[Sent to Amalgamated Press]
[Sent to The Lady and accepted]
Not long ago I had the experience, which has been shared by so many people, of losing all my possessions by "enemy action. " The doctor had ordered me several months' rest after a breakdown on a war job, and my husband and I were away for one of his leaves from the Army when we got the news. When he joined up we had closed and let our house, and all our furniture and nearly all my clothes were in store in a big depository which was set on fire and partially gutted by a stray cannon-shell. The notification from the firm told us "total loss with hopes of slight salvage."
My husband had to return on duty and I had to deal with everything alone. I went round to the depository at once on my return, and the sight and smell of the mountains of burnt wreckage, dripping and sodden from the N.F.S. hoses, will remain with me to my dying day. The Directors of the firm, and all the employees, were kindness itself, showing me as much attention as if I had been the only sufferer, instead of one among three or four hundred.
I often thought I would much rather everything had been totally destroyed, for the sight of my treasures, burnt and mangled and sodden almost beyond recognition, yet still recognisable, seemed at the time almost more than I could bear. All our things that we had bought together with such pride and delight only a few years before, and all the beautiful old Chippendale and Sheraton furniture inherited from both our families, were charred and sodden remnants; the car rugs which had accompanied us on so many happy outings nothing but burnt and soaking rags; my trunks of clothes were piles of dripping shreds, many of the things a already thick with blue mould. Every morsel had to be gone through and one by one various odd little treasures miraculously emerged undamaged. Of all the furniture nothing remained but the double bed, one mirror and to my delight an old oak chest which had been in my husband's family for generations.
It took weeks to get everything sorted out; and as I was staying with a friend at the time, it was not too easy to get such things as our few remaining books opened out to air. My lovely leather-bound Kipling had survived, but twisted and mildewed, and I stood them all out in the garage for a couple of weeks to dry, then packed then packed them as tightly as possible into a box to flatten them out. The firm took charge of the remaining linen and undertook to get it cleaned; so, apart from a recollection of a stained and sodden pile, I had no idea of what I still possessed.
I stayed on with my friend for some weeks, as my sick leave was still unexpired, and as the shock began to wear off I began to feel a most extraordinary sense of what I might almost call exhilaration. It was the freedom of spirit that comes from having been stripped almost to the bone; I felt that I had been honoured by having passed through such an experience; that I had somehow stepped up into the ranks of the elite and could hold up my head in the company of the many others who had lost all; and though I am the first to admit that my experience is nothing by comparison with that of the victims of actual bombing in. their homes, yet I feel that this has drawn me closer to my fellows than I have ever been before. Now I can talk with real understanding and sympathy to the old charlady in the bus, who lost all her little home one night when she was in the shelter; and she nods her head understandingly when I tell her how I picked bits of my embroidered cushion covers out of the charred mess.
But beyond even this new sense of comradeship is the wonderful, exhilarating sense of release from fear. The love of one’s one possessions is very deep in us all, and the fear of losing them is equally deep.
One of my friends, in writing to commiserate with us on our loss, said she feared losing her home so terribly that she felt she could not go on living if she lost it.
Fresh from the experience myself, I could tell her that, shattering as the experience is, it is by no means as bad in actuality as in anticipation. One has e strange feeling of being scrubbed, almost new-born and naked, and it is curiously exciting and uplifting, and unlike any other experience. I felt like a being from another world, utterly detached and untrammelled; and could look almost with pity upon my friends clinging so anxiously to their homes and household gods.
Of course there are many things I miss terribly – my cutting-out scissors, my typewriter, my pet books and pictures; but I have learnt how curiously little all these things really matter. They are irreplaceable, but I can live without them, and soon I shall not even miss them. The experience has been well worth it for the sense of comradeship with others, and the freedom from fear that has been granted to me.