I decided to ask one of our members for her memories of VE Day, expecting possibly to get something about being part of the crowd celebrating in London. Instead I got a truly special memory of that day and the background to it.
Stella Elms (nee Hobden) was born in Burwash East Sussex near Rudyard Kipling’s Batemans in 1927.
When Stella was 18 months the family moved to Weybridge and then on to Addlestone when she was 3 years old.
It was there that she met one Peter Elms when she was 14 and a half. He was chairman of the local youth club and she was secretary by virtue of her being at secretarial college.
With the onset of World War 2 Peter was serving in the Army and Stella had joined the Women’s Land Army.
At the beginning of 1945 the Army had started to give leave to troops serving in Europe. Peter’s regiment drew lots, his name was one of the first out of the hat, and thereby one of the first to get leave.
A couple of days before VE Day Stella travelled to a London station with Peter’s father to meet a troop train bringing Peter home. As a Land Girl Stella was on holiday, not leave, as they were officially classed as civilians. It was not until 2008 that the Women’s Land Army was formally recognised.
Peter had proposed on a previous leave but there had been no opportunity to buy a ring.
Stella is unlikely to forget any anniversary of VE Day as that was the day they bought THE RING and became officially engaged.
A jeweller in the village had let them know that they had recently acquired an engagement ring and it was bought at a cost of £13.
As Churchill’s speech was at 3pm it was too late to organise a double celebration that day. The newly engaged couple spent the evening walking hand in hand and arm in arm around the village. All the houses had their curtains wide open and their lights on.
Parties took place during the following days with long hoarded treasures appearing from store cupboards. Stella wonders what today’s kids would think of jellies, tinned salmon and sardine sandwiches.
The couple were married on 18th May 1946 with a traditional wedding cake thanks to family and friends donating ingredients and Peter’s father being friends with a local baker.
They set up home together in 1947 when both left the service of their respective armies.
Peter passed away on 12th February 2006, three months before their Diamond Anniversary.
In Stella’s words ” a more caring, hard working husband, father and friend would be hard to find. Was never sorry I said yes”.
My thanks to Stella’s family for “secretly” supplying the photos and very special thanks to Stella for sharing her special memory with me and allowing me to write this. I hope I’ve done it justice, she will soon let me know if I haven’t.
With much love and respect for a very special member of Bognor Regis WI.