Excerpt of Winter In Madrid by C.J. Sansom
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London, September 1940
A bomb had fallen in Victoria Street. It had gouged a wide
crater in the road and taken down the fronts of several shops.
street was roped off; ARP men and volunteers had formed a chain
and were carefully moving rubble from one of the ruined
Harry realized there must be someone under there. The efforts of
rescuers, old men and boys caked with the dust that hung round
in a pall, seemed pitiful against the huge piles of brick and
put down his suitcase.
Coming into Victoria on the train, he had seen other craters
and shattered buildings. He had felt oddly distanced from the
as he had since the big raids began ten days before. Down in
Surrey, Uncle James had almost given himself a stroke looking at
the photographs in the Telegraph.
Harry had scarcely responded as his
uncle snarled red-faced over this new example of German
His mind had retreated from the fury.
It could not retreat, though, from the crater in Westminster
and immediately before him. At once he was back at Dunkirk:
German dive-bombers overhead, the sandy shoreline exploding. He
clenched his hands, digging the nails into his palms as he took
breaths. His heart began pounding but he didn't start shaking;
he could control his reactions now.
An ARP warden strode across to him, a hard-faced man in his
fifties with a grey pencil moustache and ramrod back, his black
uniform streaked with dust.
'You can't come up 'ere,' he snapped briskly. 'Road's closed.
Can't you see we've 'ad a bomb?' He looked suspicious,
disapproving, wondering no doubt why an apparently fit man in his early
was not in uniform.
'I'm sorry,' Harry said. 'I'm just up from the country. I hadn't realized it was
Most Cockneys confronted with Harry's public school accent would have adopted a servile tone, but not this man.
'There's no escape anywhere,' he rasped. 'Not this time. Not in the tahn,
not in the country either for long, if yer ask me.' The warden looked
Harry over coldly. 'You on leave?'
'Invalided out,' Harry said abruptly. 'Look, I have to get to
Queen Anne's Gate. Official business.'
The warden's manner changed at once. He took Harry's arm and steered him round.
'Go up through Petty France. There was only
the one bomb round here.'
'That's all right, sir.' The warden leaned in close. 'Were you
'There's blood and ruin down the Isle of Dogs. I was in the trenches last time, I knew it'd come again and this time everyone'd be in it, not just soldiering men. You'll get the chance to
fight again, you wait and see. Bayonet into Jerry's guts, twist and then out
again, eh?' He gave a strange smile, then stepped back and saluted,
pale eyes glittering.
'Thank you.' Harry saluted and turned away, crossing into Gillingham Street. He frowned; the man's words had filled him with disgust. At Victoria
it had been as busy as a normal Monday;
the reports that London was carrying on as usual were true. As
walked on through the broad Georgian streets everything was
in the autumn sunlight. But for the white crosses of tape over
windows to protect against blast, you could have been back
the war. An occasional businessman in a bowler hat walked by,
were still nannies wheeling prams. People's expressions were
normal, even cheerful. Many had left their gas masks at home, though
had his slung over his shoulder in its square box. He knew the
good humour most people had adopted hid the fear of invasion,
but he preferred the pretence that things were normal to reminders
they now lived in a world where the wreck of the British army
in chaos on a French beach, and deranged trench veterans stood
the streets happily forecasting Armageddon.
From Winter in Madrid. Copyright C.J. Sansom. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.