My grandparents’ wartime wedding
I love this photograph of my grandparents’ wedding, c1941. I loved them both – my nana, with her wicked sense of humour, always pleased to see me, and my grandad, solid, dependable and totally under my toddler-sized thumb. In this photo, Charlie is wearing his Royal Artillery uniform, having taken two days leave of duty to marry his sweetheart, Hilda.
I can’t remember how old I was when I learned that Grandad was a soldier during the second world war. It is like two different people: the young man called up and sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force and the man I knew, swinging his leg over his bike and calling “cheerio” on his way back to work, or sinking his top lip into his pint of beer at the working men’s club on a Saturday night.
Nana worked at Woolworths, and for the duration of the war, spent her evenings on a rota as a fire watcher on the roof of the Bedford store. She may have been old enough to watch for incendiary bombs and to marry her Charlie, but she still wasn’t allowed to see Glenn Miller’s band play at Bedford Corn Exchange. She remained with her parents until Grandad returned, after six years at war, his discharge papers noting “exemplary service”.
By the time this photograph was taken, Grandad had made it back from Dunkirk, unlike many of his comrades. Outgunned and forced to retreat, he had spent several days on the beach, waiting to be returned to Britain. He was in the water for hours with his fellow soldiers, enemy planes overhead, waiting for the boat that would take his unit to a frigate. He would have boarded, had another unit not taken priority. A German Stuka dropped its bomb straight down that boat’s funnel, obliterating all on board. Grandad had many near misses during his active service – but always believed that he would return home. I’m glad he did, or I wouldn’t be here – and I wouldn’t have known such a lovely man. I remember paddling in the sea with him when I was small, having been bribed with a £1 note by Nana. I was afraid, although I had no idea of the sorts of things that might have happened on beaches. We were both non-swimmers, but Grandad’s was the only hand I felt safe holding.
When I look at this photograph, I am so proud of them – of their resilience and determination. I am particularly amazed at the experiences apparently filed away in the mind of this quiet man, and grateful for the happy memories he gave me. I wish they were still here, so I could tell them how much I appreciated them, and discover more about their lives together. Tracey Kitchen
Snapshot ... Tracey Kitchen’s grandparents’ wedding, c1941