An adaptation of “War Girls” by Jessie Pope
– Sourin Basu Ray Chaudhuri and Myself.
As the rest of the octogenarians surrounded me and sat down with eager eyes, I began my tale…
‘I think it was the year of 1914, I was stationed in the city of Ripon of England. I had just moved here from New York City, a stowaway from the financial pressures of the urban environment. The world was in shambles and the papers showed that this was indeed the beginning of The Great War. I was working as a mere conductor on a train that travelled from Ripon to Mulberry. An occupation like that may seem bland but the inconsistent and interesting part about it all was the people. Most of them were men, with bandaged arms and memorable faces. An abundance of expressions with a vast array of different tales to tell, all pointing to the act of war. The train would stop at Mulberry for hours at a stretch and then take a trip back. It was liberating to work in what we knew as the man’s world. It somehow didn’t matter that we women were a mere commodity to fill in for our dear dear men. My travels revealed the very inglorious nature of warfare and the entrapment of women caused by it.
Mulberry was a small town in Eastern England that served as one of the refuges for wounded soldiers transported there from the battlefield. The common population primarily consisted of women as most men were called out to war. I made quite a few friends there. I remember these two girls Nina and Arabella. The former was working as an operator of the elevator at the train station while the latter used to cycle around town, selling milk to anyone who cared. The two of them had such enthusiasm about their jobs – they’d talk about them all day. Nina would talk to me about the tiny tales of grit she’d overhear from generals traversing in the elevator. Arabella would describe tainted souls she’d notice when she’d sell milk to sad women who never heard from their husbands again. Another girl; I seemed to have forgotten her name, was working as a servicewoman, taking orders from soldiers and generals at the station about sending a letter or two to different offices. I would meet her on the train, when she’d collected enough letters and was waiting eagerly to resume her job as we reached the station. These women felt important. Rather, were made to feel so but who cared? On the train, there would also be an assemblage of supplies of resources that would travel from Ripon to Mulberry. A woman named Georgina would be standing right next to the meat supplies throughout the ride. She was smart and funny and seemed like the kind of lady men would put their hearts on the line for. She would tell me about how she would travel around town in a heavy van driven by her companion Eugine and would sell portions of meat to shops. When I’d tell her that she fills the shoes of a man perfectly, she’d remind me that we are women. Her eyes would tell me that we are women; we don’t need to be men or fill in their shoes. We are women, we wear our own shoes. She once told me about a friend of hers, Anna. Anna was the kind of girl who used to whistle for taxis. Anna was the kind of girl who used to play in the mud. She did everything so perfectly that these characteristics were owned by her. They weren’t things that boys would do but they were things that Anna would do.
All these women had one thing in common – their service to the nation. They were each strong and full of intellect, as they struggled through their lives, pleasing the government while the dear dear men were shot down like animals out on the field. But that did not stop them from doing their part for the nation. It did not stop them from waiting. You see, people make a terribly common mistake when they believe that it was just the men who were fighting. The men were the important ones, the papers used to say. We women seemed to walk by, unnoticed. Little did they know that we were fighting back here in the town as well. Maybe not with guns, but surely with our physical efforts to ensure that the economy stayed stable, men stayed fit and the war was won. Beneath all our uniforms, our hearts and minds were termed as “soft”. The feminist movement that we know today did not exist and we were sure as hell put back in place once it was all over, confined. It would only be a dream for us women to fight at the war front. While the men had war glorified for them, it was the opposite for us. There was still this longing that I felt. There was no other emotion I could feel. I needed to feel. The war made me feel.
We did not have a lot of time for ignorant emotions such as love. The only conversations we would have would be through our jobs or during meals. Despite all this, I vested a human mind in myself that could not help but get attached to someone with the same tale as me. Lydia was a beautiful young woman, working in the same position as me on the train. Spending hours every day with her allowed me to understand her better. Her husband had been killed in the war and she was working on the train to support her family. While I had a longing to pick that gun up, she was eternally furious at the war and did not want anything other than for it to end. If I would ever be asked to choose a friend, it would be her. If I would ever be asked to choose a lover, it would be her. But hush!
There was one day when I called in sick, and did not board the train. That was the day the war injured me more than what was sustained by any soldier. That was the day I felt. Lydia was on the train when it was bombed by a German airplane. Most of us were like her, really. Although we enjoyed the temporary importance we obtained through our occupations, we wanted the war to end. We had no time for love and kisses till our dear dear men, the solider-boys of the nation came back for us. Came back for us to sweep us off our feet?’
It is only fair for you to read the poem that inspired this…
There’s the girl who clips your ticket for the train,And the girl who speeds the lift from floor to floor,There’s the girl who does a milk-round in the rain,And the girl who calls for orders at your door.Strong, sensible, and fit,They’re out to show their grit,And tackle jobs with energy and knack.No longer caged and penned up,They’re going to keep their end upTill the khaki soldier boys come marching back.There’s the motor girl who drives a heavy van,There’s the butcher girl who brings your joint of meat,There’s the girl who cries ‘All fares, please!’ like a man,And the girl who whistles taxis up the street.Beneath each uniformBeats a heart that’s soft and warm,Though of canny mother-wit they show no lack;But a solemn statement this is,They’ve no time for love and kissesTill the khaki soldier-boys come marching back.