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Thursday, 7 August 2008

Another Tommy Atkins

October 18th, said Tommy’s handwriting. Had it really been three weeks since his last letter? Molly Atkins settled into her rocking chair, and set it into gentle motion. She knew it was silly to worry; Tommy was so busy out there, and of course he would see to his men first, censoring their letters and tending to their needs just as she had taught him to take care of his little brothers.

She tried to read a few lines, but the words swam before her eyes as she recalled an image of Tommy newly decked out in his uniform, looking tiny and lost like a boy in a new suit that must last him several years yet. But as she clucked and exclaimed over him, Tommy’s blue eyes had filled with calm purpose, and Molly felt sure he would get through all right. It didn’t matter that the letter now blurred before her; she knew its contents by heart. Tommy’s cheerful descriptions of the wonderful, motley assortment of lads around him; jokey remonstrations against army food, and a little list of the things he hoped she would send.

Of course, she had scuttled into the village immediately and bought all the cigarettes and chocolate she could, then she hurried home to finish knitting those warm grey socks. She knew he’d love them.

A barely-glimpsed shadow passing the window startled Molly. She half-raised herself from the chair, then sank down again. The doorbell rang in unusually sonorous and respectful tones, and a gush of anguish speared through Molly’s stomach as the certainty flashed into her mind. It was Bobby Stewart, the telegraph boy.

She heard Martha clattering down the stairs to answer, and gripped Tommy’s letter more tightly. Suddenly the words leaped out at her with all the clarity and solidity of life.

Cigarettes, please – as many as you can send. And chocolate too; it cheers the lads up a treat. And you know how I am with socks!

A list of futile little comforts that had not helped him at all. Then, a line below:

Lastly, my dearest Mother, send me your prayers.

Molly shook her head slowly. Not even this last item had reached her boy in time.

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With thanks to Graeme