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
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
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.