Saturday, 8 May 2010

A tale of war-time romance to commemoration of V-E Day

Mum was finkin bot her mum and dad today becoz V-E Day today here and theirs is a war-time tale! She was lookin frew some old photos she has of dem and I fort she might like to tells you bout them on ma bloggy. I ope you don't mind! Over to you mum!

* * * *

This is a photo of my mum and dad on their wedding day, 21st June 1947 (also know as the longest day or summer solstice in our hemisphere).

Dad, James Edward - Jim to his friends, was born on the 19th April 1922 in the village of Netterton near Bedlington, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. One of 10 brothers he was born into a family that had no money and lived in a small part of an old dairy, squashed in together.

Dad left school when he was 11 to start working down Netterton pit (pictured on the left). Because he was small for his age, he was soon identified as one of the many lads that worked on the coal face, the most dangerous part of the mine. He survived two mine collapses and when I was a child he used to fascinate and amuse me by pushing the coal embedded in his knees with his fingers!!

His father (George) was foreman at the pit and earned extra money at night as  a barefist boxer in the pubs and working men's clubs around Newcastle. He was a violent and hard man. His mother was a kind and loving woman, a school piano teacher, she died in childbirth at the age of 42 when she gave birth to her final child, her only daughter, Ada.

Dad realised his life would become a carbon copy of his own father's and at the age of 17 knew he had to find a way to escape the future that awaited him. He did not want his future to be working the mine all his life until he died either in a mine collapse or emphysema, drinking and fighting at weekends. It seemed to be the life of the men in his village.

So, at 17, in 1939 he signed up for the Army Air Corps. He had never been out of Northumberland before, the further he had travelled was to Newcastle on the bus to sign up for the AAC. He told us the two best things about signing up for the AAC was getting a pair of his own shoes to wear EVERY DAY and a set of dentures (false teeth).

He'd lost all his teeth when he was 9 from a gum disease (pyorrhea) because of poor diet. He didn't get dentures until he was 17! He only had boots to wear down the mines and shared them with four of his brothers, so when they weren't working down the mines, they walked around barefoot.

After several postings to France, he was eventually posted to Hornchurch, Essex in 1942. He was 20.

Mum, Elsie Elizabeth Jean - known to all as Betty - was born on the 16th February 1924 in East London, third child of five, eldest daughter.

Her two sisters, Dorothy and Rachel came soon after and the three grew into beautiful young women and were often referred to as the Andrew Sisters! Her dad decided to move them out of London in 1938 to a more rural location - Hornchurch, Essex. Not so rural now but in those days it was only fields, a few houses and shops.

Mum was 18 in 1942 and she started working at the Admiralty in London. She deciphered morse code and was also a radio operator. Working in London during that time was difficult as there were many air-raids. She sometimes spent the night in shelters in London and also in the East End. Sometimes she made it home to Hornchurch and then it was the cupboard under the stairs, if her dad had locked the Anderson shelter he had built in the back garden (later to become dad's shed)!

In an effort to get to know the locals, the RAF held dances every Friday and Saturday night at the Aerodrome. Mum and her two sisters used to go every Friday and Saturday to dance and let their hair down with the odd jitterbug with a Yank! Mum hadn't been to the dances for a few weeks as she'd been stuck in London. Her sisters were constantly talking about a young handsome man that had recently turned up at the Aerodrome. 'He dances like Fred Astaire' my Aunt Dorothy told mum. 'Handsome like him too' my Aunt Ray pitched in.

Mum was intrigued to see this man. She loved a man who could dance and Fred Astaire - well if this Jim was anything like him then she could see herself out arm in arm with a man like that! Off she went to the dance with Dot and Ray. 'All right pet, would you like to dance?' Well he doesn't sound like Fred Astaire but let's see, mum thought.

Dad sure could dance and he was good looking too! No wonder they called him twinkle-toes! Mum used to say he was so light on his feet and you didn't need to know how to dance, he could just take you around the room like your were floating on air! They soon got the nickname Fred and Ginger at the dances!

They started courting and had been dating for about a year when dad's squad was told he was going to be stationed in The Azores. Before he left, he proposed to mum and promised to marry her on his return. Six months, tops he told her. She agreed to marry him when he came home. That was June 1943.

Due to an oversight by the AAC, they forgot to bring dad and his squad home after the end of the war. They spent almost a year with little food and water. When they were finally brought home, they were so malnourished and sick they were taken straight to a sanitorium in Christchurch, Bournemouth to recover. Dad spent a year there gaining back the weight he had lost; he weighed just four stone when he went into the sanitorium. He had several operations on his stomach, his legs and hands. He was bed-ridden for over six months. A kindly nurse brought in a record player and her collection of music for him to listen to. It was the beginning of his love of some great composers - Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Wagner (I can't listen to Tannhauser without thinking of us sitting in our lounge together listening on a Sunday afternoon).

During this time, mum had heard nothing from dad. She had tried to tell herself that he was just a bad letter writer! In her darkest days she was afraid he had died. She was still going out with her sisters to dances, but that Jim had stolen her heart and although she was asked on dates, she declined and became more of a chaperone to her sisters, hoping she would one day see her Jim come walking along her street.

It was now 1945, the war was over and life started to return to normal. People went about their daily lives. Mum got another job in London and went on a few dates but her heart wasn't in it. On arriving home from work one afternoon, she found a letter. It was from Dad. He explained how sorry he was not to have been in touch. He told her how he had been left behind in the Azores and was now recuperating in Christchurch.

Could mum come and see him? He was a bit of a sight, but maybe one weekend she could get a train down?

There was a nurse at the hospital that would put her up or they could arrange a cheap bed and breakfast for her. Could she! Who needed a train? She could fly there she felt like she had wings! He was ALIVE!!!!!

Mum visited dad often at the sanitorium and as he became stronger, they would go for walks around Christchurch, Boscombe and Bournemouth. They loved the place! That also explains why we went there on holiday EVERY YEAR as kids! Memory Lane for mum and dad. Eventually, dad was strong enough to leave the sanitorium and travelled back to Hornchurch with mum to a room they had rented for him in the house next door to mum. Dad moved in during December 1946.

Mum and dad set the date for their wedding for the following summer at the local church. They had got to know each other well during their walks and talks in Christchurch. Mum realised what a kind and funny man dad was. Dad learned how sensitive mum was and that she had a sadness to her that he would try all his life to help her overcome.

Mum had been through many traumatic times while she worked in London during The Blitz. She didn't speak much about them but they took their toll on her mental heath. She also suffered from what we now know is post natal depression. She was later diagnosed as having manic depression and underwent various forms of barbaric "treatment" to try to "cure" herself as she saw it. Still, through all that, she was a wonderfully kind lady and often fought through the illness to be a supportive and loving mum.

Dad suffered from poor health because of the poverty when he was young, working in the mines when his lungs weren't fully developed and the near-death experience in the Azores. Despite all that, he was the funniest man I ever met and could have everyone laughing at him when we knew we should really be crying.

They managed to have three children my brother (shown above) was born in 1948, my sister in 1954 and me in 1963.

Mum spent years in and out of hospital trying to beat the depression. When I was 12, a blood clot lodged itself behind her retina and she lost the sight in one eye. The day before my 18th birthday party she lost the sight in her other eye. She fell off a stool she was using to clean the windows. As she fell she turned so that she could use her arms to break her fall. She fell into a flower-bed where there were some fuschias tied up to canes. One of the canes went into her other eye. She had to have emergency surgery but they could not save the eye completely. She ended up with 1/4 sight in her eye. These two events made life even harder for her but she coped well with her blindness.

Sadly, mum died in 1988. She took her own life after years of battling with depression and a deep sadness we could never help her get past. Dad was heartbroken. He had spent so many years looking after her and trying to help her overcome her depression. He died two years later in 1990 from stomach cancer, cancer I believe was brought on by her death and his broken heart.

God rest their souls. I know, in my heart, they are over the Rainbow Bridge dancing in the great Ballroom in the Sky together - Fred and Ginger - Jim and Betty RIP!

* * * *

Ok is me again Lexie! Your hostess wiv da moastests. Wow now if that didn't have you grabbin for dem tissues you as a harder eart than me! I fink mum should write a book bout her family! 


  1. My eyes are leaking after reading about Jim & Betty. That's something that Betty waited for Jim like that for so long. That's true love. How wonderful.

  2. Yes, for sure your mum should write a book. Her mum & dad were the true heros of the war and had so many hardships. Wonderful of your mum to post this on our "mother's Day" in the US. Still has leaky eyes too.

  3. Oh what a fantastic story. *sniffle, sniffle* *blows nose quite loudly* amazing, amazing story.

  4. Susanne Karlström8 May 2010 at 20:10

    what a lovely and sad story! Write a book - i´ll read it! Love stories like this! True love - that´s what we need to hear about! = )

  5. Lexie: That is one of the most moving true stories I have ever read. Mum was born in 1926 and Trea in 1953 and came from a very different, privileged, background. By the end of your amazing story we were both crying. Beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Hugs and kisses to you all. May your Grandparents Dance the Last Waltz throughout Eternity.

    Love Jazzy, Trea and Enid (Mum) XXXX

  6. What a beautiful story, Lexie and mom and what a beautiful couple! I wish that all endings could be wonderful as well, but that is sadly not always the case. Your mom really should write a novel about Jim and Betty. Love, Sweet
    Georgia Brown

  7. Oh Lexie *tries to see screen through wet eyes* that was an amazing story of absolute True Love! Thank you (and your Mum) for sharing that with us all. It's a very good reminder for us to cherish our loved ones and the time that we have with them.
    A book is definitely in order! I think that we're now losing all of the veterans from WWII, most unfortunately due to time that has passed, and so these sorts of stories need to be documented for future generations to read/experience.
    Another wave of tears (both joy & tugged heartstrings) are coming so I must bid you a good day!

    Love, hugs & lots of smooches,
    Bizbee >^..^<

  8. Oh Lexie. Such a story... My ma very passionate about all of this... her Ma was born in Guernsey CI and she was evacuated to England when she 5 years old. She went home to her Guernsey when she 11. Such poverty, hardship and loyalty to their country. We owe all of those who lived through the wars years sooo much. No one realises how much. They had BIG celebrations of Liberation Day today in Guernsey. My Ma is 1st girlie of her mother's line to be born off Guernsey since 1500s! I showed her your blog and she was so interested. She did have to get the hankies out though. Lots of gentle licks. AnnieBella

  9. I just did mean to say as well....this blog is so beautifully written..... Thank you! XXXX AnnieBella

  10. This is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

  11. What a story, Lexie! And give your Mum a hug from me!


  12. What a beautiful story and if that was not real love. It brought tears to my eyes.
    Big hug also for your mum Lexie

  13. Oh Lexie yes urs mom should rite a book bout her life,it is so interesting !It made my mom tear up again, but she said it is the most beautiful story! We do luv you an urs mom, an luv reading bout you all HUGS xxxx