"I cannot allow today to go by without thanking everyone for your birthday and wedding anniversary greetings yesterday. After six hours constantly replying to over six hundred private messages and public greetings, I had to call it a day. I was overwhelmed by your love, consideration and most generous comments. It was certainly a birthday I shall not forget. Thank you all. You certainly made this old man very happy.
Today is 'Remembrance Day' and along with 'Good Friday', it is one day in the year when 'sacrifice' is honoured and not forgotten. I shall think upon those brave soldiers who gave their life for us on all the battle fields since the 'First World War' as I am having my blood transfusion in hospital today.The enduring monument of those soldiers and civilians who fought and died for us in the two world wars of the last century was cemented by their blood and is maintained through their values.
Many of their bodies now lay below ground, the ground which they died for and upon which we freely walk today. Their battle was purchased with their blood and bought this small English island decades of peace. Though the other half of the world is once more engulfed in the human sacrifice and exodus of war, we must help without giving way to the temptation of taking up the arms of the battle field again, in trenches so lengthy that they stretch across the face of the globe and end only at the gates of hell! We must forever strive to remember that in times of war, no soldier or civilian remains unwounded or unscathed: nobody who witnesses and experiences death and destruction ever remains untouched!
God rest their souls. We shall not forget. We shall not forget either soldier or civilian. We shall not forget marriages between soldiers and brides of war and honeymoon periods postponed until the battle was won and then sadly, never taken. We shall not forget the two World Wars of the last century; the times of making do with what little we had and doing whatever had to be done in the harshest of circumstances. We shall not forget the nightly bombings and destruction of our homes, the meagre food rations and the darkness of clothing we had to wear. We shall not forget the tide of tears that were shed when a mother picked up the broken bones of her dead child from the rubble and remains of her bombed house; those tears that never stopped flowing until the end of her days. We shall not forget the horrors of the Holocaust during the Second World War and those six million Jews who were gassed in the concentration camps that were geared to the genocide of a whole generation who were born and died nationless. Nor shall we forget all those soldiers and citizens in all lands who have died as a result of war ever since the very first Armistice Day of November 1919.
To end this roll call of remembrance, I shall never forget the soldier love of my dear friend and substitute mother, Henrietta (Etta) Denton. Her soldier sweetheart, like me, was also called Bill and he died in the trenches during the Second World War. Bill and Etta first met when they worked in the same mill in Dewsbury. Etta's father was a strict Methodist and her mother was bedridden for most of Etta's life. Being the only girl of two children, at the age of eleven years, Etta was obliged to forgo her grammar school place which she had won. She started work in the mill at the age of fourteen. Her evening hours and weekends were spent keeping house for her father, mother and older brother Stanley, until all three subsequently died.
The only time spent outside her home and work was when she went to Methodist Chapel on a Sunday and when she was allowed to visit the home of her lifelong friend, Mary Milner, with whom she had gone to school. During Etta's weekly visits to Mary's, she would arrange to meet briefly with her sweetheart Bill along the way. Their time together never involved more than a fifteen minute chat, lest they were seen and her father found out. Etta never told her parents or brother of this relationship with Bill. When he went off to war, the couple planned to tell her father upon his discharge from duties and hoped to get married with his blessing. Both she and Bill exchanged letters via the letter box of Mary's home and each week, Etta would call to see her friend Mary and collect any letter from the front. The letters came pretty regular to Etta until one day they stopped altogether and the worse was feared.
Sadly, her soldier sweetheart never returned from war. With the exception of her friend Mary Milner and me (whom Etta told three days before she died at the age of 94 years), her relationship and love of Bill remained a secret that she took with her to her grave. For over 70 long years, Etta secretly grieved her soldier sweetheart and only her friend Mary ever knew of her loss and why she never chose to marry in later life.
After Etta's death, I thought about the secret love she had shared with her soldier Bill. I also thought about all of those other women during the war, who had never married their soldier sweethearts, though they'd planned to when the war was over, and whom they'd loved in secret before it had begun. Such women were the unspoken war widows of the shadows; women who could never weep openly or mourn publicly the man they loved, though some were left with a daughter or son to remember his face by.
I decided in memory to Bill and Etta and all the other Bill's and Etta's who loved in secret, to write a poem about the wartime love of theirs that was never meant to end in marriage. As my mark of respect to ensure that the love they shared is never forgotten in my lifetime, I penned 'Arthur and Guinevere' and this poem is freely accessible on my website.
As my parents married during the war years, making me a war baby, and as I never had an image of Etta and Bill together, I gave Etta and Bill the faces of my mum and dad on the graveside picture that accompanies the poem written in their memory. God bless their souls." William Forde : November 11th, 2015.