I’m beginning to see connections in this project.
I was reminded of this chatting to K. She veers between worry and anxiety, then impishness. With a smile, she slaps me gently on the bottom or prods me with her walking stick, urging me to go on. She’s a delight. She is physically well and walks with just the aid of a walking stick. Not just any old walking stick. It was once, K tells me, part of a parasol, and I can how. It’s striking and delicately carved and one can see where the parasol apparatus has been removed. Her husband made it from fallen wood in Dinmore Hill.
K, like all the women here, is beautifully dressed, always with a necklace and nails painted. I love the staff for bothering with these important touches. One of her necklaces is made from seeds and I asked her about it.
‘My husband made it. He collected the seeds while we were walking from Dinmore Hill.”
There is still a trace of a Welsh accent, from a childhood in Ebbw Vale. 35 years before the Aberfan disaster on October 21st, 1966, K describes slack slipping, menacingly, down the mountain up the valley in Ebbw Vale.
The groaning steel works dominated the landscape then. Most occupations inside the steel works were considered reserved trades, and so could opt out of the compulsory call-up for World War II military service. Women stepped in to keep the production line moving. The plant drew attention from Nazi Luftwaffe bombers on more than one occasion, however the deep valley proved difficult to bomb and the plant survived.
Did K work at the works during WWII? We don’t know. But she did dance with an American soldier and she delights in telling me, several times over.
K said: ‘This American soldier, at a dance, was teaching her a new step. And he threw me over his shoulder, like this.’
Maybe K was in Leominster during the War. The town was heaving with American forces, arriving in their thousands, awaiting D-day. Amongst the units based in Leominster were the 5th Ranger Division and 90th Infantry Division, both of which played a major part in the D-Day landings. Other units such as the 7th Armoured Division and the 736th Field Artillery Battalion were to spend time in Leominster while awaiting relocation to the Continent.
A huge number were based just outside Leominster, at Barons Cross, while many others were billeted across the town, including, we have discovered, the Forbury.
These glamourous soldiers, offering ‘gum, chocolate and smelling nice’, entranced the town. Maybe it was one of these K danced with in Leominster.
We might never know, but I like to imagine the connection. Perfect symmetry.