Blog posts emerge in the strangest ways. This one sprang from son, Harry, happening to mention that he would love to see the White Cliffs of Dover.
Suddenly, I was sitting at a Christmas Panto in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin with Mother, Father and Big Bro when I was about 7. I was sitting beside Mother, all snuggled up to her in our velvety seats. There was lots of fun and laughs and music but I realised that Mother was crying when they were singing the song, “There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover.”
I had never seen Mother cry before and it nearly broke my little heart to see the tears streaming down her soft cheeks.
When I was in my teens, I came to understand those tears. They were all about her cousin Terence ~ in fact, he was her double first cousin and was five years older than Mother, having been born in 1916. He was the only child of Uncle Harry and Aunt Laura. Uncle Harry was my grandmother’s brother and Aunt Laura was my grandfather’s sister.
While Mother grew up in Co. Meath, Terence lived in Athy, Co. Kildare. There was lots of coming and going between the two families and the kids would go and stay in each other’s houses during holiday times. Terence was the same age as Mother’s Big Bro and the three of them were thick as thieves.
Mother used to point out a little gap to me near Athy railway station where Terence would always be waiting to meet them when they were coming to visit and her diaries are full of entries about childhood holidays that they shared and her delight at the prospect of him coming and the fun they had riding ponies and playing on the farm.
Terence went to Trinity College in Dublin and completed his degree and was engaged to be married before he joined The Royal Engineers to serve in World War 2.
He was killed in action on November 23rd, 1943. Mother was never able to talk about the details of this and it was only since she died in 2009 that I discovered that he was killed in Italy and was buried there in Sangro River War Cemetery.
All the years of my growing up, my Mother was the only person I knew who wore a poppy on Remembrance Day. It just wasn’t something that was done in Ireland because of the complex relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Poppies are worn widely nowadays but back then it was very, very different.
Apart from passed on memories of Terence from Mother, I also have a Royal Engineers Sweetheart Brooch that I found among Mother’s treasures after she died. Unfortunately, I have no idea if he gave it to Mother himself or if it fell into her hands from maybe Aunt Laura. This is something I will never be able to find out now.
Mother did tell me that just before Christmas in 1943, a Christmas card from Terence arrived to his grieving parents. His mother, Laura, was very badly affected by his death and spent many years in a nursing home afterwards. Uncle Harry, who had served in World War 1, lived a long life but always came across to me as being a bit distant. That distance used to narrow, though, each year when he sent us gift tokens for Switzer’s Store in Dublin. He loved to get ‘thank you’ letters from us for these and Mother always insisted that we write them as neatly as possible ~ not an easy task for me as I could never keep my writing straight!
I wonder if my Harry will get to see the White Cliffs of Dover. I hope he does and I also hope that he will find peace there; and that somehow a day will come when families from every corner of the world will not have to face Christmases filled with grief due to war.