Reading Comprehension

September16, 1940

Dear Charles,

I am incensed! It’s been so long since I’ve heard from you. Why the aloofness? [You see, I do remember our vocabulary lessons with Miss Thompson!] You’re one of my closet friends, Charles, and I look forward to getting your letters. I think of you as one of the strings that link me to The Bahamas, a string that stretches over four thousand miles, staving off the awful isolation I sometimes feel, even with Mummy and Daddy here. I know that you’re thinking – what a lot of drivel that girl comes up with! And maybe you have written, but the letters went astray, somewhere here in England. Or maybe they have ended up in Timbuktu or some other exotic place. I’ve been told that that happens, letters going astray, so I forgive you, even if there’s somebody somewhere reading what was intended for me! Anyhow, I do hear regularly from the rest of our high school classmates.

Perry has just written me, telling me something that must have been in one of those stray letters – that you and he have volunteered for service in the Royal Navy. I did a little jig around the room – you would have laughed at my antics. But then I got quite a hollow feeling inside. Have you thought about what such a decision means?

There’s the Atlantic crossing, with German U-boats everywhere, and, oh, Charles, those boats sink lots of ships. I know you’ve heard of this, even so far away in Abaco. Then, if you make it to England, most likely you and Perry will end up at the Royal Naval Barracks in Portsmouth, for basic training. But Portsmouth’s a frequent target for German bombers! Then, after basic training, it’s anyone’s guess where you’ll be sent. Timbuktu, for all you know. Of course, I’m being facetious about Timbuktu, but I couldn’t bear it if…you know what I’m trying not to say.

Anyway, if I’m to be honest with myself, I’m being rather hypocritical as, since I last wrote, I’ve joined the WRNS – Women’s Royal Naval Service. When we did basic training, the German bombers flew over almost every night. It was vile – utter chaos; there’s no other way to describe it. We’d head for the shelters each time, but they’re no help when there’s direct hits, Charles. I’ve seen buildings crumble right in front of me and I’ve lost some of my dearest friends. It breaks my heart to write that.

But I’m now stationed in a much more secure place. I got through the training effortlessly (of course), and I’ve got my eyes fixed on becoming an officer. Picture me in my uniform, gold stripes on each sleeve, smiling prettily (of course). Don’t I sound awful? Mummy always says I am a dreadful peacock. Can a girl be a peacock, even if only metaphorically? And I’ve got my eyes on becoming Independent. Now picture me with back erect and chin authoritatively in the air.

My dear friend, I often reminisce about the days when you and I walked on the beach and talked and talked. If I close my eyes I can see the light dancing across the water. And do you believe that, if I concentrate, I can actually hear you reading your poetry, hear the waves breaking against the reefs and smell the sharp, salty scent of seaweed? Now I’m beginning to sound like you – quite the aspiring writer! Oh, but I yearn to walk again on our white beaches and see the fiery, glowing, orange sun melting into the sea as it sets. There I go again, waxing poetic, and it’s terrible, because how can something fiery melt? But I shan’t cross it out. You’ll just have to suffer, each time you read it! You weren’t teasing me when you said you reread my letters, were you? Do you remember that special day when we went fishing? Oh, Charles, if you come to England, when you come to England…Is it so terrible of me to want to come?

Please give my regards to your family and Carnetta. Remind her of the time when she paddled me for tying you to a tree and leaving you there. I was quite the good little soldier, all of six years old, and she was a biased nursemaid! You have my parents’ address, so please write to me soon, here in England, not Timbuktu.

Love,Angela.

January 1st, 1944

My Darling Angela,

I’ve just come inside after spending hours gazing across the dark surface of the lake, dreaming of you. Shadowy clouds were swirling around the mountain peaks, and I found myself battling against so much insufferable bleakness that I retreated indoors to gaze instead at your photograph. I feel our separation like a wound that will not begin to heal until I am once again with you. It’s another New Year’s morning, and all over the world people are celebrating; hopefully, it’s the last New Year’s celebration we’ll be apart. Next year, we’ll be back in Abaco.

I went to a party last night. Scots, English and one lone Bahamian made numerous toasts for victory in the New Year, and I shouted and laughed and even danced with the rest, but you were in my thoughts every minute. Every woman’s laugh, touch, twirl on the dance floor was a shadowy yet haunting reminder of you, my beautiful darling. I yearned to hold you tightly and dance with you again. Were you thinking of me also? Did you feel my love touching you across these many miles? What cruel game is fate playing with us that here we are “together” in Britain, but yet so far apart? I wanted so desperately to kiss you at midnight, to whisper that we’ll spend the rest of our lives with each other, but you were not there.

I know your parents want us to wait until the war is over to get married, but I do not think I can. Do you feel the same way? Before we became sweethearts, I was perhaps your typical soldier, all brashness and bravura, staring the dangers of war in the eye’ even, I daresay, insanely challenging them to touch me. Young people often are lulled into thinking, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that their paltry number of years on this earth provides them with a cloak of invincibility. However, now that we have pledged our love to one another, and since our time together at Cicala, when you accepted my ring, I feel more vulnerable to the dark and poisonous realities of war. I recall once writing a foolish poem describing war as a seductive woman. There is no beauty in it, none whatsoever. My only prayer, now, is to stay alive, for you, to be with you. There are few enemy planes in this rather protected area, but when we leave…

Enough of that. I’ve just glanced out of the window, and the clouds have dissipated. The mountains are awesomely defined and golden light glistens on the shimmering surface of the lake. It’s God promise of a bright new year, so take care of yourself, my darling Angel, and pray for me, for us. I leave Scotland tomorrow, to join a Landing Craft 4 LCT 801, as second in command.

Your heart, Charles

  1. In no more than 120 words, explain the many ways in which Charles and Angela’s relationship changed over the years. Your response should reflect some of the activities they shared.                                                                                                                                                   [10]

  2. Angela’s letter reveals a range of emotions