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Billy was dead. William was dead. Emily Ashford was dead. Joseph Bedson was dead. The Dowager Countess was dead. Lord Henry Wilton, Earl of Tadwell, was dead. Had any of them ever existed or were they nothing more than a part of Lily's dream ? When Lily woke up who would she really be ? When would she wake up ?

Kenneth settled very quickly into life at Bletchley Park although he knew nothing of the town of Bletchley at all. Some of those who worked in the park were billeted in the town or nearby villages. They could come and go as they pleased. Kenneth, however, needed a special pass to exit via the big iron gates. He lived inside the park in a blast proof building, Middle Hall.

For much of the war Bletchley Park had been decoding intercepted German messages so keeping British forces one step ahead of them but that was not Kenneth's area of work.

Billy had ambitions to rise rapidly thorough he ranks of The Royal Air Force but never achieved promotion above the rank of Flight Sergeant. Kenneth had been at Bletchley Patk for six months when he put on the uniform of a Wing Commander.

The war ended with Victory in Europe celebrated on 8th May 1945, two months after Billy was killed. Victory over Japan was recognised on 15th August.

On Monday 4th February 1946 Wing Commander Kenneth Ashford brought his team together.

"Time now for he real thing," he began. "Transport to Southampton leaves at 07.00 tomorrow. We will then sail for Alexandria then on to to Cairo."

Lily forced herself to be strong. It was not part of her character to be weak but without Billy she had to make the effort. Life had dealt her too many cruel blows not to know how to fight back. She hated Germans and everything German. Germans had taken her husband away from her. Germans had murdered her son.

My Dear and Special Friend Lily,

I think you should go with The British Legion to visit Billy's Grave in German. You need to say a proper good-bye to him.

All my love

Sis

 

Dear Lily,

I will come to visit you next week but I wanted to write before I came.

If you want me to I would come with you to Germany on the British Legion pilgrimage to visit Billy's resting place.

Love

Dorothy

 

"Would you really come with me Dorothy ?"

"Of course I would."

"Then yes please. It would be good to have you with me. I am going to need a friend."

Kenny and his small team made t heir way from England to Egypt on the White Star SS Synthia, It was hardly an ocean-going liner and did tend to plod its way through the water but accommodation was comfortable enough.

"I am a spy," Kenneth said to himself. Fancy that.  The boy from Kingstanding, brought up in a council house was a Wing Commander and a spy ! He hoped Brother Billy would be proud of him.

Lily and Dorothy suffered a long train journey to Dover. They had to change trains in London taking the Underground from Euston to London Bridge, dragging their cases with them. It was a slow, smoky train that took them to the port.

"It is a good job everything is downhill to Dover," Dorothy said. "I am not sure Puffing Billy pulling this train could manage any sort of an incline."

Lily smiled. "It will be uphill on the way back."

The boat took nearly three hours to cross The Channel to Dunkirk. "A good job the little ships were faster than this. If it had been left to British Rail Ferries the army would still be on the beach !"

"I agree with you," Dorothy said.

"I hope you enjoyed your meal Wing Commander," the steward said. "Would you like coffee ?"

"Yes please."

"Welcome to France," the man from The British Legion said. "Can I offer you a mug of te ?"

"Thank you."

"Corned beef sandwich ?"

Lily accepted with gratitude, she was hungry. "Corned beef !" Dorothy said. "I don't think so."

A 'bus carrying the pilgrims to Becklingham Cemetery was slower than either the trains in England and the ferry on the English Channel. As it passed through France, Belgium and into Germany everyone onboard could see how terrible war-torn Europe was. The closer the 'bus got to Germany the more terrible the destruction.

Lily had no sympathy. To her, Hitler may have been defeated but every German was and always would be the enemy. In her lifetime Germany had started two wars. The first had been responsible for her husband's early death. The second had taken the life of her favourite son.

Kenneth did not hate the German Nation and had no ill feelings towards any individual. , an older brother A German may have taken the life of his older brother, and older brother he respected and looked up to but he did not hate anyone for Billy's death. That was part of war.

As part of The British Mandate in Egypt the job of Kenneth's team was to oversee a group of undercover agents. The Egyptians did not want the British in their country. While trouble was always possible it was not expected. Kenneth's team members had to pretend to be ordinary Royal Air Force signals staff but spies they were and spying was their mission.

Kenneth wondered what the other base members made of his team, all wearing the uniform of Leading Aircraftsmen yet everyone knowing that was not their correct rank. If their presence was a secret it was not well hidden.

Part of Kenneth's duty was to censor the outgoing mail. There was not a lot to censor, the newspapers pretty well reported anything a serviceman could write in a letter. Newspapers telegraphed any news while letters took weeks to reach home. Censoring himself Kenneth was careful with all of his letters.

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Dear Joyce,

Goodness knows when this letter will find you but I know at the time of writing Mother is in Germany leaving you and Geoffrey to look after yourselves at Two-Nine-Four.  I trust that Geoffrey is behaving himself, doing his share of the washing up and taking the dog for a walk. If he is any problem do not hesitate to give him a slap round the ear.

It is very hot here in Egg-Whipped, that's what we call Egypt - Egg-Whipped. Sunshine and sand. We are living in tents, not proper buildings just tents. The sand gets everywhere and I do mean everywhere. The censor, I am the censor, will not let me say any more than that !

The food here is terrible. We only get the stuff the camels refuse to eat. The cook is a Welshman by the name of Di. We call the mess tent Di O'rea's Cafe.

You should persuade Mother to get a piano so you can play the latest songs. What are people listening to in England these days ?

Tell mother to send me some puddings will you. Some bread pudding would be good.

Fondest best wishes

Kenneth, Wing Commander Ashford.

He then drew a line through Wing Commander, smiled and wrote CENSORED.

"I really must find somewhere to but a post card I can send to Kenneth."

"Lily this is a country defeated and devastated by war, it is not Blackpool. Even if you could buy a post card you would never be able to buy a stamp."

As Lily stood behind Billy's grave while the photographer from The Royal British Legion took her photograph she tried to think of her now dead son. She could not focus her mind, it was as if Billy had never existed. Not for the first time in her life Lily thought it was all a dream. Standing behind the cross in Germany Lily did not think it was a dream, she knew it was a dream.

Back in Birmingham the days ambled by. Days which for Lily were without event or consequence and blurred into the mist of her dream. The war was over, no more bombs, no more fighting, no more death. Beyond that rationing was still a part of life, rationing with no apparent end in sight. The country had voted out its charismatic war leader and now had weak prime minister in his place. The spirit of togetherness which had strengthened the nation was gone. The wartime songs of Vera Lynn and others were silent.

Work from the Doris ward Dress Shop continued but Lily had lost much of her previous enthusiasm. Joyce announced she intended to return to London.  Geoffrey had allowed the garden to fall into a terrible mess. Kenneth would not be please, Billy would be furious. Lily was feeling so lonely.

"Oh William," she said aloud to herself, "How different it would have been had we had a daughter."

Lily did not want a copy for her gramophone and even if there were a piano at 294 Kings Road, which there was not, Joyce would not play the song. All I want for Christmas Is my Two Front Teeth. What a silly song !

Christmas in Egypt was hot.  Kenneth tired of the multitude of silly jokes about looking a white Christmas. Had it every snowed in Egypt ?  Ever ?

"We have not seen a lot of action Wing Commander."

"Even if there was action to be seen Lieutenant people in our position do not see action.  Part of our duty is to prevent action from happening."

"So being a spy is meant to be boring Sir ?"

"Yes, Lieutenant it is."

The life of a spy in Egypt under The British Mandate may be mundane but Wing Commander Kenneth Ashford knew there was a change ahead.

On Monday 6th January 1947 Ashford and his team was posted to Palestine as part of the international force setting up the State of Israel.  The temperature would be similar to Egypt but atmosphere much hotter. The reception all stationed there could expect to be cold, ice cold. Neither Muslim nor Jew wanted the British there.

"We can wear our correct uniforms depicting our proper rank," Ashford explained. "You must carry your gun with you at all times, keep it loaded and always be ready to fire it.  Jewish terrorists are everywhere. It is these terrorists our agents are on the look out for, on the look out for and to take out of action."

"When you say take out Wing Commander you mean kill ?"

"Unofficially Lieutenant, yes. Officially Lieutenant, yes."

Geoffrey still maintained the fantasy that one day he would marry Princess Anne. More down to earth Geoffrey was becoming an expert in assessing the properties of the female. He had a different girlfriend every week.

"Your father would not approve of you smoking Geoffrey."

Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders then said, "Kenneth smokes, one of the photographs he sent home has him smoking a pipe."

"All senior RAF officers smoke pipes," Lily explained, "it goes with their rank. Your brother is a Wing Commander you know."

"I had noticed," Geoffrey smirked. "A Wing Commander who has never been closer to the wing of an aircraft than I have been to the bedroom of a certain princess in Buckingham Palace."

"Geoffrey !"

Dear Joyce,

What is it like in London ?

Things are more comfortable here in Palestine than they were in Egg-Whipped. We do not sleep in tents, we have proper barracks. I even have my own batman, I do have to share him with another Winco but I never had that in Egg-Whipped."

We have a swimming pool here on the base. It's really good. I spend an hour there every day.

There were two things Kenneth wanted to put into his letter. He had the words clearly in his head but did not allow the pen to transcribe then onto paper. The first he would have to censor anyway - he was still the censor. the second he just did not have the courage to write.

One of my team was killed the day before yesterday. He was just walking when a Jewish terrorist shot him in the back. We are looking for his murderer but I doubt we will find him. Mother hates Germans, I hate Jews.

Dearest Joyce, your name is Robinson. It is a nice name but would you consider changing it ?  How about changing it to Ashford ?  Mrs Joyce Ashford ?

"You have got to join up when you are eighteen years old. Geoffrey, your father volunteered at the outbreak of World War One. Your brothers Billy and Kenneth both volunteered. members of The Ashford Family always volunteer, they do not wait to be conscripted into their country's service."

"I am thinking to become a farmer," Geoffrey said. "Farmers do not have to do national service."

"Yu are an electrician, training to be an electrician."

"So what am I going to do in the Royal Air Force ?  Mend the broken Morse Code keys belonging to Wing Commander Kenneth Almighty Ashford ?"

"Geoffrey do not be so silly !"

"Geoffrey do not be so silly !That is all I have heard my entire life ! Geoffrey do not be so silly !"

If life were indeed a dream Lily hoped it would soon end and allow her to wake up.

On Friday 14th March 1947 Kenneth made an important decision. The day before another airman from the base had been killed by a Jewish terrorist on the streets of Jerusalem. Why had that happened ?    Why did the Jews hate the British so much ? They ere on the same side weren't they ?  How long before he took a bullet in his back ? When his tour of duty was over Kenneth would resign his commission, return to London and become civilian again.

On Tuesday 17th June Jessie's husband George died. He simply went to bed and did not wake up in the morning.  When Jessie awoke she thought George was still sleeping, only when she left the kitchen and returned to the bedroom with their morning ;pot of tea did she understand that she was now a widow. George was still warm, it had not been long since he left this world.

Jessie did not send for the doctor, she did not contact her son Frank. She got into George's car and drove across Birmingham to 294 Kings Road.

"Will you please come back with me Lily ?  I do not think I can cope on my own."

Jessie Haddock, formerly Jessie Ashford not cope ? That was a first. In all the years they had been friends Lily had never before seen a situation where her sister-in-law had not been in total control. Over the coming days Lily's friendship with Jessie deepened. While she saw Dorothy every week-end and always had a letter on the go to Sister Sullivan, Jessie was her best friend. They both confided in one another. However, there was still one part of her life Lily would never discuss with Jessie.

For thirty-five years Lily had not spoken of the most important part of her life. There were times in those thirty-five years when Lily thought life as probably a dream she knew for certain her days with Henry Wilton were real and not a dream.

"Do you think you will marry again Lily ?"

"On no !"

"My brother was a good husband to you but I do not think he would be offended if you found another to share your life."

"Jessie, I am fifty-seven. I will soon be an old lady."

"I am already and old lady,"   Jessie smiled. "No, my brother would not want you to be lonely. It would not be wrong if you found yourself another husband."

Lily was not sure what William would say but she knew Henry would not want her to be married to anyone but himself. That was not going to happen so she would spend the rest of her life as a widow.

Kenneth gave up his career in the Royal Air Force. he had not been a spy but a co-ordinator of spies. On his return to 294 Kings Road Dorothy's brother found employment for Kenneth as a clerk at Whittaker Ellis Limited. The pay was half that of a Wing Commander. Kenneth saved as much as he could. He opened an account with The Birmingham Municipal Bank where every Friday he would deposit the majority of his wage packet. If only he had not spent so much of his Wing Commander's pay while he was in Egypt and Palestine. He would have to save all he could and be patient.

he had spent a full month's salary in Cairo on a solid gold Egyptian bracelet. he hoped it would soon adorn the wrist of Joyce Robinson as would a ring on her finger. Both would indicate that Joyce Robinson would soon be Mrs Joyce Ashford.

Dear Lily,

I am thrilled to hear your news. Congratulations !

When is the wedding going to be ? It has been so long since I was in Birmingham. I really would like to be there.

Your dear friend

Sister Sullivan

The wedding of Kenneth Francis Ashford and Joyce Gwendolyn Ashford took place on Friday 24th September 1948. It was not in Birmingham but Lambeth, London. After the service Joyce's Mother served cake and sandwiches as best she could within the rigid confines of her ration allowance. Joyce's father, Fred, entertained everyone with his piano. he played The Lambeth Walk and Maybe It's Because I am a Londoner.

Frank Haddock was Kenneth's best man and Margaret Joyce's bridesmaid.

Uncle George created a job for Joyce at Whittaker Ellis.  Kenneth was a clerk, Joyce was a not particularly good typist. Their combined wage packets were not enough to start a home of their own so the young couple started their married life at 294 Kings Road. Lily looked forward to her first grandchild. It would be a girl, of course it would be a girl.

Emma Bedson looked forward to a great grandchild but she died two weeks after the wedding. The Bridge House in the Staffordshire village of Madeley was no longer part of Lily's family life.

On Friday 3rd November 1950 Lily's first grandson was born in Heathfield Road Maternity Hospital.

"You will, of course, be calling him William after your father and your brother."

"If that is your will Mother."

"It is."

The new baby's birth was registered as David John Ashford.

Returning from the registry office Kenneth went to Stone's Newsagent and brought from the record counter a copy of Goodnight Irene sung by Frank Sinatra.

"A gift for you Mother," Kenneth said trying to smile. "The number one record for you. Number one in the hit parade."

"Thank you Kenneth. What ever is the hit parade ? Why is it you have started calling me Mother these days /  It was Billy who always called me Mother. Is it to apologise for calling your new son David ?  Nobody in our family has ever been called David before ? What is wrong with William ?

"Next time we will call the baby William."

"Next time the baby will be a girl,"  Lily replied.

Infant David was not an easy child. Sleeping was not part of his makeup while exercise his lungs and yelling at the top of his voice most certainly was.

Lily had the solution. She went to the off-licence at he King Charles public house where she spent some of her hard-earned cash from Doris Ward to buy a bottle of brandy. She dipped the baby's dummy into the liquid then offered it to David.

"Mother  you will make him drunk !"

"Nonsense !" I kept both you and your two brothers quiet this way. You were a particularly noisy baby Kenneth. It worked with you and it will work with David now, you just watch.

Kenneth would sing to his son as an attempt to sooth him to sleep. Goodnight Irene was not to the baby's musical taste. Kenneth's singing and Goodnight Irene became a way to encourage Nan Lily to give David an alcohol soaked dummy.

"I don't think David is going to grow up to like music Kenneth. Perhaps he will become a footballer. Your father had a friend who was a professional footballer."

"Did he ?"  Kenneth was not interested. "Just so long as he does not have to grow up in a world torn apart by war as I did."

"And your father did."

"Indeed Mother."

Joyce wanted her little boy to be happy. As much as she respected her mother-in-law, the three of them needed their own home. If she, Kenneth and Dvid were to become a real family 294 Kings Road was not home and never would be.  Lily knew how Joyce felt an kew they all needed a new home sooner that later but what could she do ?

When the solicitor processed Lily's share of the money from the sale of The Bridge house it was not a great sum, the money being divided between Joseph and Emma's many children, she gave it to Joyce and Kenneth as a deposit on a house.

Prompted by Dorthoy who had been prompted by Lily, George Albon stood guarantor for Kenneth to take out a mortgage.

Forty-Four Tresham Road was not at all grand like The Bridge House, it was smaller than 294c Kings Road but for the young family it was a palace.

Geoffrey returned from his national service, married Jean then left home. Lily was alone. Even as a grown man Geoffrey had not given up his fantasy to court tyhen eventually marry Princess Margaret. With his new wife he had to switch off the fantasy of a royal marriage but fantasy of courtship could remain. Jean would have killed him had she known.

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