Euston Station, London. Sunday, September 3rd, 1939
Kate Sheridan opened the train door and, with butterflies fluttering in her stomach, stepped down onto the platform. London at last. Her journey from Ireland had taken three days. Where could she hear the latest news? The ultimatum to the Germans to withdraw from Poland was due to run out this morning. War was all but inevitable.
Glancing up and down the platform for her aunt and uncle, all she could see were hundreds of sobbing children, clinging for dear life to their equally upset parents. She knew it was rude, but she couldn’t help but stare.
“Come on, my love,” a voice from behind her shouted and she jumped. “You’re in the way.”
Picking up her suitcase, Kate moved aside as a man in an army uniform jumped down from the train with a sack-like bag slung over his shoulder.
“Why are all the children here?” she asked.
“The evacuation began the other day,” he explained, lowering the sack to the ground, and taking off his side cap. “They’re all being sent to the country for safety. You’re not a Londoner, are you, Miss? What part of Wales are you from?”
“I’m from Ballycarn,” she replied, wincing as a little boy—he couldn’t have been more than six—was pulled screaming away from his mother. “It’s not in Wales, it’s in the west of Ireland.”
The soldier laughed. “Sorry, I thought you were a Taffy, but you’re a Paddy instead. Still, you’d like to hear what old Neville has to say, wouldn’t you?”
“Neville Chamberlain? The...our Prime Minister. Let’s find a wireless so we can hear him, though I know what he’s going to say.”
Replacing his side cap and hauling the sack onto his shoulder, he grasped Kate’s arm without asking permission, and she had to grab her suitcase. They hurried along the platform, weaving in and out of distraught families and porters, until they came to a railway guard who took their tickets.
“Is there a wireless nearby we can listen to?” the soldier asked.
“Yes, there’s one in the ticket office,” the guard replied. “Wait outside.”
“Good. Come on, let’s find a seat.”
They sat down outside the ticket office, Kate glancing anxiously around for her aunt and uncle. Had they given up after she hadn’t been on yesterday’s train? If only she hadn’t listened to that woman and followed her ridiculous advice. Still, if they were here, it wasn’t surprising they couldn’t find her in all this chaos.
“Shh.” The soldier nudged her arm even though she had been quiet. Don’t talk to any strange men, unless you absolutely have to, her mother had warned, and now look at her. Not five minutes off the train and she was sharing a bench with a soldier, listening to the wireless, expecting Chamberlain to tell them Britain was at war.
Her father had wanted her to go to America to find work and live with his cousin and family. America was the land of opportunity for so many Irish people, far away from Europe and the threat of war. Her maternal aunt and uncle then offered to take her and help her find work in London. So, despite her father’s grumblings, close family in London were chosen over a cousin she had never met in Philadelphia.
“...and against them, I am certain that the right will prevail.” Chamberlain’s speech ended and a long silence followed.
“You picked a great day to arrive.”