Letters home

I’ve kept all my letters. They tell a story, story of my life really.

My name is Carrie and I was born in Docklow in 1922, that makes me 96, but I live at the Forbury now. I don’t mind it but I miss my bungalow. All my memories are there. But I have my letters. My dad was Thomas Gailey. We were very close. Nobody would know my dad now but you might his work. He was well known in Leominster because he used to make personalised oak coffins, my mum, Hannah, she made the silk linings. Bright red silk. Sometimes dad would ask me to lie in a coffin to help him measure them. They were so comfortable – and soft. He was really good with wood was my dad.

It wasn’t just coffins, there were the doors at Hamnish Church too. I suppose they’re still there. When I think about it I haven’t been to Hamnish since the day he put them up, that would have been the 30s.

At home in Docklow, we had a parlour where we used to listen to the wireless. I’ll never forget: Dad was sat in his armchair with his pipe and mum was pouring tea when we heard Chamberlain say war had started. Mum spilled the milk. I thought bombs would drop any minute. It was very frightening.

Everyone did their bit in those days and me and mum went and worked at Rotherwas munitions. We earned good money and met all sorts. I made great friends with some Irish girls and we wrote to each other for years after the war. One of them went and lived in New Zealand. Mum was one of those Canary girls and her hair and skin turned bright yellow from all the powder. {she worked in the filling shed}. We didn’t think anything of it at the time.

We were there at Rotherwas the day the bomb was dropped: I was on the early shift (we used to catch the bus from Leominster) well, we heard the German plane above us. One of the buildings was blown up by it –  ‘n one of the men, Mr Biggs, his head was blown off. We were all in a bit of shock but we had to carry on working.

Anyway, Mum got a bit ill with all the powder she was working with so we left and went to work for the Red Cross at Puddleston Court, looking after convalescing soldiers: French, German and English.

Oh, I loved working for the Red Cross and I made some great friends. I’ve got those letters somewhere, but since I moved into this home, all my things are back at my bungalow. I hope it hasn’t been chucked out.

Another job I had during the war, was working in a caravan behind the pub opposite the Talbot – in the Courtyard at the back there. We made hundreds of doughnuts to send out to the soldiers. They were very sweet – I got fed up of eating them in the end. I’ll tell you it was difficult during the war: but we had some fun too mind.  We used to go dancing with GIs. I’ve still got letters from one of them.

Joe Mockler – he was from Charlotte, Carolina. During the war, he was based at Baron’s Cross and he always wanted to be reminded of Leominster in our notes to him: What happened to the camp, did we still go to the Bowling Green, what about the Hamers who lived in Croft Street. He used to come to us Sunday lunch regularly. I’d never met anyone who ate cheese with apple pie. His mother once sent a honey cake because she was so grateful they were looking after him.

We lost so many Leominster boys in the war. I used to go dancing with Gilbert Daws, he was a sailor on HMS Exeter. He was quite sweet on me really. He used to write but then the letters stopped and we discovered he had been shot on the gun deck and died. There’s a memorial at Plymouth. I expect no one else around remembers old Gilbert now. But I do.

Anyway, I was lucky. On November 15th, 1941, I got married to my lovely Albert, another Leominster boy. His brother Walter also like me but I preferred Albert. We first met at a dance when I was only 14. He said to his brother: ‘I’m going to marry her!’ and five years later he did.

We married at Docklow Church and the reception was at mum & dad’s place. We had some cold hams, pickles and a few sandwiches. They had a large room so it fitted us all.

I’ve still got my wedding dress you know – it’s in the loft at the bungalow and I should think I could still fit in it. I didn’t even see it before it was bought. My dad found it in a shop in Leominster and got it. It was perfect and I loved it. Everyone said I looked lovely?’

I was lucky – Albert was one of those who came back. …He and his friend Jack Vale, were reported missing during the War, presumed dead. They reported it in the Leominster News. But they were kept hidden by a German couple.

He was so grateful to them – for the rest of his life, he never forgot them. Used to invite the German P.O.W.s  for Sunday lunch when he was back. He’d been shot by a sniper on the Belgium border and lost an arm. When I heard I took the train to St Albans and went to Hillend Hospital for wounded soldiers. I walked into his ward and the first thing he said was: “I don’t blame you if you leave me.”  Well, of course I didn’t and we married on November 15th, 1941. He became a postman in Leominster and was known as the “one-armed postman”, he didn’t mind.

He died in 1991. We were one day away from 50 years married and were going for a coach trip – a mystery tour – when he dropped dead at the bus station. Oh, it was terrible. But do you know, he’d said to me that morning, “Betty, you’ve been a good wife and a good mother”.  One day away from 50 years married we were.

Well, you have to carry on, don’t you? I’ve no complaints. I’m not one for complaining.

Perhaps after I’m gone someone will read my letters after I’m gone.

The story of my life.

Arts Council England Age UK

 

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