The snow continued to fall gently over the fields with only the faintest whisper of an accompanying breeze.
“Oliver, I have been in this place for many years and have learned how to survive. My advice to you is keep your nose clean and do as you’re told and you will find life quite tolerable as good behaviour is rewarded. I remember starting when I was just 7 years old like you and now that I am 14 and in my last year I can speak from real experience. Those short trousers you all wear as part of your uniform will one day be long ones like mine, though only in your final year. When you are in the presence of teachers you must address me by my name of Lambert. You are the younger Lambert.
Lambert had introduced himself to the younger boy as his cousin, being the son of his Father’s brother. Young Lambert had arrived at the orphanage after his Mother had been killed in London during a bombing raid. His Father had been killed the year before in France. Many of the yearly intake had similar stories of parental death and young Lambert had been sent to Reedham Orphanage in the Devon countryside.
“Depending on who you listen to,” the elder boy was saying, “this place can appear like an army barracks or even a prison. The discipline here is very strict, but do try to remember that the teachers are responsible for all of us in these terrible times so there are constant roll calls to check for anyone missing. Surely this can’t be as awful as fighting in the war though.
The headmaster, Joe Bristow, addressed the induction assembly that involved the new intake of first year pupils and the final year prefects.
“We have daily roll calls to check for any missing pupils. There are out of bounds limits and anyone who goes missing for no good reason will be severely dealt with. We must have discipline here.”
Oliver was very anxious and frightened, but felt comforted by the closeness of his new companion.
Joe Bristow cast a searching eye over the boys as he looked down from the lectern on the stage. He explained the dinner parade, hand washing, drill parade and the boot parade. The regulations and the way things were to be done seemed almost too much to take in and Oliver became more nervous and even more unsettled.
Handkerchiefs were thankfully renewed, but everything else was personalised by last name only. Anyone with the same name had a number added.
“Wash parade has only 4 inches of just warm bath water,“ Bristow was saying.
Lambert told Oliver that the select five or six wash-time supervisor pupils got to bathe in full tubs and not under the watchful eye of Bristow. Crystal sets were not allowed, even though everyone wanted to keep up with what was happening in the war.
“Just be careful because if you are found with one it will be confiscated and you will be punished,” Lambert warned. “It’s really unfair.”
There were no luxuries at Reedham Orphanage.
As the roll call proceeded, the name Lambert was announced.
“Here Sir, but I am Lambert II.”
“No boy,” Bristow corrected him. “You are the only Lambert. There has never been anyone else of that name at Reedham Orphanage.”
© Louis Brothnias (2006)