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15 October 2014
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Newlyweds in a Garrison Town: Alfreton, Derbyshireicon for Recommended story

by ambervalley

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ivy Walker, Harry Walker, Squire of Moorwood
Location of story: 
Alfreton, Derbyshire
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 June 2004

It was Saturday, May 4th 1940. Over the last few months, our local town, Alfreton, had been transformed into a garrison town. It was quite exciting going to the village dance each week and meeting up with all the lovely lads in uniform. Some of whom were very good dancers.
This particular Saturday night was to prove rather special. Unbenkown to me, I had been set up with a blind date. My friends latest boyfriend had brought his mate, Harry Walker, along.
He was very handsome but I wasn't greatly impressed because he had red hair and was very quiet. After a while he left our company to dance with a young woman of dubious reputation, so I enjoyed the rest of the evening dancing with some of the other lads, until it came to the last waltz. There he was, excusing my partner in the middle of the dance!
He asked quietly if he could walk me home but I told him no, I was walking home with my friend, so nothing more was said except "Thank you for the dance". I learned a few minutes later that my friend had a date, so it was going to be a walk home on my own.
I spent quite a time talking to the MC and the boys in the band, then I collected my coat, gas mask etc, and walked outside. There he stood, this red haired soldier. He smiled and said "Well, do I walk you home?" I just had to laugh and said "Why not?" We laughed and chattered all the to my way home. He was nice, different.
A year later, on 3rd May 1941, we were married.
A month after our first meeting, Harry and his friend invited my friend and I to 'The Hall'. Alfreton Hall was their billet, and the home of Squire Moorwood. Each year he opened up his grounds to the public, for what was known as - and still is - Rhododendron Sunday. As a child, I rememeber this particular day as a 'Sunday dressed up' occasion, with all the local men (who were nearly all miners) in their best suites, doffing their caps to the Squire, who, with his personal guests would sit in deck chairs in a roped-off area.
Servants in uniform were always well in evidence, serving drinks to the guests. There was always a brass band playing, and a cricket match in progress. I remember it so well.
But this year, June 1940, was different.
It was a lovely hot day. The band was playing, the cricket match was in progress and the Rhododendrons were truly beautiful. The portly Squire, in plus fours, and his guests were there too, as usual. The only difference being that most of the guests were in uniform this year as the Hall had been comandeered by the Army to serve as the Officer's Mess.
But what else was different(and shocking too) were the dozens of soldiers lying, sleeping or just sitting around on the lawns, all in a dirty state of undress. Some had limbs bandaged and all looked tired and bewildered.
They had been brought in during the night from the beaches of Dunkirk. It was distressing to see them and made me realise for the first time that there really was a war going on.

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