TOUR - Pied Piper by Keith Stuart


Book details:

Book Title: Pied Piper

Author: Keith Stuart

Publication Date: 1st March 2021

Publisher: LMP- Len Maynard Publishing

Page Length: 176 Pages

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In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated - separated from their parents.

This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way.

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The boss had given me two days compassionate leave so I had today to get there, Monday to get the family ready to travel and Tuesday to get back. I dropped a note through Elsie’s door to let her know what was happening and set off.


The journey took hours. The train stopped for no apparent reason between stations. I ignored the other people in the compartment. I think all eight seats were occupied when we left London and I was glad I’d boarded early enough to get a window seat so that I didn’t have to talk to anyone, look at anyone. I could just let the miles and the hours slide by.


From time to time we stopped at anonymous stations, the signs having been taken down. My attention would be drawn momentarily to someone heaving their case down from the overhead rack, sliding the door open to the corridor, opening the door to the platform and disappearing through the steam and smoke outside the grimy window.


I must have dozed because eventually, and without me knowing how or when, the other orange, red and brown velvet upholstered seats became empty.


We stopped and started less frequently and I felt I was the only person left aboard as the train rattled, huffed and puffed into the dusk until, finally, it stopped at the little station I just about recognised.


The walk to the farmhouse felt long. It wound its way between the hedgerows I had been able to see over from the bus and it was impossible to know how far I had walked or how far was left. But, at last, the farmhouse came into view.


Smoke billowed from the chimney and soft light glowed from the downstairs rooms I knew to be the kitchen and the front parlour. It looked so welcoming and I had no doubt the children would be sad to say their farewells and leave all this behind.


In the fading light I trod carefully over the cattle grid and headed up the drive to the house. A figure I knew was Joe emerged from the barn to the right. He stopped. He must have seen someone approaching, though I doubt he knew it was me. I had rehearsed in my mind what had to be said and I guessed out there, rather than in front of the women and kids, was best.


“Joe.”


“Tom, Is that you? What are you doing here? Why didn’t you tell us, I’d have picked you up? Come on in. Come in.”


I stopped. Kept my distance. “Not yet, Joe. I’ve come to take Mary and the kids home.”


“Micky can’t ….”


“Please don’t tell me what Micky can or can’t do, Joe.” I needed to be angry but I was finding it hard. I needed to make clear how careless I thought Joe had been, how angry I was he’d let my boy get hurt.


“But the doctor says he shouldn’t move too much and he really couldn’t manage the journey to London.”


“And we know why that is. He wouldn’t be hurting if he hadn’t been here, would he? He needs to be home, Joe. I need to have him home.”


Joe didn’t reply. He should have said something but a silence hung between us instead. I waited for his excuse or at least an explanation that I could reject. But neither was offered and we remained as we were, yards apart staring into each other’s eyes through the gloom, like two children weighing the odds before a fight.


I had rehearsed every possible exchange between us during the endless train journey. I hadn’t expected silence. I tried to look deeper into Joe’s thoughts. Could I see guilt or regret? Was he being dismissive, trivialising it all? It wasn’t his boy that was hurt so he was hardly likely to care too much, was he?


I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, looked away and towards the farmhouse.


His voice slid through the crackling cold. “I’m so sorry, Tom.”

Keith Stuart (Wadsworth) taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’. Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.


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Tour hosted by: The Coffee Pot Book Club


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