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Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 27

What I most remember about that night was the cold which blew through the cracked window pane and my husband, Robert.

We had married just as the bombs began to fall. Robert was stationed in France with the British Infantry. I was a nurse at Great Ormond Street and lived in the smallest room of a boarding house on Bloomsbury Square. It was only one rung above a cot in the underground at Russell Square, but it was mine.

It was a restless night. More than the cold, there hadn’t been a letter in three days. Even with the war on, I had received a letter, a postcard, a little something every other day. You could set your watch by my Robert. I would see women on the wards, their sick child in bed beside them, a worn telegram or notification letter clutched in their hands. My letters were tied with ribbon, safely tucked under my pillow back in my room.

I was laying in bed, staring into the dark when the floorboards next to the bed creaked. I grabbed my pedestrian torch from the bedside table. Because of the Blackout the beam was covered with the piece of brown paper, so the light wasn't much, but it was enough to see there was no one else in the room. I clicked off the beam and lay back down.

A weight settled on the end of the bed. I clearly heard Robert's voice say, "Run."

I shot up, standing next to the bed with the torch in hand, the hardwood floor so cold my feet ached. When the beam of the torch feel on end of the bed, my Robert was sitting there, blooding coursing down his face, a gapping hole where his brown hair had been.

The torch clattered to the floor in my panicked dash towards the door, where Robert was waiting. "Dress. Leave. Run."

It was the worst kind of waking nightmare, my husband's ruined face before my eyes regardless of which direction I turned, all the while saying, "Run. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run."

Crying, I threw on clothes and grabbed my coat. I fled through the front door of the house and into the street with only my handbag. As I turned back toward the front of the boarding house, Robert was standing on the front steps, still mouthing, "run" on an endless repeat. The air raid siren started to wail. I ran to Holborn where I eventually fell asleep sitting up against the wall, wedged between two strangers.

The next morning I staggered out of the station in a daze, haunted by the nightmare of the night before. I didn't have to walk far to see the smouldering wreckage of the boarding house, its Georgian bricks blown into the street.

There was a man standing in the street looking lost, the notification letter in his hand.

I walked up to the man and said, "I think that letter is for me."

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