A story of love by correspondence, letters travelling and love blossoming between Germany and Barrow during the war.
Irene arrived with a card in her hand from Queen Elizabeth – a congratulations card for 60 years of marriage. Today is her wedding anniversary.
Irene was born in 1929; she’s 85. She was delighted to have the chance to talk. Here is some of what she shared:
“Date of birth, oh dear, second of March, 1929. I can’t believe it really.
You know what did it? We were brought up in the war. We were war children, and that diet during the war didn’t do you any harm at all. I told that to Dr Barton this last week and he says, I think you’re right. We only had the basics. My father had an allotment and we lived with the seasons. We didn’t have a lot of money. We got our ration of half a pound of stewing meat a week, and it fed four of us. Vegetables. And that’s how we lived.
When you look back – I mean that was seven years – it didn’t do us any harm. My mother had a struggle, I mean I was about 9 or 10 when the war started so I wasn’t aware of it, but by the time it finished, I knew the struggle that she’d had.
Between the ages of 15 and 25, Oh, I had a ball, I had a ball. I left school at 16 and it was just at the end of the war, and everything was coming together and people were coming back from the forces, back to their jobs.
I was at the girls grammar school and I got a job at the railway offices, St George’s Square, 16 I was. I was a tracer in the engineer’s drawing office. I was the only girl. Our boss was district engineer for the whole area, and the chief draftsman was a Quaker, and he taught me to use my mind, and my memory. And I’ll always be grateful to him. He was a wonderful man – Roy Vivien Hughes.
He said to the men before I arrived – I mean I found this out afterwards – they told me had said, ‘We’re getting a young girl, straight from school, I want no swearing and no dirty jokes.’ Quite honestly when I first started if one of them spoke to me I nearly fell off my stool with embarrassment, I just wasn’t used to it you see. But they were very good, they were smashing fellas.
The man I married, He’d worked on the railway and I knew him from there – of course we knew each other from the dances anyway. We’d be dancing at the Public Hall, and the Rink. But when we started going out he was doing his National Service.
We did our courting by correspondence. He was sent to Germany for six months. We used to write every day. And it would take a day for the letter to arrive.
Every day! I used to have to come down from Beacon Hill on the bus to post the letter at the General we used to call it then, on Abbey Road, to make sure I got the post. And if I hadn’t got the post, I got a nasty letter from him the next time you see … that I’d forgotten!’
Had you had your first kiss by the time he went away?
‘Oh yes, yes, all of that. But I’d been out with one or two different boys. So I say, by the time you’ve had your choice and you’ve had your pick, you know the type of boy that you really go for you see. And, so, that was it.
Did it feel different with him?
‘Yes, it was … I don’t know, you just got a feeling, that was it. We must have been going out together, writing to one another, about three months. I think we’d had a week’s leave, and that was it. You just seemed to know.
What was it like when he came back from National Service?
‘Oh, wonderful. They let him home at Christmas. I didn’t know he was coming home. He’d got an engagement ring for me. To get through the customs, he put it on his belt, on the buckles. He was in the RAF and he had a belt with two prongs it you see, and the ring was over these prongs. Then he asked me mum and dad, no he didn’t, he didn’t ask my dad, asked my mum …
Before he asked you?
Oh no, we’d already said that we were getting married, but he asked permission.
My mum said to me dad, she said, ‘He asked me if Irene could!’ ‘Well,’ my dad said, ‘he probably knew that you ran everything in the house!’