- Contributed by
- Stockport Libraries
- People in story:
- Edna Hodgson, Bill Stafford
- Location of story:
- Germany 1946
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 February 2004
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Edna Stafford and has been added to the site with her husband Bill Stafford's permission. Bill Stafford fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
"As I've said earlier on, the W.A.A.F. SSgt., Emily, who was in charge of the house in which we stayed, spoke fluent German, so it was inevitable that she became friendly with Herr Voigt and his family. A few weeks later Bill and I decided that we would become engaged and although I had not met his family, he had spent a leave at my home. When we told Emily, she brought out a bottle of champagne and gathering together our room-mates, we celebrated our engagement in the form of a little party. Of course the obvious question was the wedding date. Being well known on the Camp great interest was aroused. As we were both due for demobilisation at the same time we thought that there could be no better way to exit from the Services than as a married couple and the date was fixed for the 15th June 1946 at 2 o'clock.
Of course, we had to have the respective forms signed by our Commanding Officer, and the news soon spread around. The Officers were wonderful as there was nothing which was too much trouble - it was to be the first wedding on the camp, and they intended to make it one to be remembered. The Catering Officer took over the management of that problem and as the arrangements included trips back to the U.K. and to Brussels, they made the most of it and were as happy as we were. The Transport Officer made the necessary arrangements for cars and even went so far as to reserve a compartment on the train to Brussels where we were to spend our honeymoon. This was quite a surprise. The German, in whose house Bill was billeted, said that he would look after the decoration of the Church, bouquets and other flowers, as he was in charge of the nurseries. He certainly did a wonderful job and everywhere looked lovely with masses of flowers. My brother, Norman was also stationed in Germany and arrangements were made for him to come to Bad Eilsen on "detached duty" for a week, and he arrived on the Thursday before the wedding and left the following Tuesday.
Elsie and I often promised each other that if either of us thought of getting married in the Service, if at all possible, the other would be a bridesmaid. So naturally, my first thought went to Elsie and I rang her up on the phone and asked her if she would like to come to a wedding. When she realised that it was my own wedding, her excitement knew no bounds, and from that moment onwards, the phone was in constant use. She was going on leave the following day and promised to pay a visit to my home, as my only regret was that my parents would not be able to be at the wedding. Elsie's dress was taken care of by the W.A.A.F. Welfare Officer, and as Frau Voigt's daughter had very kindly offered her wedding dress to me, (as we were both the same size) my worries were over as regards that aspect.
It simply seemed too good to be true. The "hooch" was organised by one of my own Intelligence Officers who had very good connections in France and Belgium, with the result that there was no shortage of drinks. Bill, having spent several months in Brussels, knew of one or two hotels so he made the necessary bookings etc. Most of my time was spent with the W.A.A.F. and R.A.F. C.Os. running round to various people in the jeep confirming arrangements and making last minute preparations. As I have mentioned, my brother Norman arrived on the previous day and was billeted with Bill. On the Friday evening, a party was given for us, when once again we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There was no mention of "a stag night" or "a hen party" - everybody came.
Our wedding day dawned with cloudy skies, after many days of continuous sunshine, but by late morning the skies cleared and the rest of the day was lovely. Elsie came over from Buckeburg in the morning and we both had lunch in the R.A.F. Regiment's Officers' Mess, which as previously mentioned, was in the same house as Herr Voigt lived. Frau Voigt and her daughter Giesla helped to put the finishing touches to our appearances, and during this time the W.A.A.F. Officer in charge, called in with my head dress of orange blossoms, which had only just been picked from the trees in the surrounding gardens. In the meantime, my brother Norman was being entertained by the rest of the family. At last it was time for Elsie to depart and a few minutes later we followed. The car was very nicely decorated with white carnations and harebells and other flowers, but the biggest surprise was the appearance of two white-helmeted motor cyclists to escort us to the Church and back again. The Church in which we were to be married was the Garrison Church in Buckeburg, and on the return journey, soon after leaving the Church, another Despatch rider appeared, quite by accident, and he placed himself in the line.
My own Intelligence Officers had arranged amongst themselves, the various duties to be performed, and it touched me greatly to see one of them waiting for us as we drew up to the entrance to the Church and for him to salute. I was told later on that I looked very calm, but a close observer would have noticed the bouquet of carnations was trembling. Although we had had a rehearsal the previous afternoon, when the Padre had informed us as to the procedure, being led down the aisle by Norman seemed never ending. The Church was full as practically everyone in the Camp was there, and arrangements had been made for Herr Voigt and his family to be present.
The Church had been beautifully decorated with summer flowers and as we were being married, we both realised what had been done for us. Never shall I forget the sea of faces that greeted us as we emerged from the Church, not only of Service friends but the townsfolk of Buckeburg were gathered all around and on the opposite side of the road. Waiting to assist me into the car stood F/Lt. Lewis, another of my own Officers, and as we neared, he shook hands and saluted us. Confetti, rose petals and even rice fell about our feet - it was all very romantic and very touching to us both.
The reception was held in the W.A.A.F. Mess, and as we alighted, we were surprised to see a German mini band to greet us and they played the Wedding March as we entered. The German waiters were standing by, with further assistants hovering in the background. The tables were beautifully decorated with one special table in the centre on which stood the three-tiered cake, each tier being supported on the wings of four cupids. On each corner of the table was a large plate which had been so decorated that it was completely covered with rose heads, and our two high-backed arm chairs had been camouflaged to resemble thrones, with briars arranged across the back and covering the arms. As the weather was fine, photographs were taken in the lovely grounds.
Later on in the afternoon we returned to Herr Voigt's house where they were waiting to welcome us with a little party, and after staying with them for a little while, it was time to return. During our absence the guests had enjoyed themselves dancing, but on our return our favourite tune was played, which was the waltz from the Gypsy Princess, and naturally, we found ourselves on the dance floor. Everyone was happy and I managed to have a dance with Norman. Before leaving to go to the Station I managed to speak with Norman and Elsie, who both promised to write home and tell them all about it.
As we left for the Station I was handed a large bouquet of lovely tea roses. The rest of the folk followed in any available vehicle, whether it be car, jeep or bus and one or two of them had even brought jugs of wine. The people of Buckeburg must have thought the R.A.F. had taken leave of its senses, as whilst we were waiting for the train, everyone formed a ring around Bill, Norman, Elsie, Bill's best man Wally, and my own two special officers, and began to sing songs suitable to the occasion. Spirits were high and we were forced to take one or two sips of wine before the train steamed in. A great shout went up as the train approached, which apparently was the signal for everyone to link arms, whereupon we all swarmed across the railway lines and onto the platform. Heads were poked out of the windows and all the Service personnel on the train, realising what was happening, took up the refrain of each song. Our compartment was found for us, and after bidding fond farewell to Norma, Elsie and Wally, we boarded the train. Making our way to the windows, and still clutching the roses, we picked the rose-heads and stems and throw them down to the friends below. They then put them onto their uniforms. It was all very emotional. The whistle blew and we were on our way, hands were grasped at the last minute and Norman and I looked at each other and I knew that he would be well looked after and that he would write home.
We stayed until everyone was out of sight and then made ourselves comfortable as we could see our journey would not end until about 8 o'clock the following morning. Someone had given Bill a bottle of champagne and someone had made up some sandwiches, so we had a little celebration on our own. For several minutes we were both silent, each remembering incidents of the day, as well as certain people who had done so much for us to make it a day never to be forgotten, not only by us, but by all of those who had been present.
Nobody would hear about any payment for the wedding, the reception was a present and, as some of the Officers told me, they were enjoying the arrangements, as it meant they were able to take unexpected trips. Apart from this, we were presented with a sum of money with accompanying notes of explanation to the Exchange Bureau in Brussels, to enable us to change such a sum. My own Intelligence Officers gave us a cheque, a gesture which was greatly appreciated, as it was so unexpected, and even after our return to civilian life, we received still a further sum from the airwomen alone.
We eventually arrived in Brussels at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning. The hotel was very pleasant situated at a corner of a large square, near to the Gare de Nord Station. Our room overlooked the square and it was very fascinating to look down upon the people and at night-time to see the neon lights twinkling here and there, and moreover to listen to the music on gramophone records. These seemed to be played continuously all night and one was conscious of an air of activity, which was present wherever one went. There is certainly a romantic air about a Continental City, and it seemed as though we were both in a different world, due to return to earth on arriving back in the U.K. Needless to say we made the most of the 10 days in Brussels and managed to buy various articles of clothing, which had been unobtainable for some time, visiting various places and generally spending a wonderful time. Bill took me to see the family on whom he was billeted when he was in Brussels. They had become very friendly and I had been shown snaps of the family, which included a young girl named Denise. Her father was in the Belgium Army and Bill and his friend often spent time with them.
On returning to Bad Eilsen, we then prepared to go through the procedure of being demobilised. Every day for the following weeks we were running around to various Sections, having our particulars entered on sheets, and forms, and having our names removed from records. There were kit inspections, medical inspections, all had to be completed, and it made one pause and wonder, which was the simpler - to sign on, or sign off. At last the day came for us to leave Bad Eilsen, Germany and it was with deep regret that I said goodbye to my friends, especially my own Intelligence Officers who had proved to be such great pals. Herr Voigt and his family seemed to be quite upset at our leaving and gave us a standing invitation to call if we ever had the opportunity of visiting Germany again."
Sadly Edna Stafford passed away on 22 February 2004. Her husband, Bill, has requested that no further messages are left in response to her stories.
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