published 1986, written 1942-45
Lady B and I entered for the Bowling Tournament. She drew the Admiral as her partner, and I drew Colonel Simpkins. Neither Colonel Simpkins nor the Admiral was pleased, but they generously decided to make the best of it. Lady B and I were, of course, delighted when we found we had drawn each other in the first round as opponents.
[The women play, then leave the men to get on with it]
‘Now they’ve got the whole rink to themselves,’ said Lady B, settling herself comfortably on a seat. ‘I like your shirt, Henrietta. Where did you get it?’
‘I made it out of some of Charles’s old pyjamas. I used the legs for the sleeves.’
‘My dear, how brilliant of you! I often wonder why men wear out the seats of their pyjamas the way they do. The collar’s good.’
‘I lined it.’
‘Just pull up your jersey and let me see the back. Yes, it’s definitely a success. And the colour is delightful. Charles must have looked sweet in it.’
‘He did rather.’
A shadow fell across our knees, and we looked up to see the Admiral standing before us. ‘Would it be too much to ask you ladies to pay a little attention to the game?’ he said in a shaking voice.
observations: This entry explains how I first came across Henrietta, via my friend Chrissie Poulson, and Henrietta is also one of my Older Women Winning Through, list here.
When I finished Henrietta’s War, I instantly downloaded this one, the second volume, and read it straightaway. It is just as good as the first one, and takes us right through to victory. Again, there are fascinating contemporary issues as well as the excellent jokes: A burning question of the day seems to have been how much compensation was paid to those who lost relations in air raids, with the insult that women are valued less than men. This leads to one of the group speculating on potential widowhood for her husband’s benefit:
‘Well, if I were left a widow I know what I’d do,’ said little Mrs Simpkins, clearly and unexpectedly. ‘I’d move into a much smaller house, and I’d sell your roll-top desk.’ After that there was an awkward silence.
In the section above, the two women were looking forward to the game as a chance to chat, but Lady B suddenly & disappointingly gets good at bowls – ‘Halfway through the game she had a brandy and soda brought out to her from the bar’. Luckily, eventually ‘inspiration left her and she began playing in her old and, to me, more attractive style’ – as Lady B says ‘Being good at games takes all the fun out of them.'
The two women stare at a beautiful new hat in a shop window, but they can’t justify buying it.
‘If you were to wire the brim of the hat you wore at the Thomson wedding, you could make it very like that one.’- the result, apparently, is splendid.
‘But I’d never get a quill that colour. I like the quill.’
‘There are seagulls on the beach,’ I said, ‘and I have some coloured inks.’
Henrietta’s daughter is called Linnet: the only other instance of this name I have come across is in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile – Linnet Doyle, the richest girl in the world.
The picture from the Imperial War Museum shows a young woman making her own blouse – probably a lot smarter than Henrietta’s, and not made from old pyjamas, but illustrating the make-do-and-mend attitude of the war.