Published in Legion Magazine, February 1964
By Joy Smith
Exclusive Audio Version:
Many young people today probably have never heard the word “rationing,” but back in the “old days” of 1943 it had a very real meaning, particularly to those of us who were living in the U.K. Living in the south of England, and being exposed to many “elements” of the Canadian Army, nature eventually took its course and I fell in love. My husband-to-be was a member of a famed Canadian regiment, and, though quite shy at first, very soon made it apparent that he meant business!
Ask any British war-bride, and she will tell you it just had to be love when a girl had to go through all those preliminary questions, blood tests, and supplying of references and still came up smiling and wanting to marry the man who had popped the all-important question.
Ask any man in the Forces who went through the same routine, and he will tell you the same thing. Eventually, however, our permission came through. But then came the snag – a three-month waiting period from the date of the written permission, a period in which the records were double-checked in Canada to make quite certain there were no “forgotten” wives conveniently tucked away in some remote spot!
Unfortunately we had not known about the three-month waiting period, and, by much begging and scraping around of ration “points”, my family had managed to get together the ingredients for a real wedding cake. “No wedding cakes with icing,” said the law, but somehow we were going to have it. Somebody knew somebody who had a brother who was a chef, and the carefully hoarded currants, candy peel and icing sugar left our house and came back in the form of a wondrous cake complete with a huge sugar Maple Leaf and little silver horseshoes. The eggs? Strictly rationed again, of course, but a farmer friend of my father’s had known me since I was a little girl and his chickens suddenly put in some overtime! So there it was, my wedding cake, shining and beautiful, and now we could not use it for three months!
Being on the South Coast, not far from the famed “Bomb Alley,” air raids were practically a daily occurrence, and, like everybody else, we had a Morrison table shelter in the house – a sort of oversized billiard table with a heavy iron top which could, and often did, take the weight of a two-storey brick house crashing down on it. Ours was in the living room, the wire mesh sides heavily draped with blankets against flying glass and other odd little bits of nonsense that came calling once in a while. On the top, in solitary glory, reposed the wedding cake in its cardboard box. Whenever a raid got really noisy we took cover inside the table-shelter, and the first in was the wedding cake.
Time dragged on somehow. We lost part of our roof, a few windows were broken, but still the cake remained intact in spite of many hurried trips under the shelter, usually in the middle of the night.
Then tragedy really struck. The regiment was moved out of town and all leave cancelled. It could only mean one thing – they were going overseas and we still had another month to wait. Everything was ready, the licence, my dress, and the cake. I was too sick at heart to even cry. One day my husband-to-be managed to get into town by volunteering to drive a truck which was to pick up some forgotten kit. He told me he had spoken to the padre, who was interceding for him and several others whose “waiting time” was nearly up. Hope flared again. Would we really get to cut that precious cake?
Two, three more days. How could they do this to us? Then one miserable, wet night when a proper gale was blowing, I was just about to crawl into bed when the bell rang. It just couldn’t be, but it was! As I fumbled with the blackout curtain over the door – no lights, of course – my fiancé called through the letterbox opening: “I’ve got 18 hours’ leave. We get married in the morning!” Then, as an afterthought: “Don’t be frightened, but I’ve banged up my face a bit in the blackout.”
By this time my dear Mom was out of bed and into the kitchen for the coffeepot (practical soul), and we were able to survey our battered hero. Running like mad with four other soldiers, also wedding-bent, through the pitch-black village to catch the one and only train, he had slammed into a garage door blown open by the gale and now had a lump the size of a hen’s egg on his forehead and a cut above the mouth, partly hidden by his moustache. I got busy with antiseptic and bandaids while Mom whipped up some scrambled (powdered, of course) eggs – our wedding breakfast in reverse.
Just then, as though anything else could happen, a really dandy air raid got going in spite of the storm. There was only one thing to do and we did it. Under the table-shelter we went, wedding cake, scrambled eggs, coffee, Mom, bride, groom and dog – in that order.
The next morning a very surprised Dad came home (he had been out on fire-watch duty all night) to be told that his ever-lovin’ only daughter was finally getting married that very morning. Now according to the etiquette books the bride and groom never see each other before the ceremony, but this pair did. In borrowed slacks the groom pressed his uniform, as all his kit was packed for the move back at camp and he had had to come just as he was. The bride frantically washed breakfast dishes as Mom had dashed down to the florist’s. “No, we couldn’t possibly deliver any corsages today,” they had told her over the phone. “There’s a war on, you know. You’ll have to pick them up.”
Suddenly, in the frantic rush, I cut my finger on the breadknife – a deep gash that bled and bled. Now I would never get married, I wailed. I couldn’t get my dress on, the finger wouldn’t stop bleeding. And the groom? The lump on his forehead was turning blue-green. Oh, we made a handsome pair all right!
To further complicate matters, everyone else had been confined to camp because of the impending move, so our best man was not available. Poor Charlie, he would be so disappointed, and it meant my husband would not have a fellow-Canadian to stand up with him. But my cousin Bill was home on leave from the R.A.F. and a quick phone call to him soon settled that. “Get up, you dope. You’ve got to be best man!” And to his sister Betty who was just leaving for the office: “But you can’t, you’ve got to be bridesmaid – NOW!”
Somehow the chaos was sorted out. My finger stopped bleeding, the lump on the groom’s forehead did not show too much with the familiar black beret pulled down, the taxi appeared, and we were on our way.
The brief ceremony at the Registry Office was soon over and we drove back to the house. Mom had performed another minor miracle. Somehow she got there first and the table was spread, with a long-hoarded bottle of champagne and the famous cake holding the place of honour. My aunt and uncle, and a couple of neighbours were there, and Dad collected my Grandmother in one of his delivery trucks. A great little lady of 83, she stepped out and shook her fur stole with dignity, as though arriving for a wedding in a delivery truck was an everyday occurrence.
The champagne was popped, and just as the knife was poised over the wedding cake there was a squealing of brakes and an army ambulance pulled up outside the house. Out stepped Charlie, in dirty old “fatigues”, with a big grin on his face. He had been detailed to drive to the village to pick up the last of the regimental laundry and somehow got “lost” on the four-mile trip. So he just kept going and drove another 20-odd miles to ask my husband about the way back! The party was complete, and never had a cake tasted so good! After the celebration the remainder was divided, part to go back to the camp, and part to be mailed thousands of miles across the sea to far-off Canada.
Our very brief honeymoon was soon over and it was 22 long months before I saw my husband again. During that time he did the “grand tour” of Europe – Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Then he came back to England on leave, and it was with great pride that I watched while he was decorated with the Military Medal by His Majesty George VI – a truly memorable moment in our life.
To this day I still carry the invitation card from Buckingham Palace, and a little silver horseshoe from that famous wedding cake.