Royal Navy, Marriage

MARRIAGE – AND ALL My family could not travel to Ireland because of wartime restrictions and so were not at the wedding. Willie, my mother, had made some protestations about my age, 22, the fact that I was marrying a school teacher, anathema to her, that I was being precipitate, but when she saw it was useless she capitulated with dignity and wished us well. Josie, my aunt, was enthusiastic and kept making ‘Broth of a boy’ jokes and my aunt Min, a school teacher and brilliant mathematician, was pleased that someone with some authority would at last be taking me in hand. I had always believed that if she had been marking my reports she would have been another who would have written, ‘Could do better’. When I was small and perhaps had not been doing all that was required of me, my Gran would open my hand and show me the ‘W’s in the creases of my palm, she would tell me that stood for ‘willing to work but won’t’. Min, I’m sure, would have agreed with her.
I collected the family wedding presents, put them in my green Naval suitcase and headed for a friend’s house in Ireland via Euston, Stranraer, Larne and Belfast. I have always had a phobia about being late and so I left a day early in case there was an impediment on the way. It could be fog, it was November after all, a V2 rocket, anything, and so it turned out – there was a storm so severe the boat could not sail.
When we arrived at Stranraer we went aboard the Cross Channel Ferry but that was it – no sailing. We sat about until nearly ten o’clock that night when we were de-shipped and sent to Nissan huts to spend a cold, uncomfortable night. We were given some food and shown to bunks which had no mattresses, just half inch wide steel slats at four inch intervals both ways. I had all the Riggs’ possessions in the case and trusted no one, so I slept with my head on the case and my body, even wrapped in my overcoat, oozing between the slats. The management – soldiers of course – ‘thoughtfully’ woke us up at two o’clock to tell us they would be waking us up at four to receive breakfast which they duly did – it was slabs of cold, fatty ham on doorsteps of bread and tea the colour of syrup-of-figs, and about as acceptable. Then we were ushered on board and later that day set off for Ireland, Larne and, for me, marriage.
When I eventually arrived at Sophie’s house I was so tired I was almost incoherent, so when she showed me the presents she had received on our behalf I was in a daze and could barely summon interest let alone retain who had sent what.
All weddings are extraordinary, especially for those closely involved but in our case, apart from a couple of incidents, it was the aftermath which was unusual rather than the ceremony. The first of the incidents was the welcome return of Sophie’s paternal uncle, Jack, who, as a merchant sea captain had been a prisoner of war and his return coincided with the day of our wedding. The reception was in the hotel beside the railway station, I had been taken by Sophie’s mother round to meet the guests who, apart from a handful were all strangers to me. Allowing I had not fully recovered from the trip over from England, the sea of faces as I went from group to group melted into oblivion to the extent that someone remarked they had already met me, to the surprise of both Liza and myself, I think she was as bemused as I was by that time. I was then allowed to join my new father-in-law and his returned brother in the bar. The two of them were sitting on high stools, and lined up in front of an empty chair were five glasses of rum, one for every round in my absence. The tension must have had its effect because although I caught up within minutes I was totally sober and remained so.
We were seen off on the train to Larne with the greatest shower of confetti ever, to such an extent that two mill girls who entered the carriage spent the journey gathering it off the floor and throwing it at one another until they left the train at Carrickfergus.
The second incident occurred on the train to London from Stranraer. We were sharing a sleeping compartment with a husband and wife and their child. The wife was moaning about having travelled from Dublin to Belfast and finding the restaurant at the terminus in Great Victoria Street closed. They had travelled to the York Road Station in the hope of finding food only to discover the restaurant occupied by a wedding party and some fool on his feet giving a speech. The fool, of course was me. Sophie and I withheld that piece of information, we just commiserated.

Categorized as General

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