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A war widow on the Isle of Wight

Posted by on June 28, 2013

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.

Photos of Peggy's friend, Dick Merrill, and his family, in the 1940s

Photos of Peggy’s friend, Dick Merrill, and his family,
in the 1940s

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.

Susie

6 Responses to A war widow on the Isle of Wight

  1. Nicola Stevens

    What a great story. People supporting one another – It seems that one of the things soldiers miss is the sound and feel of family life around them. It sounds as though just being a part of Peggy and her baby’s life would have provided soothing moments for Dick.

    The Allied High Command expected to capture Caen in the first night of the D-Day landings or at least a day or two after. The German troops may have been surprised by the D-day landings but they had rallied and held Caen for a further two months! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_for_Caen

    What lives that generation lived. Thank you for sharing your family’s story.
    Nicola

  2. Margaret McAlpine

    One of the few upsides of war is bringing together people who would otherwise never have met and broadened their lives. There was also a new freedom for that generation in the chaos and upheaval – but the tragic side of it all far outweighs any of this, as Susie’s family experienced at first hand.

  3. Judy King

    I can’t tell you how excited I am to read your stories. My grandfather was Beatrice Kathleen Harper’s brother, one of those who moved to Australia in the 1920s. I would love to share the information I have been researching, if you’d like to get in touch. Wonderful writing, thank you so much for sharing here.

    • Susie Gutch

      Judy –
      Amazing to hear from you ! I know that there must be lots of family members out there, and I’d very much like to hear your ‘side’ of the story too, and see how the puzzle fits together. Do you have an e-mail address ?
      Looking forward to hearing from you again.
      Best wishes –
      Susie

      • Judy King

        Hi Susie

        I was hoping you would have it from my post here? I’ll try joining this site and see if I can send a private message to avoid email spam 🙂 I do have lots of details and some photos, including one my mother has of young Beatrice (Kate)

        best regards, Judy

  4. Judy King

    Hi Suzie, no luck with the site subscription. You should have my email address from this message, but it is judith.kingatgmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you, Judy

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