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by Hilda Tidball

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Hilda Tidball
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Hilda Tidball
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29 January 2004

I was just 8 when I first saw Alan Tidball. I think I knew I was going to marry him then. I was visiting my grandparents who lived in Shepton Mallet in Somerset. My Grandparents were at 117 Whitstone Road and Alan lived at No. 46. That was 1931.

We met again in 1937 in Collett Park, Shepton Mallet, where he was showing off his skills on a bicycle. I was staying in Cowl St at this time, visiting my Grandmother again. It was Easter.

Our next meeting was Christmas 1939. Out with my cousin in Shepton Mallet we saw Alan and a friend standing on the corner of Peter St in the town, looking so handsome in his RAF uniform. We talked and all four of us walked together to the park. It was a gorgeous moonlit night but very cold and frosty. He invited us join him on one of the benches, but I remembered my mother’s warnings and wouldn’t sit down. But eventually we did exchange addresses.

Some time afterwards, having returned to Birmingham, where I lived, I met the postman who gave me a letter from a LAC A. R. Tidball, No. 633501 from Lyme Regis. He was in the Marine Craft Section of the RAF. I was so excited to receive that letter and after that we continued to write to each other.

It was now January 7th 1940, 9 years after our first meeting. Alan was invited for a visit to my home in Saltley in Birmingham to meet my parents. He continued to come at odd weekends after that, whenever he was on leave. Things were a lot stricter in those days and I remember sometimes that we sat together in the Air Raid Shelter and I used to pretend to manicure his fingernails, just so that we could hold each other’s hands. Then finally we got engaged and then married at St Margaret’s Church in Ward End, Saltley on 3rd August 1942.

It was no easy matter arranging a wedding in Wartime. In Birmingham we had lots of bombing and supplies of everything were very short, particularly food and fuel. I stood in coke queues at Saltley Gas Station from 6 am in the morning until I was served. There were lots of privations then, no water, no gas, bad times, but through it all we still managed to have some laughs.

Like the time my mother and I were pushing a pram, on which we were carrying a large galvanised tub full of water, which we had fetched from Duddeston Mill. This was a long walk from Philimore Road, where we lived and it was all-uphill. When we arrived at The Gate, Saltley, the Police Constable had to stop the traffic. The wheel had come off the pram and we were in danger of losing all our precious water. But people were very good to one another then and we had help to get the pram and the water safely back home.

Life was different in Wartime, obviously, but it still went on and Alan and I were getting married. I was 19 years old and he was 21. Couples generally married younger at that time, one reason being that you never knew when, or even if, you were going to see your sweetheart again. So the preparations began.

As I said, food was in short supply, mostly rationed and so for a special occasion like this, everyone had to chip in. I was handed small bags of dried fruit for the cake, sugar, margarine and some pieces of butter. My Auntie Joan made the cake, 2 tiers. It was wonderful. Liquid paraffin went in to eke out the fat. It’s a wonder we didn’t all live in the toilet after that!

My wedding day started badly, with my having a very bad cold. After having put on my dress and starting to fix my veil, blood began to pour from my nose down the front of my dress. It was awful. There wasn’t time to take everything off so I lay down on the bed and a board was placed between the dress and me and my mother proceeded to scrub the stain and then dry and iron it — with me still inside. The Doctor was called and he injected me with something to stop the bleeding. Eventually, I turned up at the church, very late, with cotton wool up both nostrils and a wet cloth in an oiled silk bag in my hand -there was no plastic then. I had no makeup on. I must have looked terrible. But Alan married me nevertheless! The sirens were sounding ‘Alarm’ when we went into the church and they sounded ‘All Clear’ when we came out. I had a feeling they were trying to tell us something, but I’m not sure what.

The reception was held over the Co-op shop upstairs in Alum Rock Road, so everything had had to be transported once again by pram. We all had a good time, as people had been very generous with their gifts of food. And if they couldn’t afford to buy a wedding gift, they gave you something of their own. One present we had was a dish, still with some jelly left in it. The gifts were not as lavish as they are today. I remember we had 2 breadboards, 3 cruet sets …and some money!

When it was time to clear up to go home one of my final jobs was to empty the vase, that my flowers had been in, as the lady, who had lent it to us wanted the vase back. There was nowhere to throw out the water, so I stood on a chair and emptied it out of the upstairs window of the Co-op.

It was just unlucky for me that a man happened to be passing underneath just at that time. He was very drunk and came marching up the stairs and into the room wearing a wet bowler hat and with water streaming all down his face. It was hard not to laugh, but we dared not as he was very angry and demanding his rights in a very loud voice. To calm things down my cousin Len Payne gave him 2 bottles of Stout and he went away happy.

And so did Alan and I. We lived together for 57 years after that day, until Alan died. And although I can’t say we lived ‘happily ever after’ - just like in The War we had bad times and good times - I can say that I truly never wanted anyone else.

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