Wednesday, November 3, 2010

27 Till Death us do Part

 Among my many character faults is that of impetuosity. If I have a notion to do something, nothing will dissuade me. Not only impetuous, but stubborn with it, and some of my notions have been pretty wild, impractical and, seemingly, impossible. In the years to come Tom, the cool, calm unemotional one would say, “If your gut feeling tells you it is the right thing to do, then do it”, and later you will hear how ridiculous some of those ‘gut feelings’ were. Tom did not like the idea of getting married without my father’s consent, but I had been fending for myself for over three years and did not feel he had the right to decide what I could or could not do. And anyway, Tom was due to be posted to Rhodesia very soon, and I wanted us to be married before that.

My sister Jane was demobbed from the army, Tony had left the Fleet Air Arm, and they were to be married in Bury St. Edmonds in August 1946. I took a few of days leave with a railway warrant and travelled up there to be with her. Jane’s father-in-law, a darling man, owned Bulling’s Haberdashery shop, in the High Street in Bury St. Edmonds, a very old fashioned shop with corsets and stockings in the window. Mr. and Mrs. Bulling lived in a large flat above the shop, and Jane and Tony were to live in a tiny flat above that. It was a nice enough wedding, but all the guests were Bulling family and friends - Mrs. B. was a Councillor and a Magistrate. Jane was married from her in-laws house and neither mother nor I were allowed to help her dress. She wore a borrowed satin wedding dress and carried a large bouquet of beautiful shaggy, golden chrysanthemums, and young Maureen was the bridesmaid. Now that the war was over, Tony was expected to work in the family business but, after three years in the Fleet Air Arm, he did not want to spend his life in haberdashery under the watchful eyes of his mother. Another dragon lady.

By the time I arrived back at camp Tom had agreed to our getting married. It was a very foolish thing to do, but I was so much in love I could not think straight. I bought myself a utility wedding ring for thirty two shillings and made arrangements with the registrar’s office in Saffron Walden. I was twenty and Tom twenty two. Two babes in the woods without a penny between us and no idea of what we were getting into. I wrote to my dear Miss Sweet, now Mrs. Huggett, and she invited us to spend our honeymoon at her house in Kettering.

We were married on 8th October 1946. My wedding outfit was a thin blue linen two piece suite, made at the Educational and Vocational Training Classes (thanks to Barbara Cartland), a pair of borrowed black high healed shoes, that had to be returned to the owner after the ceremony and were a size too small, a borrowed little black hat and a single chrysanthemum wrapped in silver paper for my button hole, which cost me four pence. The sister of a friend lent me a peach coloured, silky nightdress on condition that I take it off as soon as I got into bed! We were given a cheque for thirty shillings by the camp adjutant, four wooden egg cups on a stand from a dear little WAAF whose name I forget and glass jug and six half pint tumblers from the members of the Sergeants Mess. Tom had recently been promoted to Sergeant. The Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Jones, was to give me away.

On the evening of 7th October, I was in the laundry ironing Tom’s uniform, so that he would look reasonably respectable for the wedding, when I got a summons that the C.O. wanted to see me. I went outside and there he was in his official car, with Tom and the Station Warrant Officer, ready to take us all racing round the airfield to shoot rabbits. I quickly ran back inside to turn off the iron, put on my great coat and we were off. I was in the back of the car with Tom, having a kiss and a cuddle, the Station Warrant Officer was standing up with his head through the sun roof while the Group Captain drove like a lunatic round the airfield trying to keep the rabbits in his headlights while the Warrant Officer took aim and fired. Every so often the car would stop; the back door open and a dead rabbit would be thrown in to keep us company. Unlike the peacetime Senior Officers, the war time chaps like Jonah were all a bit mad, but why he should choose to take us on a rabbit shooting expedition I cannot imagine. Some bachelor night!

The following morning found me sitting on my bed in the billet, dressed in my blue suit, reading a book by Marie Stopes who was the pioneer of birth control methods for women. The too small shoes were already hurting me and I was cold. In my suitcase I had packed the nightdress, a change of underwear, my uniform and lace up shoes. Some trousseau! I had arranged lunch for six at the local inn at two shillings and sixpence a head.

The Wing Commander and his driver picked me up and we drove towards Saffron Walden, but on the way the Wing Commander told the driver to stop at a pub. I said I did not need a drink, I don’t drink anyway, but he said well, he did, so in we went and I wondered if we would be late. Meanwhile Tom was also imbibing in a pub somewhere with his best man, who did not like me and said the marriage would not last. We finally arrived at the Registrar’s office where Tom was waiting, white as a sheet and smelling strongly of rum. I handed him the ring. There never was a more reluctant, terrified bridegroom.

After the ceremony we moved to the Inn and a girl who had not been invited, Joan something tagged along as well. So there we all were, sitting down to lunch while I searched my purse under the table to see if I could possibly find the extra two shillings and sixpence for her lunch. After lunch, and before we left for the railway station, I took off the black shoes and gave them to the nice girl who had given us the wooden egg cups, to take back to the girl who had lent them to me. It was a relief to put my black lace ups back on, even if they didn’t go with the pale blue linen suit. I was cold, and in the station waiting room I went into the ladies and changed back into uniform so that I could wear my nice warm great coat. The wedding was not an auspicious occasion and there were no photographs, nobody had a camera.

We arrived at Kettering, found Mrs. Huggett's house and were welcomed. The wedding night should not be dwelt upon. Actually, being in a very narrow bed together, rather than having a fumble behind a haystack, was awesome. I took off the night dress as instructed and my darling Tom was quite overawed, not at the sight of my beautiful body, because it was under the covers, but more at the thought of what was expected of him. Since I didn’t know what he expected of me either it was all a bit nerve racking.

Kettering was cold in October and we were hungry. We had given Bertha (ah! I have remembered her Christian name) the food coupons we were issued with when we went on leave, and so we walked into Kettering looking for a baker who might have some of yesterday’s buns off the ration. We then smuggled these up to our bedroom and ate them in secret. We were in for a surprise on our return to camp because the draft for Rhodesia had been brought forward and had gone without Tom. He did not go to Rhodesia for another twenty plus years, by which time it was Zimbabwe. But I digress. I went back to my WAAF hut with all the other girls and Tom went back to his room in the Sergeants’ Mess. A few weeks later I thought I had better tell my parents that I was now Mrs.Winter. Two weeks later Tom, who was still i/c Central Registry, called me over and showed me a letter addressed to the Commanding Officer from my father berating him for allowing one of his underage WAAFs to get married without parental consent. It was a very angry letter and, because no one had pointed out to Jonah that I was underage, we did not know how he would take this attack, but the letter could not be withheld. A couple of hours later I was summoned to the Commanding Officer’s office, and there he sat, letter in hand. “I’ve just had a letter from your father.” He said. “Oh! Have you sir?” I replied, as if I did not already know. “Yes. Take a letter.” So he dictated a letter extolling all Tom’s virtues, I typed it, he signed it and Tom posted it. After a couple more letters to and fro, Jonah invited father to visit him in the mess and they would have a drink together. I thanked my lucky stars that the invitation was never taken up.

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