"Today represents remembrance of the centenary of the First World War in 1914. While the First World War may have started out as a war to end all wars, sadly that wasn't to be. The great loss of life to both soldier and civilian and the cultural carnage caused throughout Europe left a scar upon the warring nations that will never be forgotten.
After the war, those family members who had lost their fathers, brothers, sweethearts and husbands in the battle, although greatly saddened were comforted in their loss by extended family, the surrounding community and the Government of the day.
There was however, one category of mourner who was left to grieve the loss of their loved-one alone; the unmarried lover of the dead soldier who had planned to marry her sweetheart after the war had ended. Often discouraged by parents of not starting relationships with soldiers who were destined for the battle field, many a young woman kept their soldier romance a close secret, even from their closest of friends. Some even found themselves rearing the offspring of their soldier romance during the years to follow and were branded as shameful hussies by the community at large as they struggled as unmarried mothers in the most moral of times and the meanest of circumstances.
All these women were left with were their memories of 'what might have been' had their sweetheart returned from the war. Their hearts wept as they touch their bridal gown in the privacy of their own room and mounting distress, knowing that it would never be worn.
Twenty years ago, I knew a spinster called Henrietta who was then in her eighties and whose personal circumstances mirrored the experience of such grieving war women whose sweetheart had died in battle before they had married. Henrietta or Miss Denton as others in the community knew her, became a second mum to me after the death of my own mother and for her final fifteen years of life (she died aged 94 years) we saw each other daily.
Towards the end as I nursed her during her final weeks of life in her own home, she told me the story of her secret love. Henrietta's secret sweetheart had been a soldier (whose name incidently was Bill like mine). Her sweetheart had joined up to fight in the Second World War. Having a bedridden mother and poorly father at the time, Henrietta was encouraged to feel that being the only girl in the family, her first duty was to her parents. She knew that her parents would not have approved of any courtship of their only daughter and under no circumstances would they ever have sanctioned the union of their daughter with a serving soldier, had they known of it.
For the first six months of active service and unknown to her parents and brother, Henrietta and her sweetheart exchanged letters which was facilitated by the intermediary services of a female friend she once worked with at the local mill. Seven months after going off to fight for King and country, Bill was killed in action and it would be a further two months after his death that Henrietta learned of it via conversation with another acquaintaince who knew his family. After his tragic death in the trenches, there wasn't anyone Henrietta could turn to for emotional support. There was nobody she felt she could tell her secret to so she carried it alone.
When her parents died, she then set up house with her bachelor brother and cared for him until his death. For fifty years after the death of her sweetheart, Henrietta grieved her loss alone. She was to speak to nobody of this private matter apart from myself, whom she told in the 94th year of her life shortly before her death. She bore her grief in tormented silence for almost half a century, particularly on the anniversary of each year's Remembrance Day when she cried silent tears.
I was so moved by her sad story and the secret love of Henrietta that after her death, I wrote a poem called 'Arthur and Guinevere' in her memory and the memory of all such women whose only crime had been to fall in love with a soldier whom they one day planned to marry, but who was to fall in war. I enclose the website link to 'Arthur and Guinevere' which Dame Vera Lynn greatly liked. Forget not these souls also for they too are deserving of remembrance." William Forde : November 11th, 2014. http://www.fordefables.co.uk/arthur--guinevere.html