Two weeks ago, our house was flooded and at midnight, after 6 hours of pumping and bailing filthy water, my best memory is my daughter appearing with a tray holding 4 cups of tea.
That’s why this particular piece of writing hits the right note for me.
John Bull is a brilliant designer and painter, but he’s also a brilliant writer.
(You can read more of his writing at: garius.medium.com)
This is my favourite piece of his, see what you think:
“My favourite WW2 story is about a young lady, the Blitz, tea, and why small acts of kindness matter.
This particular young lady was about 20 at the time and a WRVS volunteer.
This led to her being tasked with working on a tea van.
You know, the ones you see in lots of photos of ruined London during WW2, serving victims and rescue workers.
Now stop and think for a second about what this duty actually involves.
Most photos show the vans in the AFTERMATH, but what you DON’T see is THEY’D GO OUT DURING THE BOMBING, TOO.
Wherever the emergency services were fighting fires/saving lives, they needed tea.
Whatever picture you have of tea vans as quaint things during WW2: ditch it.
These women (and it was almost always women) were out there every night, as the bombs fell, as London burned, serving tea to the emergency services and survivors.
And they were volunteers.
Why? Imagine you’re a firefighter, maybe just a Londoner.
The night is full of smoke, fire, death, sirens, guns, bombs.
You are scared. Exhausted.
And then…there. In the street: A tea van.
An oasis of normality in Armageddon. It is something you can cling to.
These women didn’t have to do this. They were volunteers.
But every night they’d be out there risking their lives, often pulling double shifts into the morning, to provide tea to the people of Britain when they needed it most.
So our young lady is one of the volunteers.
She has been doing it for a while at this point, and has got as used to it as she can.
Her particular tea van is based out of an old London school, just south of the river where they sleep. Some young soldiers are stationed there too.
Then one night, with her van, she heads out into the darkness.
As they do, she sees a few of the soldiers are still awake in the kitchen playing cards and drinking tea. They wave her off.
She waves back…and unknowingly heads out into one of the heaviest nights of the Blitz.
That night, her van is sent to different areas around the centre of London as it burns, serving exhausted emergency workers.
Multiple times they are near-missed themselves.
Several times the bombing is so bad they have to abandon the van and take cover.
They return every time. She talks about how it was the worst day of her life.
How terrified she was and she just wanted to go back and hide. They all did but knew that they couldn’t.
Because every time they served a cup of tea to someone they saw just how much that person needed it. That it helped.
As dawn begins to break , they finally run out of everything.
They can do no more and, exhausted, physically and emotionally, they drive back to the school.
As they pull in and park up, she spots something.
It’s the soldiers from the night before walking towards her with a tray.
As they get closer, she realises what’s on the tray: Tea.
“It looked pretty bad out there tonight girls” One of the young soldiers says sheepishly when they reach her and the others.
“So we waited up. Thought you might need a brew yourself.”
And she looked at them, at the tea, and broke down and cried.
It all came out, the terror, the fear, the exhaustion, the burden of having to look sane and normal when the world around you is everything but that.
And she realised that this was the first time anyone had offered HER a cup of tea.
It was just a small act of kindness from these young squaddies, but to HER it meant that SOMEONE cares about her feeling normal too.
And the tea was hot and tasted good, and one of them gave her a hug, and they had a bit of a chat and a joke, and it helped.
Not a lot, but enough.
And the next night, when the air raid warning went off, they got into their tea van and drove out into the night again.”
That piece of writing shows that the same emotions apply to everyone regardless of sex, age, race, religion, or class.
It encapsulates what Bill Bernbach meant when he said: “Our proper area of study is simple, timeless, human truths.”