The royal family had left for South Africa earlier in the day, and their leave-taking would certainly be at the top of the news. No
hopping into a cab with a pair of suitcases for the king and queen. Instead, according to the papers, the royal tour would
begin with a carriage procession from Buckingham Palace to Waterloo Station, where the king, queen, princesses, and dozens of retainers and servants would be given a formal farewell by a host of dignitaries before boarding a train to Portsmouth. And the dresses, suits, and gowns that Ann had helped to make would be part of that historic journey.
She had worked for Mr. Hartnell for eleven years. There was no reason for her to still find her heart racing when she thought of
her handiwork being worn by the queen. Her family and friends had stopped being impressed by it long ago. Some, like Milly, all but groaned when she came home with stars in her eyes.
She couldn't help it, though. It was exciting. She was an ordinary girl from Barking, the sort of girl who usually ended up working in a factory or shop for a few years before getting married and settling into life as a wife and mum. Yet by some twist of fate she had ended up working for the most famous dress designer in Britain, had risen to one of the most senior positions in his embroidery workroom, and had helped to create gowns that millions of people admired and coveted.
It had been a near thing, too. When she'd finished school at fourteen, there'd been no money for anything like secretarial
college. So she'd gone to the labor exchange, and a gray-faced woman had set a list of jobs in front of her. They'd all sounded awful. Trainee shirt machinist, assistant nursemaid, restaurant cashier. She'd turned the page, ready to give up, and that's when she'd seen it:
Apprentice embroiderer, central London, training given.
"This one," she'd said shyly, pointing to the listing. "'Apprentice embroiderer.' What does that mean?"
"Exactly what it says. Let me see the reference number. Right...it's at Hartnell, where the queen has all her clothes made."
"Yes," the woman said, her voice sharpening. "Are you interested or not?"
"I am. Only...I don't know how to sew very well."
"Can't you read? Training given, it says."
The woman wrote down an address and shoved it across the desk.
"I'll ring them up to say you're coming. Be there tomorrow at half-past eight. Don't be late. Make sure your hands are clean."
She'd all but waltzed home, eager to share her momentous news—London! the queen!—but her mother had only sighed. "You, an embroiderer? You can barely thread a needle. They'll see the dog's breakfast you make of whatever they put in front of you, and then you'll be out the door. Mark my words."
"But they're expecting me. The woman at the exchange won't send me out for another job if I don't go. Please, Mum. I'll get in
"Suit yourself. But straight there and back, mind you. Can't have you traipsing around London all day when there are chores to be done."
The next morning she'd left at dawn, since the early trains cost sixpence less, and had perched on a bench in Berkeley Square Gardens until Big Ben in Westminster chimed the quarter hour after eight o'clock. Then she'd finished her journey, which ended in a quiet back mews in Mayfair, and had rung the bell with a trembling hand.
A girl about her age had answered the door. "Good morning."
"Good morning. I'm here for the job. Apprentice embroiderer?"
The girl had smiled, and nodded, and told her she was at the right place, and then she'd taken Ann upstairs to meet the head of the embroidery workrooms.