My father Stanley Jeynes, was involved with three different regiments throughout the course of the war. He was born in 1919 and joined up in December 1939. He was only twenty years old at the time. He was initially put into the K.O.R.R. (The King’s Own Royal Regiment), which apparently was a mixture of several divisions – cobbled together. I’m sure at the start of the war – he was in the Warwickshire division. He served there until the end of 1941 – and thus survived Dunkirk in 1941 with this Division. He told me that they were one of the very last battalions to be rescued from the beaches. They could hear the guns of the Germans coming ever closer and indeed at one time they all felt that they would never see “Blighty” again. He said they sat on the beach singing the hymn “Abide with Me” – a hymn which he could never bear to sing after that. I could always see a reaction from him when it was sung in Church or on television. Eventually they were indeed rescued by one of the “little boats” called the “Mooltan,” and he always kept a tiny piece of paper with the name of the boat on it.
At the end of 1941, through to 1943 he was in the Royal Artillery and he seems to have served partly in France and Britain – he mentioned Norfolk, Hunstanton, as one base. He then was moved to the Lancashire Fusiliers at the end of 1943 and was with them until 1946, when he was finally demobbed. I’m not totally sure whether he was still in the Artillery when he came to Gilford or had just joined the Lancashire Regiment, but he was definitely in Ireland most of 1944.
He was also stationed at Ballycastle and he frequently mentioned a wealthy Italian family up there – well known in the area, called the Bertucelli family who owned several cafes. They were extremely kind to the troops and gave them free meals etc. He used to go back and visit them when I was a little girl.
During 1945, in Gilford, I think he was based at the Castle grounds, although he talked a lot about Elmfield too. It was where all the dances were and where my mother Annie first met him. Apparently the local boys were none too pleased at all to see the handsome soldiers arriving. It was some sort of “moonlight” dance – with no lights on, when he asked my mum to dance, and because he had a bit of a cough, she thought it was some old man and made the comment, “I think one more clean shirt will do you”. When the light went on and a dashing young sergeant appeared she was pretty gob-smacked. He came back to her and told her that his shirt was clean on that day and he wasn’t a dirty soldier, and from there the romance developed.
Three months later they were married on 20th January 1945. My mother wanted to be sure that he wasn’t already married, so she approached Dean Orr, minister of St Paul’s at the time and asked him to do a check for her. Needless to say her fears were unfounded and the wedding happily took place. Apparently it was snowing heavily on the big day and Dean Orr appeared in his Wellington boots at the church – but forgot to take them off – so my mum and Dad had the honour of being wed by a vicar in wellies. Sadly, soon afterwards my dad was shipped out to Egypt where he served until 1946.
As you know the old soldiers didn’t seem to talk much about their service, and mostly we only have anecdotes left. By all accounts the dances in Elmfield were the place to be at the time, and all the local girls went there in droves.
I know that quite a few local Gilford girls married soldiers. They helped each other out by saving their ration coupons for ingredients for the wedding cakes, material for dresses etc. – not to mention going down South in the train to smuggle back sugar etc. At one point my mother was actually taken into custody, complete with a brand new hat and swathes of cloth wrapped around under her dress, but I think she talked her way out of it all. The other big “venue” was of course the Picture House, which I think witnessed many romantic encounters, and of course the girls swooned over the Hollywood Stars.