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Chivenor 1949

A Memory of Barnstaple

I was 19 years old, in the R.A.F. at Chivenor from October, 1948 to June, 1949 and was at the dance-hall in Barnstaple one of those nights in April, 1949. Across the room was the loveliest girl I had ever seen, brown wavy hair to her shoulders, etc., for me,it was love at first sight.
I walked across and said "Excuse me, Miss, would you like to dance?"- to my great joy she did just that, and as we danced for that very first time, I knew that I had met the girl of my dreams. When the dance ended I asked if I could sit with her, and we exchanged names, etc. She was Shirley Ann Douglas who lived with her father and 6-year-old sister in Chestwood House, Hammetts Lane, Bishop's Tawton, about three miles from Barnstaple. Her father was an Army Captain based at Fremington, and brought Shirley to the dance-hall in his car and met her again at 10 p.m. to take her home, while I got the bus to Chivenor.
After we had met a few times, and had regular talks on the 'phone from the call box on the base, Shirley said she had asked her father to let me stay at Chestwood House after the Saturday dance and he would take me back to Chivenor after lunch on Sunday.
I was very nervous the first time I went back with them, and Shirley showed me to the bedroom, which was next to hers, her father was in the next room, her little sister had a room across the landing. There was no inter-action in the nights between rooms, although by now we were making plans for a life together when I had completed my service with th R.A.F.
A few weeks later I told Shirley that I was being posted to RAF Changi in Singapore, this was changed after a few days to a posting to RAF Gatow in West Berlin, where I did my bit in the Berlin Airlift servicing the radio equipment in the British and American aircraft ferrying supplies of food, fuel and many other things for the West Berliners - the Russians had closed the canals, roads and rail access in an attempt to force the people of West Berlin to accept communist rule - hence the Airlift.
Shirley and I exchanged many letters while I was in Berlin, then in the early part of November after the close of the airlift on 21st October, 1949 I was posted to 1101 Marine Craft Unit in Fowey, Cornwall and was de-mobbed on 1st February, 1950, the day after I reached my 20th birthday.
Going back to my home in Ferndale, in the Rhondda Valley, with a job in a radio factory, I wrote a letter to Shirley, who was now with an aunt at Number One, High Street in Lutterworth, Leics. to tell her that I had nothing to offer for a future together, and she would be better off meeting someone who could give her the life she deserved, it broke my heart to send that letter, and in her reply to me were words I have never forgotten - "I would cut off my arm for the right to call you mine", and that my letter had broken her heart.
Some years later, I contacted Leicester Records Office and found a record of a Marriage between Shirley Ann D .B. Douglas and John E. S. V. Ward in a parish of Lutterworth dated June of 1956 when Shirley would have been 23 years old.
That letter I wrote to her in 1950 was the biggest mistake of my life, and I have always regretted letting go of the "loveliest girl I have ever seen".
I'm sure that we all have looked back and seen the moment in our lives when we made a life-changing decision and wish we could go back to "put things right", but the arrow of time points in one direction--into the future, and from the Persian poet Omar Khayam comes these words -
"The moving finger writes and having writ,
moves on, and all thy power nor thy wit can lure it back to cancel half a line,
nor all thy tears wash out a word of it".
My advice to young and not-so-young is to seize the moment, and make every magic moment form a memory to be savoured in later years.
I hope Shirley has had a long and happy life, she would be 78 years old now, what a life I missed out on through my lack of courage to make us a future no matter what the difficulties.

A memory shared by Kenneth Hughes , on Jan 16th, 2012.

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