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Vignette: Queen of the Windsor Castle

By A Snow Marine.

The author.

In a previous article , I looked at Namesakes, and the amusement one can derive from imagining two individuals with the same name swapping or combining their lives. I suggested the combination of Elizabeth Windsor and Barbara Windsor as one fruitful possibility to explore.

Pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Which I did in a little vignette that I present here. I make no apology for it.




Queen of the Windsor Castle


27th March, 1945. London.


A V2 rocket landed in the Islington part of London. There have been some casualties.




“That was close,” she thought, as she struggled out of the burning truck. The truck had been flipped over, and she had banged her head. First things first. She had to get clear, then see what else needed to be done.


She was in a street in east London. Bricks and dust were still coming down. Several people were hurt. Half a dozen houses were wrecks, but people were wearily used to this.


The truck was a wreck, but she found that she wasn’t shaking. Her training had kicked in and she focused on the job in hand. First things first, and that was to help people who needed help. Some people were injured, some were in shock, and everyone was covered in brick dust. There was a woman shaking, and barely able to speak. She covered the woman’s shoulders with her jacket and led her towards an ambulance.

Then there was an explosion nearby and she felt herself being thrown through the air, wondering why she hadn’t heard any bang, to land back near the wrecked truck. Then things went dark.




Second Subaltern Windsor, E, 230873 has been reported missing in action following an explosion from a V2 rocket striking east London. Next of Kin have been informed.




She came to and found that her head hurt. She put her fingers to her temples, and they came away sticky with blood.


“You stay still for a moment, Miss,” said a sailor, finishing tying a bandage around her head. “You took one hell of a knock there.”


“What happened?” she asked. He was dark-haired, youngish, dark eyes, and the ring finger on his right hand was missing at the top joint.


“Who knows? Unexploded bomb got shifted and stopped being unexploded. Happens all the time.” He shrugged. “I found you your coat, Miss. Looks like you outrank me.” He handed over a WREN’s jacket, a Petty Officer’s jacket. “It says your name’s Keen. Bet you get a lot of stick for that. What’s your first name?”


She thought; she realised that she couldn’t remember. How could she forget her own name? Or where she lived? Or anything. She started to panic.


“Don’t take on so, Heather,” he said, calmly.


“Heather?” She was puzzled. She didn’t think she was Heather.


“You look like you’re a Heather. I always know these things. I’m Jack. Leading Stoker Jack Grant, with Goldfinch. Let’s get you to someone who can see to that wound.”


“I can’t remember my name,” she said, trying to keep the feeling of panic out of her voice.


Jack spoke gently, calmingly. “Don’t fret. Happens all the time. Bang on the head, everything goes woozy for a bit, then it settles down.”




An extensive search of the area in which Second Subaltern Windsor went missing has not resulted in her discovery. She has officially been listed as missing.




Everyone had been very distracted over the news about Princess Elizabeth, and it was hard to get the doctors to concentrate.


Jack had stayed nearby while she got checked out. The doctors said brusquely that there was nothing terribly wrong with Heather and they didn’t have the beds to spare. “You’re fine to go back to the barracks,” they’d said.


The trouble was that she couldn’t remember where the barracks were, but none of the doctors were interested. They’d had to cut away most of her hair on one side to stitch the wound, and she looked a bit pale when she looked at herself in a mirror. They’d given her a new skirt as well, as the one she had been wearing had been torn and soaked in blood and brick dust.


“Unrecognisable, it was,” a nurse had said. “Don’t worry, we’ve always got plenty of WREN’s kit in stock. Well, we’re between Chatham and the stations. Lots of WRENs passing by. Big smile now, being cleaned up is half the battle.”


Jack was waiting for her.


“Shouldn’t you have gone back to your ship?” she asked.


“I’m on Survivor’s Leave, Heather.”


She remembered that she had asked him what ship he’d been on. “Didn’t you say you were with Goldfinch?”


“Until I’m posted to a new ship, I am. Goldfinch is, well, kind of sunk. Minesweeper. We missed one. It didn’t miss us. On the bright side, it means I can drive you to your base.”


“You know where my base is?” Heather was excited. Maybe this was a possible way of getting her memory back.


“I asked a few people. It turns out Petty Officer Wren Hazel Keen was travelling to Liverpool for a new assignment. I’m heading that way, I can give you a lift, Heather.”


She folded her arms and looked annoyed. “I can drive,” she said. She wasn’t sure how she knew that, because she couldn’t remember learning to drive, but she knew that if there was one thing that she was good at, it was fixing and driving trucks. “And why do you keep calling me Heather if my name is Hazel?”


“Because you look like a Heather. Heather is pretty and useful and a bit of the small side, while Hazel is just a nut. Your name might be Hazel, but to me, you’re Heather. If you want to drive, that’s fine.”


“I don’t have a truck,” she said.


Jack grinned and held out a set of keys. “I have.”

He did. It was a Leyland Hippo Mk II. But you all knew that, didn't you.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia.



Second Subaltern Windsor has been listed as missing, presumed dead. Investigation of the area has indicated that it is probable that she was killed in the V2 blast.


In other news, the RAF have launched a 1000 bomber raid. The target has not been disclosed at this time.




She stopped the truck just south of Birmingham. He’d wanted to stretch his legs, and they had been making good time. She hadn’t been showing off how good a driver was. Well, maybe a little.


While they stopped, he propositioned her. She said no, obviously.


They got back into the truck, and he told her about his time on Goldfinch, and then, when they hit a pot hole, said they should check the truck. He checked the back of the truck while she checked the suspension. Nothing was amiss, and as she hauled herself out from under the truck, he helped her up, and propositioned her.


“It’s still no,” she said.


They had to stop for fuel near Crewe. He propositioned her, and she wondered very briefly before saying No.


“A kiss and cuddle?”


“I’ll think about it. What’s in the back?”


She was surprised to find that there were a lot of bottles of spirits, packs of cigarettes, and a crate of what looked like lamb chops. She asked what it was all about.


“A convoy is due in. Lots of sailors going on leave with money to spend and going home. Want to take a few luxuries to the Missus.”


She looked in the back of the truck. “Are these black-market goods?”


“Grey-market, Heather, grey-market. The thing is, the Merchant sailors, they don’t get the perks the RN gives, and that’s not fair, so what this is, this is squaring the books.”


“We’re giving them these for free? That would be fair.”


Jack spluttered incoherently, then shook his head. “You had me going for a minute, there. You sounded dead serious. You’re good at this. Let’s get on with this.”




Vice Admiral Godfrey, is transferred from the active list to the reserve list, as previously agreed. He will report to Director, Naval Intelligence.




She pulled the truck up just outside the docks. She’d enjoyed the trip, and somehow she felt she’d never been this far from home. She started to feel tears well up. She still couldn’t remember anything. Nothing about who she was, or anything. She couldn’t even remember when her birthday was.


Jack put his arm around her. “Cheer up, Heather. A kiss and cuddle before we start work?”


Before Heather could say anything, there was a tap at the driver’s window. An armed sailor indicated that she should roll the window down.


“God wants to see you two,” he said. “Out.”




An intensive search of the Islington area of London has found no trace of Second Subaltern Windsor. It has been reported that Buckingham Palace has said that while it has not given up hope, it accepts that Princess Elizabeth has fallen in the line of duty.


King George said: “Elizabeth was my pride, and always did her duty. Margaret is my joy, and the spirit of Elizabeth’s sense of duty will be an inspiration to her.”




Rear-Admiral Godfrey stared coldly at the two ratings standing in front of him. He said nothing, but the armed sailor guarding the two left the room. His desk was large, of solid teak, and maintained with obsessive neatness. He laid a gold-plated pen down on the desk and moved it so that it was perfectly perpendicular to the edge of the desk. His uniform was expensively tailored to fit over a slightly expanding paunch. His eyes were cold, and his expression both stern and implacable. He studied first Jack, and then Heather, without saying anything. He opened one of the two files on his desk and read it carefully one more time. He put the paper back into the folder, then looked at Jack.

He really existed. Rear Admiral Godfrey, RN.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia.

“Leading Stoker Jack Grant,” he said at last. “Black-marketeer, deserter, larceny. Twenty years, minimum.”


“I’m not a deserter, Sir. I’m on survivor leave.”


“That would be from HMS Goldfinch.”


Jack acknowledged that this was the case.


Rear-Admiral Godfrey continued. “HMS Goldfinch was sunk by a mine in the Channel in March 1942. It is now March 1945.”


“Begging your pardon, Sir. Survivor leave lasts until next posted. Can’t serve on a ship that doesn’t exist, Sir.”


“Leading Stoker Jack Grant was reported as missing, presumed dead.”


“There you go, Sir. I can’t desert if I’m dead. Officially, I’m dead.” Jack sounded as though this proved his point.


“That is true. It’s also important that records be accurate. Records are so difficult to change. I am giving consideration to altering your status to tie in with the official records. As for you, Petty Officer Wren Hazel Keen, where do I start? I’ll start with impersonating an officer. Not just any officer, but an officer of significant status. You impersonated Princess Elizabeth. You don’t even look much like she did, and yet you pretended to be her, to gain access to the Mess of the Coldstream Guards. I assume that their mess silver has long since been disposed of. Arson, blackmail, bribery, and there are some crimes down here that don’t even seem to have a name.”


Heather stared blankly. She didn’t feel like a hardened criminal. She couldn’t remember any of this, and she somehow felt that breaking the law was a bad thing. Her mind went blank. Maybe that helped her to think.


“Sir, you wouldn’t have brought us here without a reason.” Her brain had frozen, it seemed, but was still somehow working. “That must mean there’s something you want done.”


Rear-Admiral Godfrey looked at the two files on the desk in front of him. He glanced up at Jack, and then Heather, and then back down again at the files. He picked up his pen and put it down again. Finally, he reached a decision.


“I’m retiring,” he said. “The war’s about to end; my work here is done. Of course, that’s nonsense. I’m only officially retiring. The fighting may be coming to an end, but there’s always a war coming along. I’ve got work to do. People like me don’t retire. Did you read what it said on my door?”


“Um, no admittance, Sir,” said Jack.


“Not that,” Rear-Admiral Godfrey snapped.


“Rear-Amdiral Godfrey, Sir. They misspelt Admiral,” said Heather.


“No, not that, either.” Rear-Admiral Godfrey was getting annoyed.


“DNI, Sir?” Heather guessed. It was the only other sign.


“Hallelujah. Naval Intelligence. This war is ending, and the next is starting. I’m a Boy Scout, Mr and Mrs Grant.” He glared at them, with his lips tightly compressed. “Well? Boy Scouts?”


“Bob-a-job week, Sir?” Jack asked, completely puzzled.


“Be prepared,” Heather said. “Where do we fit in, Sir?” Heather decided that she didn’t want to spend thirty years in prison for crimes she didn’t remember committing.


“In an intelligence war, what is there a need for?”


Jack looked at Heather, and Heather looked at Jack. “Intelligence?” Heather guessed.


“No,” Rear-Admiral Godfrey said, almost shouting. “Secrecy. Hidden players. Preparation. Background. If spies arrive suddenly somewhere, they stand out. When a German bird watcher suddenly appears near Portsmouth looking at ships, it doesn’t take a genius to nab him and check him out. But if it’s someone who’s been living there for ten years, everyone thinks nothing of them. I’m setting up hubs, and you’re one of them.”


“Do we actually have a choice, Sir?” Jack asked.


“You could choose to spend the rest of your life in jail.”


“Mr and Mrs Grant, Sir?” Heather asked. She didn’t like the sound of that.


“We can change the last name, if you’ve something else in mind.”


“It was the Mr and Mrs bit, Sir. We’re not married.”


Rear-Admiral Godfrey took a piece of paper out from a file and laid it on the desk. “Marriage certificate. Yes, you are married. You couldn’t run a shop if you weren’t married, could you. This is what is going to happen. We’ve got you a little shop in Walford, near the Windsor Castle pub. You’ll run that. The shop, not the Windsor Castle. It’s one of those shops that has a basement for storage, a ground floor shop, and the owners live above the shop. You’ll buy and sell this and that. Anything you like, really. I daresay Jack will acquire stuff. You’ll get known. You’ll probably get a few hot items, and so forth. Just live as normal a life as you like. The house will be yours, in theory. We own it, so annoy us, and you’ll swap Walford for Pentonville. Nothing will happen for five, maybe ten years. You’ll settle in. Occasionally, you’ll take deliveries and pass them on to the right people. Sometimes you’ll be asked to vouch for someone. You’ll get the details.”


“Why Walford?”


“Because Intelligence, in its infinite wisdom, only recruits from Oxbridge. How many Oxford classics graduates do you see in Walford, typically? They tend to stand out. Standing out isn’t good for a spy. Anything else? Any more questions?”




Two days after VE Day, Mr Jack Grant and Mrs Heather Grant took possession of a small general-purpose shop in Walford. They called the shop Grant Expectations Stores. Heather ran the shop, and Jack found stock. Heather also arranged to repair cars and motorbikes. That was something she enjoyed doing.


That was the start of how Heather Grant became Queen of the East End underworld.

Discuss this, for want of a better word, Vignette, Here.



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