Before the Dawn by Emma Pass
Publication date: 3rd March 2022
About the Book:
When everything you hold dear is torn apart by war, can love put you back together again?
It’s 1943, and the Second World War is raging. Ruby Mottram works for her local newspaper, the Bartonford Herald, typing up adverts and obituaries, whilst dreaming of a more exciting life. Between her shifts as an ARP warden and caring for her ailing father, the chance for escape doesn’t come often to Devon.
Meanwhile, in America’s deep south, Sam Archer is hatching a plan to raise enough money to get his mother and sister away from his abusive stepfather. Using falsified documents to hide his age, he enlists with the U.S. Army.
Two chance encounters bring Ruby and Sam together from opposite sides of the Atlantic, giving them the chance of love, hope and freedom from their troubled lives. But fate, in the shape of D-Day and Omaha Beach, has other ideas.
When their very lives are at risk, will their promise to wait for one another be what keeps them alive?
About the Author:
Emma Pass grew up in Surrey and has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first novel – a sequel to Jurassic Park – when she was 13 in maths lessons with her notebook hidden under her work. She previously worked as a library assistant and has published two novels for young adults and a non-fiction creative writing e-guide. In 2020 she was commissioned to create a poetry-film for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. She is now a full-time writer, creative writing teacher, editor and mentor. She has ME and, at the age of 40, was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. Emma lives in Derbyshire with her artist husband and a very naughty retired racing greyhound called Auburn. When she’s not writing she loves to read and knit (often at the same time).
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Hidden amongst the dunes above Bartonford beach, I threw my head back and yelled. The wind snatched my voice away and Toffee looked at me with his head tilted sideways, one ear pricked. I bent and rubbed the top of his head. In front of me, through a gap in the dunes, I could see all the way past the beach defences to the sea where steely waves tumbled fiercely over one another, capped with brownish foam. A summer storm had blown in last night and the wind was still charging across the bay like an express train.
It was just past seven o’clock in the morning, and I was the only person here. Just as well, really – if anyone heard me screaming like this, they’d think I’d gone quite dotty. But mornings like these, when I had the bay to myself, were the only time I truly felt like me. At eighteen, my life was one of strict routine: unless I’d been on duty the night before I rose at half past six, washed and dressed, and walked Toffee for Mrs-Baxter-down-the-lane who was so hampered now by her rheumatism that she couldn’t manage it anymore. Then I returned home, fetched Father’s paper from the main house and laid the table for breakfast.
After we’d eaten, Father walked over to the psychiatric unit and I made my sandwiches and did the dishes, unless it was Mrs Blythe’s day to come in. Then I cycled to the Herald offices. After work I came straight home. Usually the rest of the Herald staff went for a drink at the Bartonford Arms Hotel; Vera was always pestering me to come too, but I already spent several evenings a week out on duty, and the thought of leaving Father with only the wireless for company every night of the week made me feel unbearably guilty. Anyway, he often needed me to help him type up his notes.
When I was on shift, though, I’d change into my Air Raid Precautions uniform – a smart blue serge tunic – straight after supper and cycle back into town to the sector post, my helmet with its white ‘W’ painted on the front looped over the handlebars and my gas mask in the basket, unable to help the spark of rebellious joy deep down inside me at the break from routine it afforded, however small. I would have loved to have done something practical – work in a factory or as a land girl – but because leaving Father was out of the question I’d become a warden instead, signing up to the Women’s Voluntary Service the day after my sixteenth birthday.
Toffee pulled stubbornly on his lead, desperate for a good run. ‘Sorry, boy,’ I told him. ‘I can’t let you off. Not here. I’d never forgive myself if you got tangled up in all that wire.’ I shivered as the wind cut through my thin coat with its too-short sleeves; I didn’t have enough coupons for a new one yet. I was about to turn for home when something caught my eye: a group of three men at the other end of the beach, one digging around the bottom of one of the posts, the others looping a heavy length of chain around it. The end of the chain was attached to a bulldozer. Panic spiked through me. Had the Germans invaded at last?
I crouched behind a hummock of marram grass, trying to see through the stalks as they tossed in the wind and wondering if I was brave enough to challenge the men. I imagined the headline in the Herald: PLUCKY REPORTER DEFEATS ENEMY INVASION! The more sensible part of me reminded me that I could hardly be called a reporter, and that if they were Germans, they’d have guns. But I wanted to get my facts straight before I fetched the constable. Check, double-check and check again for luck – that’s what Vera always said.
Then I looked again and let out a relieved laugh. The men were wearing Home Guard uniforms; I knew them. Barnaby Sykes, who was blind in one eye – another casualty of the last war – was doing the digging and helping him were old Tom Bidley and Alfie Blythe. I stood, brushing sand off my skirt and coat, picked Toffee up and made my way down there, squeezing past the enormous cubes of concrete placed to prevent enemy tanks from being able to drive up into the dunes, and stepping carefully through the rolls of barbed wire. Several posts had already been taken out and lay scattered across the sand like tree trunks uprooted by a playful giant.
‘Hullo, Alfie,’ I said as I reached them. Alfie jumped. He was trying to tighten the chain while Barnaby carried on digging around the base of the post with a shovel, Tom watching with one hand resting on the bulldozer.
Toffee was wriggling; I put him down and he strained forwards on his lead, wagging his tail. Alfie ignored him. ‘Ruby! What are you doing here?’ he said.
I raised my eyebrows. ‘I might ask you the same thing. I thought you were Jerry, digging up the defences so you could invade the town!’
Alfie, Barnaby and Tom looked at one another, and Alfie pressed his lips together primly. ‘I can’t tell you anything, I’m afraid.’
‘Might as well,’ Tom interjected in his thick Devon burr. ‘Whole town’s gon’ know soon ’nough.’
Alfie and Barnaby exchanged another glance. Then Alfie said: ‘It’s for the Americans.’
‘The Americans?’ I asked.
‘The American troops. They’re coming here. They’re going to be training on the beach. We have to clear it for them.’
‘Buildin’ some girt big huts up on them dunes, they will be, too, and a dance ’all too if the lil’ bird that told me about it is right.’ Tom grinned at me from underneath his bushy white moustache, showing the gaps in his teeth. ‘That’ll liven things up for you and that friend o’yours at the newspaper, eh, missy?’
My heart skipped a beat at the thought of whirling around to the sounds of an upbeat dance band in the arms of a handsome American soldier or airman.
Alfie saw my smile and sniffed. ‘I do hope everyone’s not going to go completely silly about them.’
I sighed inwardly. Alfie had shot up suddenly last year, his arms and legs filling out with sinewy muscle. Because of his asthma he couldn’t sign up, or go to his father’s engineering works, so he’d taken a job at the post office, delivering letters, which meant he called in at the Herald nearly every day. I caught him looking at me like this sometimes, as if he was sizing me up for something and finding me lacking, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I missed the wiry, cheerful boy in baggy shorts I’d gone to school with, and the easy closeness we’d once had, more than I cared to admit. But perhaps it was inevitable – we were both growing up, after all.
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ I said. ‘The Americans’ll be on the lookout for something far more exotic than a lot of country bumpkins from Bartonford. Anyway, I’ll leave you to it. See you later if there’s any letters, Alfie.’
‘Don’t say anything to anyone!’ Alfie warned as I walked away.
‘Don’t worry, I won’t!’ I called over my shoulder, and smiled, wondering exactly how he proposed to hide the fact that the beach defences were being torn up.