September, 1940. Stepney. East End of London. 3am.
It's that whistle.
That terrifying, blood-curdling whistle. And then the silence. The ghostly quiet. The terrifying stillness that brings with it so much death and destruction. All the while the sirens blare. They warn of the imminent danger. People scurry for cover, looking for anything that will protect them from the shower of terror that's about to rain down. Church halls, basements, underground train stations. Anything. Anywhere. Renee runs into the nearby tube station. She's 20 years old, Archie, a baby in arms, only a few months old, is too young to understand. Eric, husband and father, has been drafted and lies hundreds of miles away, fighting the enemy that's now attacking his young, frightened family. Crowds throng into the station along with them, waiting, hoping, praying for an end to the endless wave of fear. An explosion rocks the surrounding streets. Mothers weep, children scream in dread, Air-raid Wardens hurry the populace off the highways.
It's that whistle.
Whistle after shrieking whistle. Then the silence. Then the explosion. A seemingly never-ending cycle. Archie cries. Renee can do nothing to comfort him, but tries anyway. She sings to him, her voice broken by her fears. She smiles at him, the glint in her eyes betraying the tears that she tries to hide. She has nothing to offer other than her warmth, her touch, her love.
After what seemed like hours, the siren stops its wandering wail. The explosions cease. The quiet is a calm one. The frightening whistle stops its whine. She knows it will come again tomorrow.
2009. A long way from Stepney. London. 3am. Called to Elderly lady, ? Fallen in the street.
The old lady stands in the street. She must be nearly 90 years old. She's confused, scared. She calls for Archie. She calls for Eric. Neither come to her aid.
I ask where she lives, and she tells me she's from Stepney. A real East-Ender.
She's frantic. "I have to find Archie! I don't know where he is! The sirens will start again soon! We have to get into cover!"
"He's my son! He's only a baby. He won't know what to do!"
I know the police are on the way too, as someone at control thought the same as I did when they saw the call. It's very strange that an elderly lady should be out on the street, alone, at 3 o'clock in the morning.
"Renee, I'll help you find Archie, but you need to tell me a little more. How old are you?"
"I'm 20. I'll be 21 next month. I hope Eric comes home before then. You see, he's away, on the front, and I don't know when he'll be back. We've only been married for just over a year."
There's a nursing home just down the street, and I wonder if Renee should be there. A phone call later they confirm that there's no-one missing from the home.
"Please," she begs, "please help me find my baby!"
I promise to try, but don't really know how I'm going to do it. The only plan I have is to take her to hospital while the police try to work out who she is and where she's from. At least in hospital she'll be safe.
The police siren wails somewhere in the distance. Even in her old age, Renee's hearing doesn't let her down. The noise reverberates through the clear night air, and Renee's look turns to horror.
"They're coming! They're coming! And I can't find Archie!"
I do everything in my power to calm her down, to tell her it's not real, to convince her that Archie's safe, but have little success. The police car pulls up a few feet away, and I explain to Renee that they're here to help. She composes herself, if only for a short time, appreciative, if not understanding. I go over to the officers and explain the situation. They agree that my solution is probably the best one for now. It's either hospital or a police station. For a change, hospital seems the nicer option. The officers have been listening to some music in the car on the way over, and as they approach Renee, one of them still has the tune stuck in her head, and she's absent-mindedly whistling it. Renee looks to the sky, waiting for that shower of terror to resume it's assault.
Its that whistle.
That terrifying, blood-curdling, shrieking whistle.