younger children

 The facts

“We wasted hours in that sweet shop.”
“Yes,” agreed William sombrely. “He didn’t study the customer. He’s jus’ like the ones my father was talkin’ about. He’ll never attract overseas trade.”

  • Number: 30.1
  • Published: 1954 (from this book onwards, the stories were never published in magazine form)
  • Book: William and the Space Animal
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws acquire a small boy in a gryphon costume.

Verdict

Selflessly going to deliver a message to a local parent that their babysitter can’t arrive, William is mistaken for the babysitter and once again placed in sole charge of an infant.

But he and Ginger happily knuckle down to their task; as William points out, “We’ve got to look after the house prop’ly as well as mind the baby. We’re doin’ it jolly well, so far, I think… I don’t see why they shouldn’t pay us a lot of money when they come back.”

“What on earth have you brought that baby for?” said Henry.
“We’re mindin’ it,” said William, “an’ we’ve brought it along for a bit of fresh air.” He hastened to forestall criticism by adopting a tone of amused superiority. “Haven’t you ever heard of givin’ babies a bit of fresh air? Gosh! You mus’ be ign’rant.”

When they bump into a small boy on his way to a fancy dress party (as a gryphon), they naturally assume him to be an alien and add him to their collection of vulnerable beings.

After swapping the poor lad for a tortoise, they realise that they’ve mislaid the baby. A succession of villagers find the various children, deliver them to the wrong place, and engage in general chaos.

But William’s OK. William has a tortoise.

The facts

William optimistically knocked at the door. A very old woman opened it. She smiled at him pleasantly and said: “Yes dear? What do you want?”
“Mr Chamb’lain’s sent me to ask if you’ve got any rooms vacant for ’vacuees.”
She looked at him pityingly.

  • Number: 22.1
  • Published: 1940 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William Takes Charge
  • Book: the eponymous William and the Evacuees
  • Synopsis: The children of the village are jealous of evacuees.

Verdict

So warmly do the women of William’s village (led by the indomitable Vicar’s wife) welcome evacuee children – with presents, parties and above all food – that their native counterparts start getting jealous and demand that William, their natural leader, arrange for them to be evacuated too.

“I been ’vacuated,” said a small child proudly. “It made my arm come up somethink orful.”
“Shut up, Georgie Parker,” said Arabella. “It’s a diff’rent sort of ’vacuated you have done on your arm. It’s to stop you turnin’ into a cow you have it done on your arm.”
“Thought it was to stop you gettin’ chicken pox,” said Frankie, wrinkling up his snub nose in perplexity.
“It’s nothin’ to do with chickens,” snapped Arabella. “It’s cows. Everyone what’s not ’vacuated on their arms turns into cows. Half the cows you see in fields is people what weren’t ‘vacuated on their arms.”

“You saucy little hound!” said one indignant householder.
“You cheeky little rapscallion!” said an enraged housemaid as she slammed the door in his face.
“Bet they never did that to him,” William muttered indignantly to himself as he walked on down the road. “Bet they never did that to ole Mr Chamb’lain when he went round gettin’ places for ’em. Bet they treated him a bit different…”

William’s plan is to impersonate Mr Chamberlain, in person and in writing, and appeal to local householders’ patriotism in order to persuade them to take in some neighbourhood evacuees.

Astonishingly, he pulls it off… at least until the local committee for the care of evacuees arrives.

 The facts

“Well, I don’ see why we shun’t have one, too,” said William morosely. “Grown-ups get all the fun.”
“They say it’s not fun,” said Ginger.
“Yes, they say that jus’ to put us off,” said William. “I bet it is fun all right. I bet it’d be fun if we had one, anyway. They have a jolly good time, smellin’ gases an’ bandagin’ each other an’ tryin’ on their gas masks. I bet they bounce out at each other in their gas masks, givin’ each other frights. I’ve thought of lots of games you could play with gas masks.”

Verdict

So far we’ve had stories in which William prepares for war, anticipates war, longs for war; but now there actually is a war, and William is having the time of his life. This is the first in a lengthy run of ‘William at War’ stories that give William an opportunity to imprint his personality on the home front.

In this story, the Outlaws are embittered that their youth excludes them from joining the Air Raid Precautions organisation. So Ginger makes a sign reading “AIR RADE PRECORSHUN. JUNIER BRANCH. ENTRUNCE FRE”, and they set to work.

“Ladies an’ gentl’men,” William shouted above the uproar, “will you kindly shut up an’ listen to me? I’m goin’ to tell you how to win the war.”

Some of his audience are purely there to make trouble (Arabella Simpkin), some are there in vain hope of a freebie (“A gas attack smells like pear drops… No, I’ve not got any pear drops. I never said I’d got any pear drops… I never said a bomb was made of pear drops”) but some are genuinely interested – especially in the opportunity to ‘bandage each other up’ with equipment stolen from Mrs Brown’s medicine cabinet.

This eventually breaks down in disorder, but, in a wartime re-enactment of William Clears the Slums, 16.8, William then discovers about Evacuation, and promptly evacuates two young boys into his own house, where their voices from a supposedly empty room lead Miss Milton to believe that she has become a clairvoyant.