After her husband was killed in North Africa in May 1943, my mother, Peggy, returned to her parents’ house at Sandown on the Isle of Wight and tried to make a life for herself and her infant son. It was not easy. The family was always short of money. Her father, Arthur, suffered from neurasthenia [shell-shock] after his experiences on the battlefield of the Dardanelles in the First World War. Her mother, Kate, found it hard to cope with her husband and now a recently widowed and depressed daughter, as well as as the demands of helping to look after the baby.
In the weeks before the D-Day landings in early June 1944, thousands of troops were being assembled on the Isle of Wight prior to the attack. Among them was a group of U.S. Rangers [similar to our Marines] who were billeted in a hotel in Sandown run by a family friend, where Peggy sometimes helped out. This group included a young Ranger called Richard [Dick] Merrill. He was married, and had had to say goodbye to his wife, Shirley, and their young daughter, Connie, back in the States. Connie was of a similar age to Pat. Dick and Peggy became friends – she insists it was never more than that – and he became a great support to her, helping to feed and entertain Pat when he came to the family home and taking Peggy out for rides in his Jeep when he had time off. The soldiers used to tease him and say ‘Are you taking your little widow woman out again?’ This upset Peggy, but her friendship with Dick helped to lift her spirits at a time when she had so little to cheer her and the war seemed never ending. When the troops left for the invasion Peggy once again had to wait helplessly for news. Now her brother, Bill, was involved on active service as a driver with the Signals Corps in the battle for Caen. Though it was towards the end of the war, the fighting to free France was as vicious and dangerous as ever, with many thousands of casualties.
Dick eventually returned safely from France and went back to the United States. He and Peggy corresponded for the remainder of their long lives. Dick and his wife Shirley and Connie visited Peggy and her second husband, Jack, in England in the 1960s. Connie continues to keep in touch with Peggy and sometimes visits her on the Isle of Wight, continuing a friendship begun by her father over seventy years ago.