Aunt Stella had always been quiet about what she had done during the 1939/45 war. Born in 1922 she was just 17 when the war started. I was born in 1941 and, in 1946 when the war was over, I fell in love with her – and I told her so when she gave me my birthday present that year.
I often asked her to tell me about what she did in the war – but she always found an excuse not to. There had never been an ‘Uncle Stella’ either as far as I could recall. That was a shame because she was beautiful.
But now she had passed on and had left me a beautiful box – a wooden walnut box with golden coloured handles and its own lock. It was one she had always kept in a cupboard. I had asked her what was in it many times when I was younger but she always gave me the same answer: ‘Never you mind young lad. When I’ve gone to my maker that box will be yours.’
I had frequently tried to open it, but I could never find the key. Whenever I asked her for the key she would say: ‘No, you don’t need that lad’ or ‘I don’t know where it is. I suppose I’ve lost it. But – there’s nothing in it anyway.’
Those little question and answer session had long since ended and now she had gone – but there was still no key! The box didn’t feel too heavy so I assumed there was little or nothing inside; and it would be a shame to break it open so I put it on the shelf in my study and got on with living.
It was some three weeks later when I received a letter from Aunt Stella’s solicitor asking me to visit him to close off some details of her will. I thought that it had all been completed but solicitors are the boss at times like these, so did as was asked. What did puzzle me, though, was the request that I bring the box with me. What was that all about? Whatever it was, I would soon find out.
When I had first visited the solicitors I had seen Mr Kent, a junior member of the practice. This time I was seeing Mr Bainbridge, the practice owner.
‘Ah, you’ve brought the box I see,’ he said. ‘Good. In closing off Ms Baxter’s papers I found this in an envelope’. He held up a small golden coloured key tied to a scruffy looking piece of card. ‘I think, I hope, this will fit your box.’
He handed it to me; I tried it in the lock; it worked! I carefully lifted the lid and looked inside. There was not much to see – just three envelopes. One was brown and of indeterminate age. It was sealed with red wax and stamped across the front were the words: ‘British Resistance Organisation – open only in emergency’.
Another was much newer and was marked ‘To be opened after my death in the presence of my solicitor by my nephew Alan Williamson.’
Ignoring a third, small, white envelope, I handed the box and contents back to Mr Bainbridge. He placed it on his desk and passed the newest of the envelopes back to me. It was in Aunty Stella’s writing. I carefully opened it.
It said, simply:
‘You often asked what I did in the war. Open the other envelope and it will give you some idea. You often asked me why I never married. Now I will tell you that – my man’s name was Christopher. He was also a member of the BRO. One day he came back – dead. After the war you were the man for me. You always made me cheerful when I was sad. You were my light – then and in my later years as well. I remember after the war you telling me that you were in love with me. I am sure that you know how much I loved you Alan Williamson.’
There was nothing I could say. I felt tears in my eyes as I handed the note over to Mr Bainbridge.
He read it then looked up at me ‘I think we could do with some coffee?’
I nodded as he pressed a button on his desk. We sat there deep in thought until a lady brought in the coffee. She placed the tray on the side table, looked at us and left quietly.
‘How do you like your coffee?’ Mr Bainbridge asked. ‘Black please’ I managed in reply.
It seemed to be quite some time that we sat there with our coffee. No doubt it was not too rare for Mr Bainbridge to experience the situation. He looked at me. ‘Would you like to open the British Resistance Organisation envelope here or would you rather wait until you are at home?’
I looked at him. His face was patient. ‘I think I would like to open it here, now, if I may; if you have the time’.
He nodded. ‘Please take all the time you need Mr Williamson. I was very fond of your aunt and she was very fond of you.’
I was not sure what I expected to discover in the brown envelope with the red wax seal. Since Aunt Stella’s death I had been trying to piece together what it would have been like for her.
In this second envelope there were various pieces of newspapers. A scrap told of the Nazi taking of the Channel Islands. There were also a couple of newspaper pieces on the risk of the German’s landing on the mainland but little else. Anything else would be secret anyway and Aunt Stella would not have had access to major risky situations like that anyway.
I was about to put everything back in the box and let Mr Bainbridge get on with his work when I noticed the other envelope. It was quite small with no writing on it. No wonder I had missed it. I picked it up and carefully opened it. Inside was a photograph – the only thing in the envelope. A young, male face looked out at me.
I turned the photograph over and, just visible, were the words: ‘Love you. See you soon. Chris xxx’.
The ‘BRO’ Aunty Stella mentions was the ‘British Resistance Organisation’.
The above is a complete fictional story based on a factual situation. You will find the factual element of the story on my other blog: ‘talkinghistory2013’
My proofreading wife has told me that a similar story of a box has been running in one of the ‘soaps’ that she watches! I plead complete ignorance on this.