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15 October 2014
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The Tragic Wartime Romance of Norman Battersby and Eileen Smith

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Norman Battersby and Eileen Smith
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 February 2004

One story has already been written on this site about Norman Battersby and his rescue of a cat from Dunkirk.

Norman had an eventful life as a gunner in the Royal Navy participating in six expeditions to Dunkirk which he graphically described in a letter home to his family that has already been published on this site. He was also in action against the Scharnhorst when serving on the HMS Belfast. He also survived the sinking of two ships whilst on active service during the war.

However he found time when home on leave to fall in love with a pretty young girl called Eileen Smith from Ilford in Essex and the progress of this romance can be traced in letters that Eileen wrote to him. These letters were loaned to Stockport library service by Norman's son and with his permission we include some moving extracts.

The first we hear from Eileen is in a chatty letter that she sent to Norman, who was stationed at Appledore at the time, on July 21st 1944 after a holiday in Ilfracombe....

"First and foremost I want to thank you for the lovely time you gave me on Friday, I enjoyed every minute and I hope you did too".

She goes on to explain that nothing eventful happened to her on the way home apart from when "A porter at Paddington gaily informed us that a flying bomb had just crashed a half hour before we had arrived, a little way outside the station, and suggested that we should have stayed at Ifracombe. I heartily agreed, naturally, but thank goodness will be down in September, with my sister this time".

She goes on to explain that she had tried, unsuccessfully to snatch time at work to write this letter and finishes "Oh! Heck. The siren has just gone again for the umpteenth time today. This time last week we were at the Palace Hotel with me drinking that dainty glass of cider". She signs off "That's all for now, Love from Eileen"

A second letter arrived from Eileen on August 11th 1944. " Dear Norman, Many thanks for your letter which came the other day ....I'm getting on fine at Ilford Limited - but the only problem is I have to have a good knowledge of geography and that was never a best subject of mine. Still there haven't been any complaints so far! ...."
She continues "When I left my other job ... one of the girls said she would buy me a mascot for my bike. Guess what it turned out to be - nothing but a little sailor which is now a good favourite with all at the office.
"What did you do on August Bank Holiday; we had grand weather down here and so we cycled into Aybridge and the country around there. It was only 22 miles but was I hot when I got there.....Do you think you can get down to Barking sometime - you have relations there haven't you? Do let me know when you are coming.....Goodbye for now, Love Eileen"

Despite the lightness of tone of Eileens letters it is obvious the two of them were falling in love and Norman's son told us that his father actually proposed to Eileen one weekend and was going to send a formal letter to her parents asking for their permission to marry.

But the letter Norman received dated April 26th (1945?) brought tragic news from Eileen's mother "Dear Norman, this is Eileen's mother writing. I have been waiting for a letter from you to let you know she met with an accident Feb 20 and passed away Feb 21, unconcious thank God. It was all too tragic for words. I still cannot realise that she has gone, she was everything to me, always singing, laughing and as happy as the day is long.

"She went on an errand for me at 4.20 and the car caught the cycle a few seconds later. I blame myself for sending her. Everyone has been very kind, but still it does not bring her back. She rather liked you Norman as you had such fun at Ifracombe.

"I do not know whether Pip as we called her ever gave you a photograph or not. The one enclosed was taken last October when we went to Devon .... I can see her now - she was so happy having her sister with her..... She was so young and pretty and a good girl to everyone she came in contact with....

"The church gave a lovely service for her as she taught the kiddies there. I used to tease her and say 'Don't teach them to drink Devonshire cider like you do or give them any wisecracks' - she would laugh and start jitterbugging as she called it. I do hope you will not take it too hard, everyone loved her, myself most of all. She would have liked me to write to you. Do hope you are keeping fit and well, I wish you a safe return"

We do not know what Norman wrote in reply to Eileen's mother but he did write one moving letter, perhaps in his mind, to Eileen...

"Farewell my dear, well may you fare.
God ever keep you in his care.
Go not with tears but smile and say "so long" see you again some day.
Let no unhappy words be said.
But with a cheery smile instead.
Hold out a hope to comfort me.
When this is but a memory.
Just "Au Revoir". I'll understand.
By tone of voice and touch of hand.
And catch the heartbreak in the sigh.
Behind that light and brief goodbye"

It seems ironic that Norman should survive so many life threatening experiences whilst serving in the Navy only to lose his girlfriend to a tragic accident.

Norman eventually married someone else but he continued to look after Eileens letters and her photograph to the end of his life and they are now in the care of his son.

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