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A posthumous celebration of 67 years together

Oct. 12, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Tomorrow is Saturday, Oct. 13. It is just another day to most people, only special because it is a Saturday, and many of us don't have to go to work.

To my British family it is a significant day however because it would have been my Mom and Dad's 67th wedding anniversary. Sadly, neither of them are still with us, but both my brother and I will be taking a moment on that day to say thank you for our very existence.

Theirs was a romance that seemed destined to happen from the very beginning. When they met, my dad was just 17, my mom 14 months younger. It was the fall of 1940 and Britain had been at war with Germany for almost a year. Western Europe had been over run, Britain stood alone and enemy bombers flew over almost every night.

Dad was what was called a "fire watcher." Immediately after each air raid he and a friend would go out, armed only with a bucket of sand and a small hand pump to look for the flickering flames that betrayed where enemy incendiary bombs had fallen. During the day he worked bundling scrap metal, a job he had done since his dad, my grandfather, died when he was 13. In those days, children in Britain usually finished school at age 14, so my mom was also already working in a small store.

One night my Mom and her friend, Marie, found themselves in a public air raid shelter during a particularly heavy air raid. Two boys came in, looking good with their gas mask cases and steel helmets bearing the letters ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Even in wartime teenagers will be teenagers. The four of them were the only youngsters in the shelter and they soon got talking. One thing led to another and inevitably they agreed to go on a double date.

Strange as it may seem my dad was paired off with Marie and my Mom with Ronny, my dad's best friend. This arrangement lasted for just one date and the next time they went out, Mom and Dad went together.

They dated between air raids for several months and then my Dad fell out with his step father, walked into an army recruiting office, lied about his age and signed up for the army for 12 years. Within a few months he was a gunner in the Royal Artillery (156 Field battery, Lanarkshire Yeomanry) and he was on a troop ship on his way to North Africa. He had seen Mom just half a dozen times since joining the forces and they were not destined to see each other again for another four years.

They wrote, of course, but mail was intermittent at best as my Dad's unit fought their way through 11 countries and he had two near misses, one in Egypt and another on Anzio Beach in Italy. Mom joined the Land Army, an organization that used women to take farm jobs to free up men to fight. She did not like it and moved back to the city to make parts for fighter aircraft.

Unfortunately, none of their letters have survived, which is a great pity. My Dad was not really a scholar, having left school at 13, and he disliked writing but he must have had some talent in expressing his feelings because two months after the war in Europe ended he came home on leave for the first time in four years. My mom was waiting for him at the railroad station and by the time he went back to his unit, they were engaged.

His next leave was in October and on the 13th of that month, another Saturday, they married in my mom's parish church. It was not a very elaborate affair, most of my Dad's friends were still in uniform and were scattered across Europe. Neither Ronny nor Marie, the couple who were with them when they met, were there. Marie died of TB during the war and Ronny's remains are in a war cemetery near Monte Cassino in Italy.

Mom's dress was made from parachute silk, Dad wore his uniform and, since many foodstuffs had been rationed since early in the war, the meal at the wedding reception relied heavily on family and friends' generosity. It was not the way they would have wanted it, but at least they were together at last and they stayed happily together for almost 60 years.

As I said, my brother and I are grateful that they were our parents. Tomorrow he will be visiting a cemetery in south Birmingham and there he will place flowers where they now lie together for eternity. The card will just read "Thank you."

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.

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