|Heather at work in The Write Class|
She loves writing and she'll turn her hand to anything - stories, poetry, and memoir about her family, particularly her mother, another exceptionally hard-working lady. One week, I'd asked the class to write about an interesting object. Heather brought in a tiny bracelet, woven in scarlet, white and sapphire blue patterns, and she told us this story.
During the war, when she was a little girl, her family were living in a cottage on the levels near Mudgely. The Somerset Levels are drained by a network of ditches, or rhynes, which have to be regularly cleared of mud and weeds. One day, a truck drew up near Heather's home, carrying a group of Italian prisoners of war from the prison camp at Penleigh near Wells. The truck was driven by a young Luftwaffe officer whose plane had been shot down. The Italians jumped out and began to clear out the ditches. As an officer, the German didn't have to work, so he passed the time by making bracelets out of bits of old cocoa tins and lengths of coloured plastic string. Little Heather was fascinated by the handsome young soldier: she couldn't speak German and he couldn't speak English, but even so, the two of them struck up a friendship, and he made little Heather her own, special bracelet. The family was poor and these were stringent times; a present was a rare and wonderful thing and she cherished this one - and still does, after seventy years.
Some time after Heather told us this story, another member of the group told us she was helping to curate an exhibition in Wells museum. It was in celebration of the 'last fighting Tommy', Harry Patch, who had latterly lived in Wells, and they wanted to collect reminiscences from local people - I bogged about it here. She asked us if we would mount a display of pieces we had written to do with life in either of the wars, and we did, with Heather's piece about the bracelet in pride of place.
One of the visitors to the exhibition was Siobhan Goodwin, who is the leader of Wells Bookworms, a children's book group. As it happened, the group had just been reading a book by Michael Morpurgo called Little Manfred, about POWs working on a farm in England. She was thrilled when she read Heather's story, and wondered if it would be possible for the writer to come and talk to the Bookworms. She got in touch with me, and I put her in touch with Heather.
So what does this tell us? Perhaps that history is a living thing, and that stories are at its heart?
(If anyone is interested in coming to writing classes in Cheddar, please get in touch through my website, www.suepurkiss.com)