Queenie works long shifts at the rest center, assisting the “population,” which is the official term for the bedraggled and shell-shocked families seeking assistance after losing their homes. Queenie’s task is to record where they once lived and give them the appropriate forms to fill out. Sometimes, the victims are so confused that it’s impossible for them to absorb her information.
Queenie’s new job shows her the wide-ranging effects of the war, and highlights her comparative good fortune. This experience is similar to her childhood, which her family’s hard life contrasted with the desperate circumstances of the miners.
Seeing how sleep-deprived she is, Bernard tells Queenie the job is too much for her; but she finds the work invigorating, and even takes to sleeping at the rest center instead of coming home at night. Occasionally, Bernard walks by the rest center just to check that she’s alive.
Here, Bernard is being selfish, seeking to maintain and consolidate control over his wife by his manipulative concern for her health.
Still, Queenie sometimes feels demoralized by her limited ability to provide help. Often, the rest center runs out of food or clothing and can’t provide victims anything more than a cup of tea. One day, she has to tell an old woman that she can’t receive compensation for her lost furniture because she’s waited too long to submit a claim. Desperately wanting to do something, Queenie gives her some of the unused furniture in her own house. When Bernard confronts her, she furiously turns on him and shouts that “there’s thousands of people having much more of a war than you are.” Afterwards, she regrets the harshness of her words.
Without wanting to, Queenie becomes enmeshed in a bureaucracy that’s often inadequate to address the needs of British citizens. However, her gift of furniture shows her determination not to submit to this state of affairs. Her behavior separates her from characters who declare themselves helpless to intervene in unpleasant situations, like the employers who tell Gilbert they can’t employ black people because of other workers.
When Queenie delivers the furniture, the old woman is profoundly grateful. However, as she leaves the house, a well-dressed woman asks if she’s “responsible” for moving poor people into the neighborhood, and yells after her that she’s going to have them removed.
This altercation shows the deep divides within British society. Even in times of crisis, class prejudice is so ingrained and important it overrides people’s commitment to the war effort.