Ariella Bannon has no choice: she must put her precious children, Liesl and Erich, on that train or allow them to become prey for the Nazis.
When her husband doesn’t come home one day, Ariella realises that the only way she can ensure her Jewish children’s safety is to avail of the Kindertransport, but can she bear to let them go?
A thousand miles away, Elizabeth Klein has closed herself off from the world. Losing her husband on the last day of the Great War, and her child months later, she cannot, will not, love again. It hurts too much.
But she is all Liesl and Erich Bannon have.
Thrown together in the wild countryside of Northern Ireland, Elizabeth and the Bannon children discover that life in the country is anything but tranquil. Danger and intrigue lurk everywhere, and some people are not what they seem.
From the streets of wartime Berlin, to the bombed out city of Liverpool, and finally resting in the lush valleys of the Ards Penisula, The Star and The Shamrock from USA Today bestselling author Jean Grainger, is unputdownable.
Release date: May 28, 2019
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 266
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The Star and the Shamrock
The gloomy interior of the bar, with its dark wood booths and frosted glass, suited the meeting perfectly. Though there were a handful of other customers, it was impossible to see them clearly. Outside on Donegal Square, people went about their business, oblivious to the tall man who entered the pub just after lunchtime. Luckily, the barman was distracted with a drunk female customer and served him absentmindedly. He got a drink, sat at the back in a booth as arranged and waited. His contact was late. He checked his watch once more, deciding to give the person ten more minutes. After that, he’d have to assume something had gone wrong.
He had no idea who he was meeting; it was safer that way, everything on a need-to-know basis. He felt a frisson of excitement – it felt good to actually be doing something, and he was ideally placed to make this work. The idea was his and he was proud of it. That should make those in control sit up and take notice.
War was surely now inevitable, no matter what bit of paper old Chamberlain brought back from Munich. If the Brits believed the peace in our time that he promised was on the cards, they’d believe anything. He smiled.
He tried to focus on the newspaper he’d carried in with him, but his mind wandered into the realm of conjecture once more, as it had ever since he’d had the call. If Germany could be given whatever assistance they needed to subjugate Great Britain – and his position meant they could offer that and more – then the Germans would have to make good on their promise. A United Ireland at last. It was all he wanted.
He checked his watch again. Five minutes more, that was all he would stay. It was too dangerous otherwise.
His eyes scanned the racing pages, unseeing. Then a ping as the pub door opened. Someone entered, got a drink and approached his seat. He didn’t look up until he heard the agreed-upon code phrase. He raised his eyes, and their gazes met.
He did a double take. Whatever or whomever he was expecting, it wasn’t this.
Liverpool, England, 1939
Elizabeth put the envelope down and took off her glasses. The thin paper and the Irish stamps irritated her. Probably that estate agent wanting to sell her mother’s house again. She’d told him twice she wasn’t selling, though she had no idea why. It wasn’t as if she were ever going back to Ireland, her father long dead, her mother gone last year – she was probably up in heaven tormenting the poor saints with her extensive religious knowledge. The letter drew her back to the little Northern Irish village she’d called home…that big old lonely house…her mother.
Margaret Bannon was a pillar of the community back in Ballycreggan, County Down, a devout Catholic in a deeply divided place, but she had a heart of stone.
Elizabeth sighed. She tried not to think about her mother, as it only upset her. Not a word had passed between them in twenty-one years, and then Margaret died alone. She popped the letter behind the clock; she needed to get to school. She’d open it later, or next week…or never.
Rudi’s face, in its brown leather frame smiled down at her from the dresser. ‘Don’t get bitter, don’t be like her.’ She imagined she heard her late husband admonish her, his boyish face frozen in an old sepia photograph, in his King’s Regiment uniform, so proud, so full of excitement, so bloody young. What did he know of the horrors that awaited him out there in Flanders? What did any of them know?
She mentally shook herself. This line of thought wasn’t helping. Rudi was dead, and she wasn’t her mother. She was her own person. Hadn’t she proved that by defying her mother and marrying Rudi? It all seemed so long ago now, but the intensity of the emotions lingered. She’d met, loved and married young Rudi Klein as a girl of eighteen. Margaret Bannon was horrified at the thought of her Catholic daughter marrying a Jew, but Elizabeth could still remember that heady feeling of being young and in love. Rudi could have been a Martian for all she cared. He was young and handsome and funny, and he made her feel loved.
She wondered, if he were to somehow come back from the dead and just walk up the street and into the kitchen of their little terraced house, would he recognise the woman who stood there? Her chestnut hair that used to fall over her shoulders was always now pulled back in a bun, and the girl who loved dresses was now a woman whose clothes were functional and modest. She was thirty-nine, but she knew she could pass for older. She had been pretty once, or at least not too horrifically ugly anyway. Rudi had said he loved her; he’d told her she was beautiful.
She snapped on the wireless, but the talk was of the goings-on in Europe again. She unplugged it; it was too hard to hear first thing in the morning. Surely they wouldn’t let it all happen again, not after the last time?
All anyone talked about was the threat of war, what Hitler was going to do. Would there really be peace as Mr Chamberlain promised? It was going to get worse before it got better if the papers were to be believed.
Though she was almost late, she took the photo from the shelf. A smudge of soot obscured his smooth forehead, and she wiped it with the sleeve of her cardigan. She looked into his eyes.
‘Goodbye, Rudi darling. See you later.’ She kissed the glass, as she did every day.
How different her life could have been…a husband, a family. Instead, she had received a generic telegram just like so many others in that war that was supposed to end all wars. She carried in her heart for twenty years that feeling of despair. She’d taken the telegram from the boy who refused to meet her eyes. He was only a few years younger than she. She opened it there, on the doorstep of that very house, the words expressing regret swimming before her eyes. She remembered the lurch in her abdomen, the baby’s reaction mirroring her own. ‘My daddy is dead.’
She must have been led inside, comforted – the neighbours were good that way. They knew when the telegram lad turned his bike down their street that someone would need holding up. That day it was her…tomorrow, someone else. She remembered the blood, the sense of dragging downwards, that ended up in a miscarriage at five months. All these years later, the pain had dulled to an ever-present ache.
She placed the photo lovingly on the shelf once more. It was the only one she had. In lots of ways, it wasn’t really representative of Rudi; he was not that sleek and well presented. ‘The British Army smartened me up,’ he used to say. But out of uniform is how she remembered him. Her most powerful memory was of them sitting in that very kitchen the day they got the key. His Uncle Saul had lent them the money to buy the house, and they were going to pay him back.
They’d been married in the registry office in the summer of 1918, when he was home on brief leave because of a broken arm. She could almost hear her mother’s wails all the way across the Irish Sea, but she didn’t care. It didn’t matter that her mother was horrified at her marrying a Jewman, as she insisted on calling him, or that she was cut off from all she ever knew – none of it mattered. She loved Rudi and he loved her. That was all there was to it.
She’d worn her only good dress and cardigan – the miniscule pay of a teaching assistant didn’t allow for new clothes, but she didn’t care. Rudi had picked a bunch of flowers on the way to the registry office, and his cousin Benjamin and Benjamin’s wife, Nina, were the witnesses. Ben was killed at the Somme, and Nina went to London, back to her family. They’d lost touch.
Elizabeth swallowed. The lump of grief never left her throat. It was a part of her now. A lump of loss and pain and anger. The grief had given way to fury, if she were honest. Rudi was killed early on the morning of the 11th of November, 1918, in Belgium. The armistice had been signed at five forty five a.m. but the order to end hostilities would not come into effect until eleven a.m. The eleventh hour of the eleventh month. She imagined the generals saw some glorious symmetry in that. But there wasn’t. Just more people left in mourning than there had to be. She lost him, her Rudi, because someone wanted the culmination of four long years of slaughter to look nice on a piece of paper.
She shivered. It was cold these mornings, though spring was supposed to be in the air. The children in her class were constantly sniffling and coughing. She remembered the big old fireplace in the national school in Ballycreggan, where each child was expected to bring a sod of turf or a block of timber as fuel for the fire. Master O’Reilly’s wife would put the big jug of milk beside the hearth in the mornings so the children could have a warm drink by lunchtime. Elizabeth would have loved to have a fire in her classroom, but the British education system would never countenance such luxuries.
She glanced at the clock. Seven thirty. She should go. Fetching her coat and hat, and her heavy bag of exercise books that she’d marked last night, she let herself out.
The street was quiet. Apart from the postman, doing deliveries on the other side of the street, she was the only person out. She liked it, the sense of solitude, the calm before the storm.
The mile-long walk to Bridge End Primary was her exercise and thinking time. Usually, she mulled over what she would teach that day or how to deal with a problem child – or more frequently, a problem parent. She had been a primary schoolteacher for so long, there was little she had not seen. Coming over to England as a bright sixteen-year-old to a position as a teacher’s assistant in a Catholic school was the beginning of a trajectory that had taken her far from Ballycreggan, from her mother, from everything she knew.
She had very little recollection of the studies that transformed her from a lowly teaching assistant to a fully qualified teacher. After Rudi was killed and she’d lost the baby, a kind nun at her school suggested she do the exams to become a teacher, not just an assistant, and because it gave her something to do with her troubled mind, she agreed. She got top marks, so she must have thrown herself into her studies, but she couldn’t remember much about those years. They were shrouded in a fog of grief and pain.
Berlin, Germany, 1939
Ariella Bannon waited behind the door, her heart thumping. She’d covered her hair with a headscarf and wore her only remaining coat, a grey one that had been smart once. Though she didn’t look at all Jewish with her curly red hair – and being married to Peter Bannon, a Catholic, meant she was in a slightly more privileged position than other Jews – people knew what she was. She took her children to the synagogue, kept a kosher house. She never in her wildest nightmares imagined that the quiet following of her faith would have led to this.
One of the postmen, Herr Krupp, had joined the Brownshirts. She didn’t trust him to deliver the post properly, so she had to hope it was Frau Braun that day. She wasn’t friendly exactly, but at least she gave you your letters. She was surprised at Krupp; he’d been nice before, but since Kristallnacht, it seemed that everyone was different. She even remembered Peter talking to him a few times about the weather or fishing or something. It was hard to believe that underneath all that, there was such hatred. Neighbours, people on the street, children even, seemed to have turned against all Jews. Liesl and Erich were scared all the time. Liesl tried to put a brave face on it – she was such a wonderful child – but she was only ten. Erich looked up to her so much. At seven, he thought his big sister could fix everything.
It was her daughter’s birthday next month but there was no way to celebrate. Ariella thought back to birthdays of the past, cakes and friends and presents, but that was all gone. Everything was gone.
She tried to swallow the by-now-familiar lump of panic. Peter had been picked up because he and his colleague, a Christian, tried to defend an old Jewish lady the Nazi thugs were abusing in the street. Ariella had been told that the uniformed guards beat up the two men and threw them in a truck. That was five months ago. She hoped every day her husband would turn up, but so far, nothing. She considered going to visit his colleague’s wife to see if she had heard anything, but nowadays, it was not a good idea for a Jew to approach an Aryan for any reason.
At least she’d spoken to the children in English since they were born. At least that. She did it because she could; she’d had an English governess as a child, a terrifying woman called Mrs Beech who insisted Ariella speak not only German but English, French and Italian as well. Peter smiled to hear his children jabbering away in other languages, and he always said they got that flair for languages from her. He spoke German only, even though his father was Irish. She remembered fondly her father-in-law, Paddy. He’d died when Erich was a baby. Though he spoke fluent German, it was always with a lovely lilting accent. He would tell her tales of growing up in Ireland. He came to Germany to study when he was a young man, and saw and fell instantly in love with Christiana Berger, a beauty from Bavaria. And so in Germany he remained. Peter was their only child because Christiana was killed in a horse-riding accident when Peter was only five years old. How simple those days were, seven short years ago, when she had her daughter toddling about, her newborn son in her arms, a loving husband and a doting father-in-law. Now, she felt so alone.
Relief. It was Frau Braun. But she walked past the building.
Ariella fought the wave of despair. Elizabeth should have recieved the letter Ariella had posted by now, surely. It was sent three weeks ago. Ariella tried not to dwell on the many possibilities. What if she wasn’t at the address? Maybe the family had moved on. Peter had no contact with his only first cousin as far as she knew.
Nathaniel, Peter’s best friend, told her he might be able to get Liesl and Erich on the Kindertransport out of Berlin – he had some connections apparently – but she couldn’t bear the idea of them going to strangers. If only Elizabeth would say yes. It was the only way she could put her babies on that train. And even then… She dismissed that thought and refused to let her mind go there. She had to get them away until all this madness died down.
She’d tried everything to get them all out. But there was no way. She’d contacted every single embassy – the United States, Venezuela, Paraguay, places she’d barely heard of – but there was no hope. The lines outside the embassies grew longer every day, and without someone to vouch for you, it was impossible. Ireland was her only chance. Peter’s father, the children’s grandfather, was an Irish citizen. If she could only get Elizabeth Bannon to agree to take the children, then at least they would be safe.
Sometimes she woke in the night, thinking this must all be a nightmare. Surely this wasn’t happening in Germany, a country known for learning and literature, music and art? And yet it was.
Peter and Ariella would have said they were German, their children were German, just the same as everyone else, but not so. Her darling children were considered Untermensch, subhuman, because of her Jewish blood in their veins.
Elizabeth let herself in the front door. It had been a long day. The children in her class were fascinated and terrified by the prospect of war and Hitler and all of it. So many of them had lost grandparents, uncles and cousins the last time out, but she could see the gleam of excitement in the little boys’ eyes all the same. She’d tried to get off the subject, but they kept wanting to return to it.
Hitler and the Nazis were absurd. He really was a most odious little man, and if the news was to be believed, his treatment of his own people was truly terrible.
She’d heard it discussed at the school, in the teacher’s lounge, on the bus, in the corner shop. It was all anyone could talk about: Hitler and the Nazis and how he would have to be stopped.
She dropped her hessian bag full of exercise books and filled the kettle. She’d have a cup of tea before starting her corrections.
As she stood waiting for the kettle to boil, she saw the letter once more. Absentmindedly, she opened it, preparing to throw the entire contents in the bin. Nothing from Ballycreggan was of even the vaguest interest to her.
To her surprise, however, the envelope did not contain a letter from an estate agent. Instead, there was another smaller envelope inside, addressed to her, but at her mother’s home in Ballycreggan. The post office must have redirected it. She pulled out the flimsy envelope with its foreign stamps. Intrigued, she opened it and extracted a single sheet.
Please forgive my audacity at writing to you like this. We have never met, but I am Ariella Bannon. My husband, Peter, was, I believe, a cousin of yours. His father, Paddy, was your father’s brother. I am a Jew.
Peter and I have two children. Liesl is ten and Erich is seven, and I am desperate to get them out of Germany. My husband is missing – I assume he is dead – and I fear for the safety of my children if I do not manage to get them away until all of this is over.
A family friend can arrange for them to leave on the Kindertransport, but I cannot bear to put them on not knowing where or to whom they would be going. I know it is a lot to ask, but I am begging you – please, please take my children. I will see that you are paid back every penny of the expense incurred by having them as soon as I can, but for now, there is nothing to do but throw myself on your mercy and pray.
I have tried to get a visa to leave with them, but I have been unsuccessful.
They are very good children, I promise you, and would do everything you say, and Liesl is very helpful around the house. They are fluent in English and can also speak French and Italian. If you can find it in your heart to help me, you will have my eternal gratitude.
PS. Please write back by return, and if you can agree, I will make the arrangements as soon as possible. Every day, things get worse here.
The kettle whistled, but Elizabeth switched off the gas beneath it. She sat down, forgetting all about her tea. She reread the letter.
A million thoughts crashed over her, wave after wave. The primary feeling was sympathy – poor Ariella, what a choice to be faced with; the poor woman must be out of her mind. She never knew her cousin was called Peter; in fact, she had to rack her brain to even recall a mention of either her uncle or her cousin. Somewhere in the deep recesses of her memory, she thought that her mother may have said something, but it was a vague recollection at best.
This woman wanted Elizabeth to take over the care of her children. They would be her sole responsibility for a time as yet to be determined. Could she do it? She was a teacher, but she’d never been a mother, and she knew nothing of raising children. Who would take care of them when she was at work? Where would they sleep? Her house only had two bedrooms. What if they hated her, hated life in England? What if they cried to go back? Elizabeth liked her own company and her small silent home – it was an oasis of calm after a day in school – and the idea that she would soon have to share it with two little strangers filled her with trepidation. But Ariella would not have asked if she were not desperate. Elizabeth would have to do it.
She sat at her kitchen table, trying to visualise this German family, her cousins. She thought she may have remembered a few Christmas cards as a child – they were a different shape to Irish ones, square rather than rectangular, and they were more like postcards. Pictures of snowy mountains. When her father died, even the Christmas cards stopped. Her mother was certainly not going to have anything to do with foreigners.
She had enough money to pay whatever costs would be incurred in taking care of two children. Her mother’s legacy remained untouched in the bank, and her teaching salary was building up year after year. She’d paid Saul for the house, though after Rudi’s death, he tried to write it off, and apart from a few groceries, she had hardly any outlay.
The irony that she was going to get a chance to be a mother, after all these years, was not lost on her.
She had hoped that she would become pregnant right away after she and Rudi got married in June of 1918, and she did. The joy of that memory was chased immediately by the horror of that child’s loss. She’d never had another relationship, though there had been a few overtures from men over the years. It was like she was frozen inside. She couldn’t allow herself to feel that deeply again. They say that grief is the price of love, but it was a price she could never pay again.
It took years to come to terms with the fact that not only had she lost Rudi but that she was never going to be a mother. And now here she was offering to be just that to two total strangers.
Sighing, she pulled out a notepad and pen and took note of the address in Berlin.
‘Dear Ariella…’ she began.
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