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As Time Goes By: Love Blossoms

Love bloomed while the war continued on its bitter and bloody way. Eileen Perrin tells how she started to go out again with Les, the boy she had met while working in her first job at Odhams Press in London.

“One Saturday evening we went to St.Stephen’s church to hear his cousin Ron Perrin, an organ scholar at Oxford, playing a programme of classical music including Handel’s Messiah. Ron later became Choir Master and organist at Ripon Cathedral.’’

To read earlier chapters of Eileen’s engrossing autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/as_time_goes_by/

I recall a girl at the P.L.A. named Violet Bullimore whose brother was in the R.A.F. in India. She insisted he would like to write to me. In his letter he said that his sister had told him all about me, and in a short space of time he wanted to send me an engagement ring. My parents and I could not believe it: he had not been in touch very long, and had never met me. I don’t remember how that ended.

I renewed my relationship with Les Perrin, the boy I had met at my first job in Henrietta Street with Odhams Press, and got to know as a friend at Hazelwood. John Petrie was transferred from London and I lost touch with him forever.

I went over to Les’s home in Palmers Green where I met his parents and young sister Lorna. His mother was a good cook, but I did have to learn to eat Brussel sprouts which until then I had always avoided.
One Saturday evening we went to St.Stephen’s church to hear his cousin Ron Perrin, an organ scholar at Oxford, playing a programme of classical music including Handel’s Messiah. Ron later became Choir Master and organist at Ripon Cathedral.

We went to London’s West End to see Noel Coward’s play ‘This Happy Breed’. Before that I had enjoyed Coward as leading man in his play ‘Blithe Spirit’, with Margaret Rutherford as the psychic medium Madame Arcarti. While Noel in 1944 was with E.N.S.A. - Entertainments National Services Association- out in North Africa entertaining the troops, it was made into a film with Rex Harrison.

ENSA’s H.Q. was in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It started as a project of the NAAFI - the Navy, Army and Air Force Institution, which started in WW1. The NAAFI ran mobile canteens, games rooms, shops at Forces depots, and aboard R.N. ships and their motor launches serviced ships afloat in harbour. On the aircraft carrier Les bought duty free cigarettes from the Naafi, but when he was on loan to the R.A.F. there was no duty free, neither was the rum tot issued, as it had been on board.

With all that was going on at the War Front I did not see much of Les. From the end of 1943 he was stationed in Eglington, Northern Ireland with the R.N.A.S. until March 1944. He told me the airfield adjoined an American Army camp, where always they were invited to go for breakfasts of ham and eggs with the friendly Yanks. Then Les transferred on loan to the R.A.F. at Fairford, Gloucestershire for a month, working on gliders. Then on to an R.A.F. airfield at Keevil, Wiltshire until December, from where the D day preparations were being made.

I am able to write now with details of places and what occurred, because I can look it all up, but during the war we knew hardly anything of what was happening far afield let alone in our own country, so strongly did everyone adhere to the government poster’s warning that ‘Careless talk costs lives’, and there was not very much on the news.

Sicily had been invaded in July 1943. In January 1944 our troops landed on the beaches of Anzio in Italy, and in that same month started the most horrific battle, which has been compared with the blood bath of Passchendaele in World War 1, when an attempt was made to capture the monastery on the summit of the steep mountainside of Monte Cassino in Italy. Not only British and American forces were employed but also Canadians, Poles, Indians, Gurkhas and French from North Africa, and as many as a quarter of a million lives were lost in the four months it took to succeed.

In June 1944 the first of the V1 ‘flying bombs’ - nick-named ‘doodle-bugs’ started coming over the south coast. Anti-aircraft gun batteries and the R.A.F. tried to shoot them down. The V1’s caused over 5000 deaths.

A second wave of evacuees were sent out of London, following the 180,000 who had already been sent to safety.

For a few days in 1944, Joan, the sister of Jack Irish, came up to stay with us in Queensbury so that she could get to the Maudsley hospital in London to see Paul, her new husband who had been invalided home from France, recovering from shell shock. One day when I was at work and Mum was out shopping, they came back from London and with no one home to answer the door, he had climbed through a window to get inside which did not please Mum when she found out.

That summer all over the country leave for the services had been stopped and many such as those working on airfields were confined to their station. This included Les at Keevil. Planes from his airfield transported men and women of the Special Operations over to France to spy out the land. The culmination of the plan for an Allied invasion of Normandy was put into action on D day - June 6th, and at Keevil 24 Stirlings were ready to load parachutists and Horsa gliders were loaded with other troops. Pilots returning to base reported that they had never seen so many ships of the Fleet all nose-to-tail along the Channel pounding the French coast in a mighty barrage.

Many of the trials, testing and training for D day’s Operation Overlord with the Mulberry harbours, had taken place on the west coast of Scotland in the Solway Firth.

All along the river Clyde and in small creeks and waterways around England, such as the river Beaulieu in Sussex, backwaters of Essex, Shoeburyness, Oulton Broad near Lowestoft, and along the Thames, building contractors such as Taylor Woodrow, Costain, McAlpine, Mowlem, Balfour Beatty and Cubitts were engaged to build the components for the floating Mulberry harbours which would be used to land troops, vehicles and supplies in France.

There were specially designed pontoons and roll-up bridges, and in dry docks all round the country hollow concrete caissons were constructed.

Ships deemed unfit for further use were assembled and towed to the beaches of France and there were sunk to become breakwaters.

In early June roads around Southsea were packed with tanks and vehicles loaded with soldiers to take part in the D day landings. All the components were floated round to the south coast, to gather at Dungeness in Kent and off Selsey Bill in Sussex. Although delayed for a day by bad weather, tugs then proceeded to tow the harbour and barges loaded with troops across the Channel to the Normandy beaches. The average safe speed of these 1000 vessels carrying 156,000 men was 5 m.p.h. Each caisson was manned by gunners with an anti-aircraft gun. The two Mulberry harbours, each as large as Dover harbour, were Harbour A, at Gold Beach at Arromanches to land the British troops, which became known as Port Winston, and Harbour B destined for American forces at Omaha beach which was badly damaged by stormy weather. U.S. troops went ashore in landing barges with a high loss of life.

Today many relics brought up from the sea are on display in Arromanches and other French towns and villages all along the coast, as memorials to the memory of those who gave their lives in the D day landings in June 1944.


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