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A Spitfire Pilot Remembers: Hilde Arrives

Sitting outside in the car, I asked her to marry me. She grunted in reply, and I have always said that she never said "Yes''... Spitfire pilot John M Davis meets and marries Hilde.

In the summer of 1947 an old family friend, Linda Ritson, invited me down to the family seaside cottage on the south coast for a weekend with two others whom I did not know. Linda was a beautiful girl. The four of us arrived by train from London after work (no cars for youngsters in those days). We all had a happy weekend, chatting, eating and walking, midnight swimming in the sea and bridge.

One of the party was a very quiet girl, Hilde Meyer. It was evident that the pairing was intended to be Linda and me and Hilde and Arthur. Hilde and I returned to London on the same train on Sunday evening and enjoyed a light meal together in one of the Lyons Corner Houses.

We did not meet again for about six months, when we bumped into one another at a Berkeley Street charity event. There was obviously a mutual attraction, and I invited her to join me to watch Carmen Armaya, the Spanish Gypsy Dancer, who was in London.

Realising that some sort of chaperoning company would be proper, I invited a mutual friend, Donald Salinger, to join us with partner. That would be regarded as stuffy, old-fashioned behaviour today.

After that we met regularly, and she joined us at home on a number of occasions. I even met her sister Lore and husband Jack who were over from New York on holiday.

Then on Friday night, 10th December of that year Hilda had supper with us. Later I borrowed the family car to take her home to her flat in Greencroft Gardens. Sitting outside in the car, I asked her to marry me. She grunted in reply, and I have always said that she never said, “Yes.”

After leaving her at her family flat I set off for home in the car. I doubt if it had ever suffered the shock of being the site of a marriage request. After 100 yards the car spluttered to a halt. Out of petrol. Since I had no petrol coupons on me, I parked the car and walked home.

Next morning I had to break the news of an abandoned car and an engagement. Both were a grave shock to my parents. The engagement was the greater shock - particularly to my father who still found it hard to accept German-born family and friends. However it did not take them long to love their new daughter. Similarly I took to Hilde’s mother, Else, a beautiful woman. Her brother Charles and I also hit it off together.

An engagement ring was bought, and we decided to make New Year’s Eve the official engagement date. On that evening we were invited to the Wembley Park home of old friends of Hilde, Anne and Theo Marx. At midnight I took Hilde up to their bedroom and slipped the ring on her finger on their bed. A unique New Year’s Eve!

Business activities and travelling still took up much of my time, but we planned a wedding in Berkeley Street for 29th April 1948. With the help of friends we found a lovely second floor flat in Lyndhurst Gardens, Hampstead, that had a wonderful view over London.

Her brother Charles gave her away, and my brother Victor was my best man. What a day it was. She was/is a lovely person who attracted me. I felt (and still do) that we could share our lives together.

Tennis, bridge and country walking were but some of our joint interests. I always told her that my real reason for asking her to marry me was the fact that I hoped she would mature in the same way as had her mother. Also that I wanted the oil painting of Marigolds that hung in her room, and the only way to get it was through marriage.

My grandmother, Diamond Pinto, asked me for a confidential chat and said that Hilde was a couple of inches taller than me and that I needed a pair of rubber heel supports for the wedding. These she gave me, and I wore them on the big day. Since then I have shrunk by at least two more inches, but there is nothing I can do about it.

My cousin Lynford Davis, some five years older than me and twice married, gave me some advice on the honeymoon. He was also in the dental business, so we met most days. As a result Hilde and I ended up in the Savoy on the first night. At that time one needed evening dress to eat in the dining room. Since we did not have it, we had to dine in our bedroom.

The next morning we trained down to Tregenna Castle in Cornwall, which in the month of April was filled with elderly ladies. Thus we felt a little different and also that we were being watched. One day on the beach Hilde picked up a bottle and threw it out to sea. I was behind her, but for some reason kept my eye on her. The bottle flew backwards, straight at my head. I ducked and it missed me. Her first attempt on my life!

We then moved on to the Tors Hotel in Lynmouth, Devon. After a wonderful time we returned to London and our delightful little flat that the two mothers had been cleaning up for us. Then to work for both of us.

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