Saturday, May 18, 2024

Wartime Romance

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Prose

Standing on the beach on the French coast at Dunkirk, dirty, hungry and totally exhausted, being alternately machine gunned by German aeroplanes and shelled by German Artillery, in that part of the war in 1940 when all seemed lost, I was completely unaware that I would soon meet someone who would prove to be the one great love of my life and would even now be my constant companion, friend, lover, wife.

Eventually being picked up by a boat, transferred to a Ship, then shipped back to England, there followed a few days of hanging about, waiting for the War Cabinet to decide what to do with an Army of mixed up, disorientated soldiers. Eventually orders were received to proceed to Wimbledon in South London, to be billeted in the large unoccupied houses on the south side of Wimbledon Common. There to rest, retrain and form part of the defence of London. This was to prove the most important posting of my Military career, which would change my life completely.

Marching down the High Street in Wimbledon on our way to our new quarters, people lined the pavements, smiling, waving, some were even crying for they knew that we were recently back from the hell of Dunkirk. Then I noticed the staff of a very high-class hairdressing salon,and there leaning out of the first floor window, waving and cheering was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, her enchanting face, encircled by the most gorgeous auburn curls. A Goddess right here in the High Street. I was captivated and knew that I just had to meet her. I resorted to hanging around the shop at closing time, even lunch times and whenever I had any free time, all to no avail. The enchanting creature seemed to have vanished.

Then one day on Guard Duty outside the large house, which was now my temporary home, I saw this vision riding her bicycle toward me, her beautiful hair outshining the sun and a contented smile brightening that beautiful face, she was obviously enjoying her ride.

At last after days of constant searching, here she was on a bicycle riding toward me. This was my chance; I must not fail, so I stepped out, held my hand up requesting she stop. She looked furious. How dare a member of the Military stop an innocent Civilian, peacefully enjoying a ride on a lovely sunny day. I thought I had completely blown my chance. Mumbling an apology, I made some excuse about thinking I knew her, but now realised my mistake as that other person did not have such personal beauty. In view of my mistake could I please make amends for my stupidity by taking her for Tea, Coffee, The Cinema, anything?. I was devastated when she snapped “Damn cheek” and rode off. Then she looked back and with that dazzling smile said “I’m free tomorrow, Leave the shop at one O’clock.” That was when Gwendoline, Kathleen, Gandy entered my life.

We met the next afternoon, had tea in a little cafe and arranged to meet that evening on the corner of the common where the main road met the long row of large imposing houses, each one surrounded by a tall brisk wall. All seemed to be going well, Hitler’s bombers were either late or not coming. With about ten minutes to our meeting time all hell broke loose, sirens wailed, sounds of heavy bombers droning overhead and a constant stream of anti-aircraft fire seemed to fill the sky. The shrapnel fell like rain.

As I walked toward our meeting place, I saw her walking toward me, head held high, never faltering, this was not just a beautiful Lady, she also possessed considerable courage. When we were about ten yards apart I heard that awful whistling sound of a falling object; experience told me it was not a bomb, but an unexploded anti-aircraft shell and just as dangerous. Wanting to shout a warning to get down and take cover, I just couldn’t; my voice had gone. All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind, what had I done? This Angel was in grave danger due to my negligence in not selecting a safe place to meet. Perhaps we were both due to meet our maker, how selfish can you get?

Then just as we met, the shell, for that is what it was, screamed down about ten or twelve feet above our heads, slammed down on the roadway in a shower of sparks, the ricocheted off across the common.

We sat on a wooden seat under a chestnut tree, ignoring falling shrapnel, and Hitler’s bombers, chatting away, getting to know each other, as though it was a most natural thing on one’s first date to be shelled by some far distant anti-aircraft gun.

I remember feeling very “Macho”, walking towards her that evening, ignoring all my instincts to dive for cover near that big garden wall. Years later I heard my wife, for of course we were madly in love, and married as soon as we were able, telling a friend about that first meeting, saying that she would have dived for cover, but that would have looked as though she were throwing herself at my feet on that very first meeting. She never ceases to surprise me.

Two years into our marriage my son, Richard was born, now he tells me that he is thinking of retiring. He like me, was lucky enough to marry a beautiful girl; They have three children, all grown up and making their own way in the world.

Those Auburn curls are greying now, but I still see that image of a young Goddess looking down from a first floor window, waving to me.

After all these years it seems as yesterday that we met, fell in love, married and raised a family. Yes we can say that some good things did happen during those dark days of World War 2.


2 Responses to “Wartime Romance”
  1. Hoard Reid says:

    Have just read ‘Wartime Romance’ for the ‘umpteenth’ time, and it still leaves me with eyes that have to be blinked. It was great meeting you today. (2nd Aug)

  2. Alan Parry-Booth says:

    Wonderfully recalled and beautifully expressed…….what memories. Thank you David.