Returning to the Big Toss Out!!
Throwing out seventy years of hoardings has not been an easy task. In spite of all good intentions, one still stops and peruses wonderful old memories, and this exercise would appear to be taking an awfully long time!!
Todays special encounter was with an old 'Gold Cross' shoe box which had once housed 'Black Painted Flexy Pumps', but inside the box was a glorious but tragic love story....
The box was full of letters, still in their fragile airmail envelopes, brittle with age, written on flimsy blue airmail paper, during the Second World War. The correspondence was between Corporal Muriel Ada Bell Hardy, Number A.149 in the Women's Auxiliary Airforce, and Squadron Leader Michael R. Hill - 92467. Both were in the Royal Airforce stationed at Heany Camp, Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia in that crazy Second World War year - 1944.
Muriel was my Mum, and Mike Hill was her fiancee. One is reluctant to read other peoples' correspondence but it was mesmerising. Both had beautiful handwriting, both used bold fountain pens with calligraphic nibs, both wrote screeds of thin pages daily in minute cursive script, as Michael had been sent overseas on active service.
There were frequent poignant endearments which must remain between them, Mom lived at Rhodes House which was at 36,Ninth Avenue, Bulawayo in those days. Michael seemed to move between an RAF base at Clairwood in Durban and a place called 'In Transit' !!
Between May 1944 and August 1944 there were 82 letters, love letters from Michael to Muriel. Most of the envelopes were marked 'On Active Service' a few had stamps with King George's head and there were always three stamps each with the value of one and a half pennies!! The airmail letters were marked 6D, so not sure how much that was.....amazing that the postal system still worked even after 4 years of a war that involved virtually every part of the world.
Then came the telegram.. in our youth telegrams almost always bore bad tidings. Hand delivered by a postman in a grey uniform riding a red post office bicycle. This telegram was from Michael's father in Hermanus to Muriel, was dated 16 March 1944. The Telegram read 'Cable received Michael missing on Air Operations 12 March. Love Hill.'
Squadron Leader Hill was a romantic, he had arranged for a dozen red roses to be delivered to Rhodes House every Monday while he was away...
Although Corporal Morton had died inside, the roses kept coming, week after week and the love letters kept coming, albeit they were now marked with a giant 'ReturnTo Sender', penned in red ink.
Almost every day a letter would arrive from S/L Michael R. Hill, and every Monday come rain or shine, red roses would arrive. Mum had written the date that the letter had arrived on every envelope.
I could feel her anguish. March went, April went, May went, June, July and finally August the19th, 1945 the final forwarded letter descended into the letter tray at Shabani Mine where Muriel was now working.
The war was over, how different our lives would have been if Muriel had married Michael 76 years ago....