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Olive

 

I didn’t mind the war… I had two boyfriends… air gunners… Dennis… quite a good looking chap… a Yorkshire man with French blood and Patrick an Irish lad… who I called Paddy… they were nice boys… we went dancing down to the Lyceum in Streatham… Paddy was a good dancer… very polite, honest and romantic… he used to buy me flowers.

By the end of the war I was in Marylebone… it wasn’t bombed much… no, not much. I got used to it. I’d had it all before in Liverpool. I was working in the munitions, we did shift work mornings, afternoons and nights… light engineering… making Enfield Rifles. I worked on a Capstan Lathe, a drilling machine… doing the bolts.

We had to test them to see if they shot straight… the kickback nearly knocked your chin out… you didn’t have to be much of a shot so long as the barrel was straight. You have to look down the barrel to see if there’s a shadow and you have a wooden mallet and you knocked the bump out.

One day the inspector came and asked me about my job. I said, “I look for something I shouldn’t see and when I see it I knock it out with this little wooden hammer”. Sometimes it wasn’t a lump it was a little bit of swarf… a bit of the steel that used to come off the lathe.

A friend introduced me to the man who became my husband… it was so stupid but within two weeks he asked me to marry him. I still don’t know why I said yes… it’s funny because I didn’t really like anything about him and we were together for years… the war pushed people together… you do silly things when you’re young… maybe you should… you’re only human.

My husband went away as soon as we married… he went over on D-Day. He was in a dock-operating troop… unloading… he was lucky to come back alive… he only lost half a thumb… the pole slipped and six trucks rolled back over his hand… he was caught between the buffers… he lost his thumb but he was lucky… it could have been far worse… he couldn’t do buttons so I was vital. He only wore studs in his shirt… and cufflinks.

At the end of the war he went back to work as a bass baritone… he sang at The Albert Hall… I didn’t take too much notice of what he did… I was bored with him… we divorced after fourteen years but I didn’t find another man… I was fed up with them… he relied on me to do his buttons and I needed him to clean parts of the widows I couldn’t reach… not much of a marriage… no not much.

If I were to have my whole life over again I’d not marry the same man… I could have done worse than to marry Paddy… but war goes on and life goes on and there were many missed opportunities but that’s life… my marriage had its ups and downs… no, I’d not marry him… but maybe that’s what life’s about… making the most of bad choices… we came to rely on each other… 

He didn’t turn out to be a good husband… there were other women… lots of them… and I’d even speak to them and they’d say they knew I was his wife. He wasn’t a bad looking man but a bit of a womaniser. I confronted him with it once and he laughed at me. He thought that because I was his wife he could do anything.

I was telling my Granny all my problems but she kept telling me not to leave him… she wasn’t like me… she was old fashioned… but my mother didn’t like my husband much… and looking back his own mother used to reprimand him. My mother would have preferred Paddy… but he went back to Ireland…

I’ve learnt that it’s a mistake not to put yourself first… in the end you have only yourself really… you have to do it all… stand up for yourself and say what you want… and people will say you’re selfish but they’re wrong.