Thursday 14th November 1940

Today was William Salter's seventeenth birthday. In some ways he regretted telling his work mates, for the most part middle-aged or, in William's eyes, old. They had, of course, celebrated it in the customary way, sending him to the stores for a left-handed screwdriver, a smooth piece of emery cloth - though he'd actually balked at asking for a tin of striped paint.

It was all done in good spirits though, for they considered William 'their' special lad. He was the only apprentice at the small Deptford Works and they felt they had every right to tease him.

"I'll bet you're still a virgin," said Old Joe, the foreman, poking him in the ribs.

William didn't answer. He knew what a virgin was, of course. At school a friend had told him that girls had a sort of thin skin inside them - you know, 'down there' - which was broken when something was pushed into them - like an erect cock. To William it sounded unpleasant and painful - but he couldn't understand how a bloke could be a virgin. Surely he hadn't got anything to 'break' when he had his first sexual relations.

Perhaps it meant when you 'came'. He had done that certainly. The first time at night after a very lurid dream in which he was rubbing himself against a naked body. It was worrying because - though it had felt pleasant at the time - afterwards it was as if he had pissed himself, and he was concerned about what his mother would say if she found the evidence on the sheets. Even more worrying was that the 'body' in the dream was that of a friend of his at school - in fact the same boy who had told him about virgins.

Although his form teacher had warned him against what he called 'the practice of self-abuse', William had swiftly discovered and enjoyed the pleasures of masturbation. Did that constitute loss of virginity? In which case he had certainly lost it - probably once or twice a day for the last couple of years - and still, though he searched diligently, he saw no signs of hairs growing in the palms of his hand, nor did his sight appear to be deteriorating.

"What do you say we set him up with a prozzie from Kings Cross?" asked Joe to the assembled gang, who chuckled appreciatively - more at William's blush than the suggestion.

"The Paddington Green ones are better," said one middle-aged man, who looked respectable enough to know better.

The conversation developed into the relative merits of the two red light districts. William hoped they would forget about him.

"Or there's Fitzrovia in Soho," suggested a third.

"That's for queers," said Joe in a tone of great disgust. "They're shirt-lifters as hang out there."

The hooter went and the workday was over - much to William's relief.

"Got to get home," he said. "Mum's expecting me."

A howl of derision met his innocent remark. "I mean," he said, "we're having a party. She's made a cake."

"Jelly and ice cream?" asked someone.

"Probably jam 'tarts'," said another with a wealth of innuendo and trying to return to the previous topic.

"Lots of girls, eh Bill?"

"I don't know," said William. "Expect so."

"Be good," said Joe, "and if you can't be good. . ."

". . . be careful," chorused the rest.

William was not actually expecting anyone exciting to his party. The neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Foster, James and Beth, would come of course and Jean, whose husband had been killed in the Battle of Britain, from the other side. Adele no doubt would have invited her special friend of the moment, though who that was William didn't know - and didn't much care.

He, himself, had lost touch with most of his friends from school in the two years since he had left so it looked as if it would be a small and very select gathering. The only one he occasionally saw was Steven Briggs and that was because he lived in the same road. 'Stringbean' they called him at school because he was as tall and thin as a piece of string. William hadn't liked him all that much. There was something supercilious and patronising about the way Stringbean had looked down on everybody else in the class. It hadn't done him much good, William thought. Although William hadn't seen him for some time, he'd heard that Stringbean hadn't got an apprenticeship and didn't seem to be doing anything in the work line - probably just waiting for his call-up papers.

So it would be a small party, and anyway the air raids could be counted on starting as soon as it got dark - 7.00 pm at the latest - and before then it would be wise to be off to the shelter or at least to the Underground station because, though smelly and noisy, with so many people crammed in night after night, mum felt safer there.

William wondered whether dad might have got a weekend pass and at the thought quickened his step. In the end he was running down the street whose terraces of two up and two downs were now punctuated by holes where explosions and fires had ripped out the houses. Their bare carcasses, with wallpaper and fireplaces stuck surrealistically on the remaining walls one above the other, were open to the inquisitive gaze of every passer-by.

But Bert Salter, now actually made up to Corporal, had not been able to get a weekend pass. Theresa, though, had provided as good a spread as the shortages allowed. Somehow she had managed to get a couple of tins of pink salmon which disguised the taste of the margarine in the sandwiches. Sugar of course was scarce - almost impossible to buy as it had all to be imported, the convoys running the risk of U-boats in the North Atlantic - but the Ministry of Food recommended finely-grated carrot as sweetening in cakes and puddings. No jam tarts though there was some jelly trifle which - a great treat - contained tinned sliced peaches.

William wasn't expecting presents - well not from anyone but his mother - or Adele if she was feeling in a good mood but the Fosters, the elderly couple from next door, were already there when he got home and had a large square box, wrapped in scarlet paper, for him. The wrapping, they explained, they had had for some years and could William take it off very carefully as they'd like it back. Inside was a wireless. He was thrilled. A wireless of his own. He could put it in his bedroom and listen to the news. He could also tune in to the newly-formed 'Forces program' which concentrated on sport, variety and dance music, besides news bulletins, rather than the stuffy content of the Home Service which his mother insisted on listening to.

"Thank you," he said to them. "Thank you very much." His smile proved to them how appreciative he was and the Fosters were touched.

"How's Bert?" asked Beth. He had always been a favourite with them and in return Bert always asked after them in his letters home.

Jean, from next door the other side, bottle blonde and wearing slacks, gave him a tie. It was silk and bright green and yellow stripes and William couldn't help but think it had probably belonged to her late husband as there was a slight mark on it, and although carefully ironed, looked as if it might have been worn before.

Mum and Adele had got together - which probably meant that Adele had contributed very little - but the overcoat was useful, what with winter coming on and though it was a bit large, Mum said he would grow into it. William rather hoped he had stopped growing; he was nearly six feet tall.

It was already approaching dusk so the party did not go on for long. They ate the sandwiches and trifle - much complimented on by the Fosters - and William blew out the seventeen candles and cut the cake. No icing unfortunately but there was a layer of cream substitute and it tasted very well. Then Theresa and Jean started getting a bit edgy so, loading up with the usual paraphernalia of cushions - station platforms are hard on the bones - blankets and thermos flasks, they set off for the Underground Station. The Fosters said they were going to chance it and remain at home.

Aldwych and the Elephant and Castle were the best stations as they shut off the electricity after the trains stopped at midnight so there was more room, and hammocks could even be strung out across the lines. The West End though was too far away so they made for the Elephant and Castle, even though that was a good hour's walk.

As usual there was a queue though not too long and, by the time the sirens started their usual nightly howl, the Salters were already inside, had purchased their three ha'penny tickets and had commandeered a space for themselves on the platform.

Theresa had brought a thermos flask of Camp coffee, that dark brown, bottled stuff which didn't taste like coffee at all but had to be used as a substitute. Not that they wanted to drink much, for the toilets got into a dreadful state by the morning and it was no pleasure using them. It was still too early to think about sleeping and anyway the trains were still running, every ten minutes or so arriving with a roar and a blast of air which did something to circulate the atmosphere of the station which was already beginning to smell a bit fetid.

Some people down the platform tried to start a singsong but their efforts were not that successful, groups of friends or relations preferring to chat quietly amongst themselves - or even make new friends from their neighbours.

Time passed. Trains drew in, discharged passengers, took up more and roared off into the tunnel. More people arrived to find places to sit.

William was rather bored. He would have liked to walk around but knew that, if he did so, he might lose his place. He wished he was at home listening to his new wireless. The family next to them seemed to be occupied in bickering with each other - much as he and Adele did.

A youngish man with dark hair walked down the area at the edge of the platform, kept blank for bona fide travellers but he obviously wasn't one of those for he seemed to be keeping a lookout for any spare space on the now crowded platform.

As he passed he caught William's eye and, rather than just looking away, held his glance until William, suddenly embarrassed, looked down. He expected the man to walk on and was surprised when he saw a pair of shoes standing next to him and, glancing up, saw the stranger, smiling, looking down at him.

"Room for a small one?" he asked, the words sounding a little odd to William's ear, clearly enunciated but stilted rather as if he might be speaking a foreign language. The phrase was odd too. Usually they said 'Room for a littl'un'. But the man was waiting and William moved aside to give him room. He looked at his mother but she was busy chatting to Adele and Jean, no doubt, about some 'women's matters'.

"Peter," said the man and held out his hand.

William felt surprised. People didn't shake hands like that, didn't introduce themselves so soon, but the man had a pleasant smile - his upper teeth had a gap in them as if he had lost one - so William took his hand and muttered, "Bill".

Peter shook his hand, holding it just a little longer than seemed necessary. It was warm and dry and didn't feel unpleasant at all. He sat down beside William. There was very little room - William tried to move up even more - but all the same their thighs touched in an intimate way. William wondered whether to move away but he rather liked the touch and if this Peter didn't object then why should he?

A train drew into the station and for a while it was impossible to talk. The young man though continued watching William with an appraising look until he felt a bit embarrassed.

At last the platform cleared again and the passengers either walked off or found places to settle in between those already waiting. Peter had to move even closer until William could feel the side of the young man's body, shoulder, hip, thigh, running down the whole length of him.

"You're a fine-looking lad," said Peter. "I'm surprised they haven't already snapped you up for the Forces."

"I'm seventeen," said William. "It's my birthday today."

"Many happy returns," said Peter. "You have received many presents?"

Again it sounded a rather odd way of asking but the man seemed genuinely interested and William found himself talking about the wireless, his new overcoat, his tie, and then explained that his father was in the Army and hadn't been able to get leave otherwise he would no doubt have given him something else.

"I understand," said Peter. "Do you live near here?"


Theresa looked up from her chat and started distributing blankets and cups of coffee. "Would your friend like one?" she asked and Peter smiled though it was pretty obvious that he did not think much of the 'coffee' but was too polite to say so.

People around were preparing to get as much sleep as they could. Of course the lights never went out but they were dimmed and it was possible to snooze. William moved around to try to find a better position. Peter must be really uncomfortable, sitting as he was on the cold concrete.

"Would you like to share my cushions?" William asked and Peter with a smile, moved even closer.

William felt he could hardly keep his blanket to himself so he spread it over the two of them. It was warm and pleasant lying next to another human. William had never in fact been in this position - well not that he could remember - he must, he assumed have slept with his mother when he was young.

He could feel the young man's body wrapped round him so that fitted together. He smelled nice, thought William and wished that he had had a bath more recently though he didn't think his own body smelled unpleasant. He had a curious feeling in his groin and realised that he was getting a hard, but as he was facing away from Peter, this didn't really matter. He tried to think it was because he was imagining a girl next to him but all he could think of was the man's hard body, his flat stomach, the hair around his genitals... His own erection grew.

He tensed when he suddenly felt a hand resting softly on his hip bone. Of course, lying as they were, Peter would have to put his hand somewhere but... William tried to think otherwise but he realised that he was wishing the hand would come round a little further, over his pelvis, down between his legs to where his erection stood.

Then it did. Gently the hand came round - it couldn't be chance, surely. No. the hand was there, in his groin, feeling his cock, gasping hold of it. William's heart beat thudded. He felt the man pull his body back until he could feel between his arse cheeks, through the layers of his trouser and underpants, a hardness pressing into him from the rear. He pushed himself back into the hardness.

Then the hand was undoing his fly buttons, from the top, one, two, three, four - and going inside, exploring the warmth, feeling a way through the slit in his underpants until it took hold of his cock.

William gasped. His eyes opened to make sure that no one was watching but his mother and sister and Jean, though so close, were cocooned in their own blankets.

The hand, warm, dry, gentle, grasped him, started rubbing gently, stopped, cradled his testicles, felt underneath them, stroked gently, returned to his cock, played with the hair around him, back to his cock, always back. William could feel that special feeling building up. He knew he was about to come.

"I'm.. I'm..," was all he could manage before he throbbed into an orgasm, the spunk shooting into the man's hand and no doubt all over his own trousers, the blanket, everywhere. William had never in his life experienced such physical ecstasy. He feared that he would be unable to control a great cry but, as nobody was staring at him, presumably he didn't actually make a sound.

Afterwards he tried to turn over, to do something for Peter but heard a whisper in his ear, "Not now, Bill. Perhaps there will be another time. Perhaps you can come back to my flat and we can really make love."

Was that what it was, wondered William. Making love. Surely there must be something more. There was a worry at the back of his mind. He tried to rationalise it. Someone had jerked him off - surely that wasn't the end of the world. He had enjoyed it - was that wrong? The act of coming was pleasurable - he certainly knew that. Someone else doing the action had made it more so. What was so worrying was that he had imagined the man - Peter's body, thought what it would be like to be in his arms, naked, pressed front to front - and this had made it more exciting.

Was he one of those 'pansies', 'nancy-boys' you occasionally heard of? But surely they were effeminate people who wore their hair long and floppy, flapped their wrists when they talked, posed with hands on hips - and he wasn't like that. Nor was Peter. Quite the opposite!

Peter! He could feel his body lying against his back. Peter's soft breath on his neck. Peter's arm was still holding around the waist, his hand against his chest - safe from prying eyes under the concealing blanket.

William was confused, wondered whether he should draw away from the man but the embrace was comforting. The day had been long and eventful.

He dozed.

He slept.

A long dreamless sleep.

In the morning Peter was gone and William's back felt chilled. The word was passed down from the entrance that the All Clear had sounded and people started, sleepily, to pack up their belongings and head for home - if these still remained.

William folded his blanket, holding it against himself in case any marks from last night were visible on his trousers or sports jacket.

The Salters and Jean from next door walked home through the streets some of which had been 'altered' by the bombs. When they got back to Granby Street, they found number 14, the Fosters' house, had been entirely destroyed, a jagged hole between the walls of numbers 12 and 16. An ARP warden said that two bodies had been dug out of the wreckage first thing that morning. He said they would need some wooden scaffolding to prop up their walls.

The sad thought went through William's mind the Fosters would never be needing that scarlet wrapping paper again.

* * * * * *

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