My Grandad’s story

This is the story of how boy meets girl in 1945.

I do not own this photo

I am now 83 years old. In fact, on October the 24th last was my birthday. This calculates that – you can calculate – ‘e was therefore born in 1926. I am English, and when I was 18, which was 1944, I was obliged by law to be conscripted for the Army because World War II was then in its closing stages. However, I was conscripted on December the 7th – which meant a short sharp shock for that particular Christmas, because my first Christmas in the Army I was full of injections, I was confined to bed for 3 days, and my Army records show that I failed an agility test, I failed an endurance test, and I failed a mobility test. This was because I was lied out flat with two armfuls of a collection of vaccinations and the ill-effects thereof. I still have this record book which is a bit tattered now, but when one looks back over the time you only remember the good things, the jolly things, the amusing incidents. You don’t remember the hard times, the bad times, such as learning how to fire this new rifle that you’re given in two foot of snow on a rifle range going *cough cough cough* when you’re supposed to keep a steady ‘ead. Looking back now, it was an impossible situation.

However, the war ended in 1945, and there was two stages of ending the war. The first was VE day, standing for victory in Europe, and I was on duty for that particular occasion as a skeleton staff. Bit of a joke this, as I by this time weighed 14 stone, no one could really say I was skeleton staff. When VJ day come along in August 1945, I was top priority to have weekend leave, because of being on duty and not having weekend leave to celebrate VE day. You’ve probably seen old news reels where people are dancing in the street and cetera and so forth.

I came home for the weekend. Ironically – 1…2…3 – 4 houses down the road from where I lived, there was a fellow same age as me, who we were at school together and we lived four doors apart, and he was in the same situation. He had came home for the weekend as well. Doug, his name was.

“Hello, Doug. Weekend off then?”

“Yeah, where shall we go? Shall we go down town?”

I said “Could do.” Town being Bristol, by the way.

And he said… Oh, incidentally, you had no civilian clothes. They were gone with the mixer by this time, so you went down in uniform – and, of course, at that time, anybody in uniform was treated to free beer, this, that and the other. Oh, yes. Thems the days. Not that we had very much money anyhow. By that time, I was on less than £1 a week, but, mind, it was all clothing, all food at £1 a week. They did stop fourpence a week for damages if you lost anything etcetera.

He said “I tell you what.” He said “Instead of going down town, why don’t we go to the street party down the road?”

Now, down the road meant – on a housing estate where I lived, it was like the American block pattern – and this road was the road we both lived, and the one parallel to it… the street party was on the joining road between the two. The horizontal, let’s call it, between two vertical lines as you look down on a map. And we decided that is what we would do. So, down we went, and gate crashed the street party. Much to everybody’s enjoyment.

Now, I can tell you how I met my wife. It was at the street party, of course, but it wasn’t a simple meeting. It was rather amusing actually.

A certain house was wheeling out a radiogram. Now, you might not know what a radiogram is. In the 40s, a radiogram was the equivalent of your stereo speakers and turntable these days, but it was all combined in a cabinet. They wheeled this radiogram out onto the pavement, and, of course, had to get a supply of electricity to run the motor and play records. Records being 12 inches, at least in those days, the singles. LPs hadn’t been invented. It was only single tracks, if they were larger ones for classical pieces. They brought out an extension lead, and this extension lead had to be plugged into a street lamp. The street lamps weren’t like you see today – the concrete street lamps with the fluorescent tubes. They were a simple cast iron lamppost, approximately 10 foot, 12 foot high, with a cross-member – like a, almost like a mini gallows. The idea on that is that they literally could put a ladder uponto the crossbar to do any repairs and that. It was only like an ordinary household globe. I think they were 150 watts really, or 100s at least, but it was only a simple plug-in like you might have in your front room and that. They were looking for somebody to take the lead up and plug it into the street lamp. So, being, in them days, young and agile, I took hold of this lead, put it in me mouth, climbed the lamppost monkey fashion, grasped the cross-bar, undid the bulb which was only an ordinary bayonet socket. I looked down, and there were two girls, and I said “Catch this globe, darlin’!”, threw it down, and one of the girls caught the bulb. Actually, I didn’t call out like that because I had the cable in my teeth! “Catch this buuuh gaaah rrruh!”

Came down, went over to her, and I can truthfully give you the actual words I used.

I said “Oh, you caught that well. You’re not just a pretty face, are you?”

Chat line!

And, I said to her “Well, when they put record on, would you like to dance?” So, that was the edge in. And again I can tell you accurately the record that was put on – which was Tommy Dorsey who was a current band leader at the time, an American band leader at the time who played trombone. The particular record was Getting Sentimental Over You, which today you’d call a smooch number. We had a smooch around, exchanged names and I said, after the end of the evening… Oh by the way, Doug stuck with the other girl.

And, eventually, the end of the story is that we’re still together. It took 3 years before I was able to get out of the army, after the war had finished. I got out in 1948, we married in 1949, so, as it is now 2009, we have been married 60 years on 23rd of April. Still together, and I still think ‘er not just a pretty face.

I’ll have to go back through the pages of history again.

This is just an emotional moment because, to be married 60 years and then to go back to your wedding day, all sorts of little incidents come to mind.

The main thing that I’d like to tell you about is that I was an only child, because my parents’ married life was marred by a sister I would have had elder than me that was stillborn, and if that wasn’t a shock enough for them I was born just two years afterwards, and then, when I was 7 on October the 24th, I woke up to be told I had a brother who was born on 25th of October. Then when I was 8, I was farmed off on my grandmother because my brother had died on his birthday just one year old – which is something that I could have… It was bad enough being 7 year old, but the agony my parents must have gone through farming me off overnight then have to tell me the next day that my little brother was gone.

Anyhow, I’ve lost track of the wedding day now, but the reason to punctuate this story with that incident was because, had I had a brother, he would have been my best man. So, I searched me conscience about my existing cousins who – all of them – would have been my best man had I asked them. But I chose to have a fellow who I had served with in the Army for three and a bit years, who was a Londoner. We were reunited friendship-wise after three and a half years. He came down from London for the weekend to be my best man. So, that’s one story about the wedding.

My wife did have a white wedding, but, being post-war, one had to use the materials that were available at the time. At the time, there was government excess on lots and lots of equipment. So, we bought a parachute – a white silk parachute. So, her wedding dress was made out of a parachute. Luckily, my mother-in-law-to-be had a collection of beads, trinkets and things that she embroidered into this wedding dress – which was to my wife’s view was very attractive. We still have that, and on one occasion we lent it to our granddaughter when she was old enough and big enough to fit that particular size. So, that dress is now 60 years old, but we still have it. It’s wrapped in tissue paper in a box in a wardrobe… On a shelf at the top of the wardrobe. Every now and again, it gets looked at. She can no longer get in it; it’s a bit too small a size.

We’re still so much in love as we were then. I am finding this quite emotional because, as I said, I am now 83. She is 82. It is our twilight years, but we’re enjoying them.

That’s when he had me turn off the voice recorder because he was tearing up.


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