They celebrated the Armistice, for the second day in a row, at the mid-day meal; Grandma Claughton had attempted and succeeded in baking a light and fancy Angel Food Cake. The mood in the house was joyful, even if Viola thought Ethel was a bit sulky and withdrawn. Viola guessed it was difficult to celebrate when your brother had been killed.
In the afternoon, Mildred knocked at the front door. Viola flew to open it and escorted her cousin in from the cold. But Mildred was not her usual self. She was solemn as she removed her gloves and hat and laid them on the vestibule table.
Mildred sat on the couch and waited for the family to assemble. “I’m afraid I do not have good news,” she told them. A telegram had arrived earlier that day at the Crosby home. Flight Lieutenant Edward Crosby, just twenty-five years old, had been killed.
“But the war is over!” Viola cried, looking around at the shocked and grim faces of her mother and grandparents.
Ethel folded over onto Mildred’s lap. Mildred smoothed her sister’s hair and relayed the details, as she knew them: a training accident in England, just eleven days before Armistice.
Viola felt a wave of guilt for the celebrating and joy she had felt earlier. So much death. She wondered if any of them would ever be allowed to be happy again? Her cousin, Gordon, Mildred and Ethel’s other brother, had been killed the same way just six months earlier. Brave soldiers, her cousins.
Ethel, was inconsolable. She lay face down on her bed with her boots on, her pillow soggy with tears. But Mildred had soon pried the truth out of her. Ethel, Mildred’s baby sister, was in the family way. Mildred shook her head and bemoaned. It had been a mistake to board Ethel out to Aunt Rose. She’d gone wild. Ethel did not possess the self-control and reserved conduct of Viola and Aunt Rose had not been keeping close enough track of Ethel, obviously. Apparently, Ethel had been flouncing down to the bank and entertaining the bankers, one in particular, upstairs in his quarters, drinking and carrying on. Really, Viola didn’t know where Ethel learned such shocking behaviour. Now they would have to send Ethel away. Her life was ruined. “I’m running out of relatives,” Mildred told Viola.
“Casualties” is a story that I left out of my upcoming book about Viola and my Great-Uncle Fred called Abide With Me. For my Remembrance Day post from another year please see, “Fruit Flies”.