Norma Rogers Ch. 01bynorthlander©
The characters in this story are fictional, the invention of the writer, and are not meant to represent any factual person living or dead.The story is the property of the writer and no part of the story may be used without the express permission of the writer. I thank my editor Yellow Peril for his efforts in making my thoughts and work make sense. For those who are looking for slam bang sex or cheating wives/husbands, please look elsewhere, this story will not satisfy you.
Hello there. My name is Patricia Rogers. Some of you may remember me from my work with John (Jake) Rogers when I was called on to assist him with a nasty case of incest. So quickly that it took my breath away, we established a relationship, I took my prospective mother in law's advice about becoming pregnant (with twins - Jake didn't tell me that twins ran in the family) and we were married three months later. I gave up work to spend time with my new family and, while I was thus occupied, I learned the story of a remarkable woman, Norma Rogers, the matriarch of the Canadian branch of the Rogers family.
Norma called me just after Jake and I returned from our honeymoon (well, as much of a honeymoon as morning sickness allows), and we met for coffee at Oliver's. After the usual 'How are you I'm fine,' rituals, Norma got right down to business. "Pat, would you be interested in being the official biographer of James and my story of how our family started? I have never told anyone the entire story. It may contain a few surprises for the family, but mostly I would like it to be written down for the children so they would know their own history as well as have a sense of continuity with the family's past."
Surprised by her question, I hesitated before asking Norma, "Are you sure that you want me to do this? I'm not a writer by any means."
"Yes," she replied. "I've heard you talking to the children, and have been impressed by how you are able to take complicated issues and turn them into simple tales that are easy for them to understand, so I don't think I could make a better choice."
I agreed to do it, of course, and this is the story of Norma and Jim Rogers, just as Norma told it to me while I visited her over the course of the year after Jake and I married. Being pregnant and after the twins were born, I had lots of time on my hands during school hours to get together with the woman who was the heroine who took Jim Rogers as her husband and helped forge the family company that had, I soon realized, become a seminal influence in Clearville and the surrounding area. Their story began in war torn London during the Second World War. To make their story more intimate, I have attempted to tell it from Norma's point of view.
October 14, 1940, London, England
The searchlight beams were snapping out and the sirens were sounding the "all clear", telling us that the air raid had ended. The rough drone of the engines of the German bombers had ended as I edged my ambulance forward, the light thrown from the slits in the tin covers over the headlights illuminating the road for only a few feet ahead of the van as we crawled along. The dust in the air didn't help, nor the wan light of a quarter moon as Nancy Olmsted, my co-driver and I peered through the windshield, trying to avoid the piles of rubble that had been thrown into the roadway either by the exploding bombs or by the Civil Defence Wardens trying to reach people trapped in the rubble of their homes. I found the street I was looking for and felt a pang of dismay - not much was left standing of what had been a street of terraced houses. On the one side of the street where the bombs had mostly fallen the rubble was almost flat, on the opposite side where there was blast damage all that seemed to be left were the common walls between the houses, some with remnants of the second floor hanging down.
The German bomber crews had been their usual thorough selves. This wasn't an effort to damage the factories or docks, as the anti-aircraft fire around them was much too hot for the pilots to risk if they could avoid it. No, this was strictly a concerted effort to terrify the population of London in an attempt to make them put pressure on their politicians to bow to German wishes. It wasn't working, though; anyone could see that in the tired but determined faces of the local people as they trudged nightly to the nearest Tube station to sleep through the night down below the city in some semblance of safety.
By the way, my name is Norma Walker. When the war started, I was working in a solicitor's office, but I soon became a volunteer ambulance driver with the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service. My job was to drive a Bedford van that had been taken over by the government and roughly converted to an ambulance. Nancy and I had both been taught advanced First Aid so that we could try to stop bleeding and stabilise injuries before transporting the injured.
I wondered once again who the usual driver of the van had been. It had been expropriated from the former owners, and the words Co-Operative Stores were still visible beneath the coat of green paint and Red Crosses that had been slapped on by the Army workshops during the conversion. In all likelihood, the former driver was serving in one of the branches of the services somewhere. Driving a delivery van wasn't likely to be a reserved occupation; it wouldn't contribute much to the war effort. I sighed and thought yet another male temporarily lost to the women of Britain. How is a girl to find a husband if she wants one when most of the eligible males are in uniform? Not that we had a lot of time to worry about finding husbands anyway, that was the last thing on the minds of most of us. The job we were doing came first and foremost. "Ah, there we are," said Nancy, pointing over to the right. Ahead of us I saw the blue overalls and steel helmet of an air raid warden. He was signaling us to stop. I wound the window down and asked, "Is this the house?" while looking at a pile of rubble next to the van.
"No, the house is further down on the right; a woman, her mother and her three children are trapped in the cellar. The floors have fallen in, leaving a small space where they are. We can't start work on it yet because there is an unexploded bomb in the house next door and we are waiting for the bomb disposal people to defuse and remove it." As he spoke, two army lorries, one equipped with a heavy lift winch and lifting beam, pulled past the ambulance and stopped beside a pile of rubble that had recently been a house, about 100 feet ahead of the ambulance. A squad of soldiers jumped down from the lorries, pulling equipment after them. Nancy and I got out of the ambulance and waited alongside it with the Air Raid Wardens so we would be protected from any potential blast by the vehicles.
After about 15 minutes, a young Sergeant in a Royal Engineers uniform came to us and spoke to the senior warden in a faint, soft Irish accent. "The bomb is a 200 pounder and, unless there have been any modifications, we should be able to remove the fuse. Then we will remove the bomb and explode it safely out on the marshes along the Thames. Where are the people trapped?"
"In the next house to the bomb," said the senior warden. "We can't even begin to try to get them out until the bomb is gone; it would be too dangerous for everybody."
The soldier walked back to the Army vehicles and gave orders to his men. They pulled out a roll of wire while the Sergeant put on a headset and a throat microphone before picking up a set of tools. He then began rolling out the wire behind him as he walked into the rubble of the building. "Now, that takes guts," the senior warden said as we watched the Sergeant disappear.
We continued to watch the site with bated breath until, about half an hour later, the Sergeant walked out of the ruined house. He handed one of the soldiers a small object about 6 inches long that the soldier immediately wrapped in padding and placed in the lorry with the winch. Then the troops took out long heavy beams with heavy grease on one side. Other men were clearing around the bomb, which was dug into the floor of the cellar of the house. The driver of the lorry backed it up across the curb, threaded a cable through the roller on the end of the lifting beam and then winched the beam out so that it overhung the cellar. After a few minutes we saw the cable tighten as the soldiers cranked the winch and began to pull the bomb out. The soldiers placed more beams between the lip of the cellar and the bed of the lorry and, to our relief, the bomb slid up the beams from the cellar and into the bed of the lorry with deceptive ease. The soldiers then jammed it tightly in place. I quietly chuckled to myself. The army was using the same tried and trusty method used for more years than anyone could say on hundreds of brewer's drays all over the country when lifting and lowering the barrels of ale into the cellars of the local pubs.
Last from the rubble was the sergeant, now dusty and rumpled from his efforts. He spoke to a corporal and several of his party before the corporal, the driver and the men climbed aboard the lorry and pulled away, making the run to the Thames marshes where the bomb would be detonated. We breathed a sigh of relief as the bomb was carefully driven away.
When the bomb was finally safely gone, the senior warden spoke to us all. "Right! Now let's get at it, let's go down into the cellar and see what we are faced with." Nancy and I went with several wardens over to the house and looked down into the cellar from what was left of the front door steps. We stopped as we saw the enormity of the task that was before us. The ground floor joists had collapsed along one side of a big room and were lying at an angle with their far ends held up against the wall between this house and the next with the collapsed ends on the cellar floor next to the hallway. Evidently the hallway wall had flexed enough in the blast to pull away from the ends of the floor joists, allowing the floor to collapse on that side. The floorboards were still attached to the joists and were covered in rubble. The collapsed floor formed a kind of lean-to shelter over the women and children, whom we could hear shouting from beneath the bricks and mortar. A wrong move could cause the whole floor to finally collapse on the people below it and possible bring down the common wall as well, sealing their fate
The senior warden looked at the mess we had to clear, saying, "I have never had to deal with something this complicated. Has anyone any new ideas? Our usual methods would likely bring that lot down on top of them."
The Royal Engineers Sergeant came over and looked down to see what the problem was. After taking a moment to size up the magnitude of the task, he walked over to the senior warden and introduced himself in a soft Irish brogue. "I'm Jim Rogers. I don't want to step on your toes and take this over and out of your hands, but I think that our experience in this kind of work stands us in a little better stead. By the looks of it, if we can dig a short tunnel under the lower edge of the collapsed floor, starting at the hall doorway and support the joists above the tunnel, we should be able to let the collapsed floor continue to take most of the weight of the rubble. If we try to lift the floor joists, the upper ends could slip, bringing the whole lot down. We have the tools to do the job and can do it as carefully as if there were a bomb in there. This is something we have to do regularly to get at bombs."
The senior warden turned to him and smiled. "Jim, I'm damn glad you are here. Anything we do would be slow. It would likely take us hours just getting rid of the rubble bit by bit. I have no problem turning everything over to you and, honestly, if you don't mind, I would like to watch. We never know when we might be called upon to do the same thing again."
"Alright, then!" Turning to one of his men, the Sergeant continued, "Jones, I want you and Davies to go next door and get a couple of floor joists. Cut a piece just over three feet long, and with the rest make two 'U' shaped partial boxes with the sides about 3 feet on a side. Jenkins, get a ladder down into the cellar on the hall side of that wall that is holding the bottom edge of the collapsed floor in place. Take some small shovels and a couple of crowbars down there. Also, take some buckets, as we are going to be digging out some dirt and tiles." The Sergeant then looked over at me. If the times had been normal, I would have melted into his deep blue eyes. "Miss, I may need you down there. Would you come down with us with an aid kit?"
"Certainly," I said, and walked to the ambulance to get my kit. I slung it over my shoulder and walked back just as the soldiers slid the ladders down into the hallway of the cellar. The Sergeant went down one ladder, and once he was down and steadying it, I followed him down, thinking to myself I'm glad I'm not wearing a skirt, he would be getting a real eyeful, not that I would mind a whole lot. He is quite good looking, but I'll bet he's married. Jim placed me on the far side of the doorway while Jenkins came down the ladder, holding the tools and a piece of wood that was passed down to him by another soldier.
Jim crouched in the hall doorway of the room and started clearing the area by the collapsed ends of the joists with his hands. Then he levered up the clay-tiled cellar floor for two to three feet across the hallway from the doorway. He dug down about 2 inches below the ends of two of the joists that ended in the doorway before sliding the single three foot long piece of wood under them to help hold them up. Then he started digging on the near side of the piece of supporting wood making a trench across the hallway and continuing under the board into the area under the joists. He slowly opened up a space under the piece of wood supporting the floor joists.
Another soldier had brought down the two three-sided 'U' shaped partial boxes that he had requested. He placed the first one down flat on the rubble above the collapsed floor in front of the doorway with the open side toward the doorway and braced against the partition wall on each side. Then he carefully began to remove the rubble inside it and beneath the edges it. As it settled into the rubble slowly, it began taking the pressure of the rubble surrounding it. Eventually it settled below the top level of the rubble, so he put the other partial box on top of the first and continued removing material. Eventually the bottom box was in contact with the floorboards and he removed the debris from inside the box leaving a clear area so that the debris could not drop into the trench. This cleared a three foot square working area on top of the bottom end of the collapsed floor. Then he took a tool that I heard later was a keyhole saw and removed a couple of sections of floorboards so that he could get the crowbar in, break the cellar floor tiles from above and shove the debris back into the hole he had dug in the doorway. Then shoveling it into the bucket so it could be hauled out. He cleared away a small area about two feet in depth and about four feet long under the collapsed edge of the floor, creating a small access trench under the floor and extending into the area where we could hear the children. Suddenly we heard a woman's voice crying out in distress. "My daughter's unconscious. I think she is bleeding as well. It is so dark I can't see to do anything. Help us, please!"
I quickly turned to Jim and volunteered, "I'm small enough that I'm sure I could wriggle through between the tiles and the flooring with a light and my kit. Please let me try."
Jim looked at me quietly as he thought over my request. Oh those eyes; they would be the death of me! Some other time, though. "Are you sure you want to do this?" He asked. "For sure twil be really dangerous. If anything shifts, the whole damn lot could come down on top of you." I just nodded, took a light, put it in my kit and dropped down into the trench on my back. Sliding under the support beam that Jim had put in place, I twisted my body around with some difficulty so that I could crawl into the space under the floor. I pushed my bag ahead of me until I had enough room to rise to a crouch. Taking the light from my bag and shining it around the space under the collapsed floor, I found two women sitting on the floor over by the fireplace with dirt stained faces and clothing, their faces streaked with tears. Three children were lying on the floor with them. One was a boy of about 5 and the other two were girls, one aged about 3 and the other about 7. The seven year old was unconscious and, when I started checking her I found a large cut on her left thigh. I checked it carefully and found that the cut was only oozing blood, so it did not appear to involve either a major blood vessel or broken bone. I put a pressure bandage on the cut and bandaged it tightly to stop any further bleeding. Then I had all of them move over against the fireplace wall where the headroom was greatest and was the safest choice to temporarily increase their safety in case of any further collapse. The floor over us was groaning, and puffs of dust were constantly falling from the spaces between the floorboards down on us and onto the tiled floor.
I quickly shouted out to Jim, "We have five people, two adult females, one boy of 5, and two girls of three years and seven years, all with apparently minor injuries. They are all showing signs of severe shock and the seven year old girl is unconscious. We have to get them out of here and into hospital as quickly as possible, especially the unconscious girl."
Jim yelled back, "OK, we have started widening and lengthening the trench, hopefully before long we will be able to get through to you with a much better trench." I heard the digging and removal of tiles going on, and in about 20 minutes I was relieved to see Jim's smiling face pop up from the trench as he grinned and climbed out. "Come on, colleen, let's get these people out of here and get you all to safety and cleaned up." I sent the two conscious children across to Jim, who told them to get down into the trench and crawl out to the other soldiers. Then, one by one, the two women left. Finally, I was able to crawl over while dragging the older girl, who was unconscious. Jim squeezed in and had me get into the trench so he could pass her through to me. As he did, there was a creak and a cloud of dust came down. "Hurry," he said, "Sounds like it is coming down." I quickly passed the girl through to the waiting soldier outside, then slid after her and jumped out of the trench. Jim was right behind me and, just as he stood up in the trench, there was a crack as the boxes broke and a large amount of debris cascaded down into the trench. A few pieces of it hit Jim on his legs as he jumped out behind me.
We raced for the ladders, Jim limping as he ran, and we quickly climbed them while the other soldiers began pulling them up even as we were climbing. Just as we got over the top and back on to solid ground, the hallway wall that was holding the lower end of the joists collapsed and the rest of the house fell into the cellar, filling the area where we had been working with tons of debris. The senior warden walked over, shook hands with Jim, thanked him and then came to me and hugged me. "I can't thank you both enough," he said. "I didn't want to say anything before, but the people that you saved tonight were my wife Ellen, my daughter Sue and my grandchildren. My daughter was sick, and they didn't have time to get to the shelter. That is why I didn't want to try to dig them out. I was afraid that I would be in such a rush to get them out that I wouldn't think clearly enough and would make things worse."