In the peacetime army of the 1930s, it was the
custom to grant leave of up to 7 days during the holiday periods such as
Easter, Whitsun and August. So in August
1939, I was granted 7 days leave of absence and, as was my custom those times,
I returned to
On the Monday of this holiday period, I paid a visit to my aunts and uncles, who still lived in the Kingshill area where I was born. After visiting my Aunt Mary Alice (my mother’s sister) and Uncle James, I made my way to see Aunt Maggie, who was now living in the house where I was born and where she was the proprietor of the ‘huckster’ shop, which my father had started.
On entering the kitchen, I found my Aunt Maggie, who was a really jolly person. Also there, sitting round the fire, was Maggie Lawther, whom I recognised, my cousin Johnny, who was a little older than me, and this other long-legged red-haired beautiful girl, who had come to stay with the Lawthers for a while. Her name was Una and when we looked at each other that very first time, that was that and we immediately fell in love.
After having had tea and plenty of conversation, it eventually came time for the girls to depart and my Aunt Maggie suggested that Johnny and I should see the young ladies home. Needless to say, I wanted to escort Una because I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get to know her better. However, Johnny beat me to it and away he went with Una, leaving me with Maggie Lawther.
After leaving the girls at the Lawther farm, Johnny and I made our way back to Aunt Maggie’s and after some more tea, I set off to walk the journey back to Twinem Terrace, fretting all the while, about how unfortunate I had been in not having had the good luck to take Una, instead of Maggie back to the Lawther’s.
The next day, I decided to return to Kingshill to see if I could arrange a meeting with this lovely girl. But when I opened the door of Aunt Maggie’s, who was sitting by the fire only Una. She gave me a lovely smile and I knew she was the girl for me. Apparently she had made an excuse to go to Aunt Maggie’s for sugar, but her real intention had been to make enquiries about me. As a result of this chance meeting, I got the opportunity to escort Una back to the Lawther’s and we arranged to meet the next evening and go to the cinema in Lurgan.
On realising that I had to be back in Colchester in
a couple of days time and that I dearly wanted to see Una
again, I sent a reply paid telegram to the adjutant of the 5th Royal
Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, requesting an extension
of my leave for five days for urgent family reasons. My request was granted and so I was able to
see Una every day, till I departed for
Una and I corresponded regularly thereafter and the next time I saw her was when I was on embarkation leave in September 1939, prior to the regiment’s departure for France and the war of 1939-45. During my leave, I went up to Donegal and stayed with Mrs McIntyre, who was Una’s landlady during her teaching days in Donegal.
The McIntyres of Malin Head lived in a lovely old Irish farmhouse, where there was always a lovely turf fire burning in the hearth. Mrs McIntyre employed a local girl to act as waitress during my stay there and the young girl used to come in during our meals and say: “Have yins all yins want?”
Una told me what I thought was a rather amusing story about the McIntyres. I don’t recall Mrs McIntyre’s first name, but her husband was called Matthew and he liked to have some of his old friends in to ‘ceilidh’ (Irish for an informal gathering for music, dancing, song and story telling, plus a little ‘poteen’, which is illicit homemade alcohol spirit). On one such evening, one of the guests wanted to tell some story that he did not consider suitable for Mrs McIntyre’s ears and so he said to Mrs McIntyre: “We excuse you Mrs McIntyre, if you want to go to bed.”
I enjoyed my trip to Donegal and it was during this time that Una and I decided to become engaged to be married, which we eventually were on 13th November 1940, in May Street Presbyterian Church, Belfast. The minister was the Reverend Mr Wylie-Blue and the best man was Fred Melling.
Una - like the heroine of the story of the regimental march “Fare thee well Iniskilling” - was a Montgomery girl, who fell for an Iniskilling Dragoon.