voice heard only moments earlier with the arrival of the first child. Even Marigold looked miserable, but then again, Marigold was regularly unable to keep a smile for long. ‘Can . . . can I see her? Why isn’t she crying?’ ‘I’m . . . Err . . . I’m just going to sort her out here . . . Clean her up . . .’ Something in Flora’s tone didn’t sit right with Rose. Of her three siblings, she and Flora were the closest. Although Rose was only just over a year younger, Flora was the one she looked up to. She’d been the first girl in their family to finish school with good marks and the first one to get a job long before women were expected to as part of the war effort. She even spoke proper too and Rose had always wanted to be like Flora. Not a spinster . . . No, not that, but to possess her strength and fearless attitude. Yet, the expression on Flora’s face was that of fear. ‘Flora, what’s that face for? What’s wrong with my baby?’ The loud and healthy cry from baby number two was reassuring and timely. ‘Nothing is wrong. There you go, a healthy pair of lungs.’ ‘You sure about that, Flora?’ added Marigold, rocking baby number one, Iris, in her arms. Pete and Rose had already decided
to name their baby Iris if it was a girl – in keeping with the flower theme of their family. For a boy, they had decided on Donald after her brother who was currently fighting the Jerries and who they hoped would soon be home. ‘Is there something wrong with my baby? Please tell me!’ ‘Once I give her a bath, everything will be okay. Marigold, give Rose the first baby.’ Marigold appeared to be dumbstruck, her eyes fixated on the baby in Flora’s arms. ‘Marigold, give her the baby!’ ‘Iris. Her name is Iris,’ said Rose. ‘Give little Iris to her. Go on!’ Rose’s fears quickly floated away as she once again held baby Iris against her tired body. The smell of her, the uniqueness of this moment, overwhelming and eclipsing any joy she had previously felt during her thirty-one years of life. In her arms was her very own child and a combination of her and Pete. Although the marriage had been a bit rocky of late, Iris was proof that everything had happened to lead her to now. This beautiful human being wrapped safely in her arms; this moment; this love. And she had two of these little blessings. Pete would love her so much after this. Their love would be rock solid and never, ever become fractured again. The love of two babies binding them together, forever. ‘Can I see my little Lily, now?’ the name rolled off her tongue effortlessly. Lily, a shortened version of their mother’s name, seemed so very fitting. ‘Lily . . . That’s a great choice,’ said Flora uneasily. There seemed to be a private conference going on between her sisters with Lily being at the centre of it. As Rose listened to the reassuring sound of her first daughter’s breath, she also longed for the second one. She wanted to be close to her and to be reassured of her existence. As Flora spoke, the expression on her face was grave. ‘I thought when I washed her, it would come off . . .’
‘What would come off?’ ‘Her colouring.’ ‘What?’ ‘Maybe in a few days. It’s probably a birth thing . . . you know because she’s the second one?’ Flora moved closer to the bed, a white sheet covering the unexpected second baby, Lily. Rose handed Marigold (herself looking as white as the sheet) baby Iris and held out her arms for Lily. She felt an intense rush of warmth as Flora placed the baby into her arms. Were they identical? Would they have similar personalities or be totally different? Her sore and aching body managed to embrace a feeling of joy as she imagined the future, which now appeared amazing and full of sparkling possibilities. The country may have been at war, but in that moment Rose could not have asked for more as she settled Lily into her arms. She opened the sheet, excited about seeing her baby for the very first time. Instead, her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes widened, her breathing accelerated. She couldn’t speak. Not a word. If not for the presence of two babies, there would not have been a single sound in that room. Then Marigold spoke. ‘If I hadn’t seen this myself I would have said the devil himself had come into the house this morning and did this. What. The. Hell. Is. That!?’
My Dearest Love,
I can still feel the harshness of the ground beneath my bare feet as I run towards my mama, as she calls us in to eat. I miss the smell of fresh cornbread and the sound of the birds chirping me awake in the morning. I also miss the sky as blue as the sea with the sunshine above the mammoth trees draped in Spanish moss as I trace the sweat dripping down to my cheek. Yes, this land of yours, Great Britain, has the birds, but it rarely has the sunlight.
Yet, one day, when I thought it was going to be just another grey day, the sun appeared in all its splendour. It was the day we arrived in the town of Alderberry and all those people were so welcoming to us. I couldn’t be sure if I and the other seven guys were part of that welcome, but it appeared we were. To every one of the British who came to greet us, ask our names and thank us for ‘helping get rid of the Jerries’, I was just another American soldier walking the cobbled streets like they were reclaiming the land of their forefathers! I admit it. I allowed the clapping and stares to go to my head. It wasn’t something I was used to. The staring yes, but not the clapping. Not in America and not among my comrades either. It made me feel like a hero. Cornel told me to tone it down a little and put my chest back in. Maybe I should have. But for once I wasn’t about to obey any orders. ‘We ain’t like them,’ he said. ‘Well, to these folks, we are!’ Cornel was my best friend in the army. We looked the same. And while we were stationed in areas far away from home and everything I had ever known we had a type of safety in numbers, strategy in defence of some of the other men, like Riker. Riker was from Augusta, Georgia and not too far from where I grew up in Savannah. And it’s because of this that he hated me the most. The guys from the North weren’t like Riker and his boys. They treated us well enough, didn’t adhere to Jim Crow, but they sometimes called us spooks or Nigger. I didn’t mind much . . . well I did . . . of course I did, but I was powerless in the face of it all. Just like I was when put on duties that really had nothing to do with fighting the Germans. I wanted to get in there and do what I had been sent to do – not clean out the bathrooms. But it wasn’t worth a dime to say anything. Cornel was right and we were not the same in the eyes of Riker and his men or the law of our own country. So, if in Great Britain, it seemed like we were men – then I was going to enjoy that feeling for as long as I could.
Riker and the others truly believed they were movie stars. Big time operators stopping to hand out gifts to the ladies and kids. If the lady was pretty, she would get a little more than some cigarettes or candy. More like some nylons and a promise to ‘see her later’. I’d never known of a man to get a date so easily! Back home, I’d had to patiently wait six weeks for just a kiss with sweet Augustine Jewson! How Riker and the other guys behaved was not my way and, even if it were, I and the other seven guys who looked like me would not be allowed to partake anyway. Instead, we simply ‘minded our business’ as Cornel would say. Content to enjoy the way you folks pronounced words like ‘water’ and to give out extra candy bars to anyone who even smiled our way. As we stood in and among the last of the gathered crowds, my mouth dry with all the talking and laughing with the British folk, one of the seven said something about going to a bar or a ‘pub’, for lunch. It was called the Black Dog and I found this name a little unfortunate, but I was assured by one of the local men that the name referred to a real black dog that used to gather sheep in the area. As usual, Cornel was being negative, saying – ‘Let’s just all go back to base. I ain’t going in no establishment called the Black Dog!’ – five of the guys ignored him and carried on in the direction of the pub. ‘You coming?’ asked Cornel. ‘This isn’t home, we’re in England now. The folks here have been nothing but cordial, nice and welcoming.’ ‘I don’t know where you living but back at the base, ain’t nothing changed.’ He was right about that. Men like Riker were still determined to keep up what they were used to back at home regardless of where we had landed – and drinking in the same area as them was not the done thing. Some drinking establishments had already agreed to rotating passes so that we Negro soldiers were never in on the same day as white soldiers. Not everyone in this village had agreed to that and this made me happy inside. It felt
like England and its people were not going to be hostile towards us and that was great. But of course that made no difference to men like Riker. Of course, I was about to follow Cornel back to base . . . But something or someone stopped me. I looked up again and there it was. A kind of vision that I hoped was real. ‘You go on up ahead, and I’ll meet you.’ That was a lie. Cornel was looking sour but I was not about to leave. Not at that moment. Maybe not ever, because I had just laid eyes on you, for the very first time. Back home in Savannah, it wasn’t hard for me to ignore the look of a woman – a white woman – because simply put, to look back could get me in serious trouble, even killed. Yet thousands of miles away, here in a British town called Alderberry, I tried once again to pretend that my way of life back home was far behind. I had to do that in combat anyway because I just couldn’t afford to think about those I had left behind. Yet still, I, William Burrell, dared to look back at you. I dared to catch your pretty smile. A moment, which locked me into a time and space I never wanted to come out of. You were the first white woman I had ever looked at in that way before. Maybe even the first woman. Not even Augustine Jewson or Marie A. Rhodes or Viola Jackson had held my time in such a way. I knew that image of you would remain in my mind like a flower in a bed of concrete. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but you weren’t Hollywood glamour like Gene Tierney, with your dressed-down flat shoes, your hair neatly styled, but with tendrils falling messily into your eyes, that to be honest did look a little tired. Yet, I could see they still sparkled with something. And looking at you gave me a sense of peace within the chaos. A calm I didn’t know I had missed. A sense of acceptance in a world where I was risking my life for a country that failed to even see me as a man.
‘Hello there,’ you said. I adored that accent as well as your brazenness. I’d overheard Riker and the others talking a lot about British women being very forward and willing to ‘give it up to a GI’ on the first night if alcohol and ‘fags’ were involved. I knew you’d be different. I just knew. ‘Why, hello. I’m William Burrell. How are you today, ma’am?’ ‘I’m fine, thank you, Mr Burrell.’ ‘You can call me Willie.’ ‘William will be fine.’ And there it was. Instant confirmation that what you already saw in me was more than what I had been used to. Men younger than I often referred to me, a grown man, as ‘boy’ while others just called me Willie. To me, Willie only ever sounded right coming from the lips of my mama and daddy and here stood you, beautiful sweet you, calling me by my full name and this just confirmed that everything I had felt in the ninety or so seconds we’d known one another was valid. It was real. You were not part of my wishful imagination. ‘May I ask you your name?’ I asked you. A firm nudge almost knocked me off my feet. ‘You should not be doing this,’ whispered Cornel into my ear. ‘I thought you were going back to base,’ I said, momentarily out of my trance. ‘I was until I saw you trying to commit a suicide.’ ‘Just being friendly to the lady.’ ‘Then be friendly to everyone, the same. Don’t put trouble on yourself. It’s not worth it. She ain’t worth it.’ As Cornel moved away, I turned back and you were gone. Luckily, my gaze found you slowly moving away from the crowds, that smile and then your hand telling me to follow. I stopped, remembering Cornell’s words along with thirty years of my own memories locked away in my head and refusing to leave me. My heart beat fast. I was in another world. In England. They didn’t do that here, did they?
I followed anyway and then you stopped and turned around, smiling at me once again, luring me further into your world and possibly a whole lot of trouble. Soon, only a muddy ground and an abundance of trees surrounded us. Lush greenery and the absence of others. There was just you and I. What if you screamed? ‘My name is Rose.’ I walked closer to you, so slowly and giving you a chance to change your mind; tell me this had all been a mistake. I should have thought about the possibility that this could be a trap but I knew you wouldn’t do that to me. I already trusted you. I already knew you. So, with my hand stretched out, I moved closer knowing as soon as our palms touched for the very first time, you’d become everything I never knew I needed.