Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams

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Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: History told through the letters of a young couple who got engaged in 1945 whilst the man was still in the army. It's a delightful combination of social and military history and brings the immediate post-war period to life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 296 Date: June 2019
Publisher: Troubador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1789017977

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Ronnie Williams was the son of Thomas Henry Williams (known as Harry) and Ethel Wall. There's some doubt as to whether or not they were ever married or even Harry's birthdate: he claimed to have been born in 1863, but he was already many years older than Ethel and he might well have shaved a few years off his age. For a while the family was quite well-to-do but disaster struck in the 1929 Depression and five-year-old Ronnie had to adjust to a very different lifestyle. One thing he did inherit from his father was his need to be well-turned-out and this would stay with him throughout his life. He joined the army at eighteen in 1942.

Hilda was just six months younger than Ronnie. She was the daughter of Wilfred James Cartwright and the former Edith Ashworth: Wilfred and Edith were shopkeepers. Hilda met Ronnie in late 1945 when she went to someone else's house to have a bath: had she been half an hour earlier or later they might never have met. Ronnie had never had a girlfriend before but he knew that Hilda was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He proposed when they had only known each other for ten days - and Hilda accepted. There was just one problem: Hilda was in living in Rochdale and Ronnie had to return to the army, initially in Milan. He would not be demobbed until April 1947 and the couple got to know each other by sending letters every couple of days. Hilda and Ronnie's Romance is built on the content of those letters.

History is rarely written by the people who were there at the time and even if it is, it's unusual for what's written to be contemporaneous. Events are filtered through memory, which makes its own adjustments as time goes by. In Hilda and Ronnie's Romance we have two people, with few axes to grind, who simply want to get to know each other, to know what the other has been doing and to plan for their future. In reading what they have to say to each other we learn about the state of post-war Britain, with its shortages, privations and restrictions as well as the chaos of a Europe in the immediate aftermath of the surrender of Germany.

Hilda was a teacher and Ronnie rose from being a Private when we first meet him to the lofty heights of Staff Sergeant some sixteen months later. Both are mature for their age - just twenty one in 1945 - and Ronnie is particularly responsible, although neither is good with money. It's a tribute to author Wendy Williams that she allows the real personalities to emerge, only removing from the letters anything which was intensely personal.

Whilst Hilda and Ronnie are obviously wrapped up in each other, it's not to the exclusion of other people. Hilda provides news about her extended family and she's also conscious of the effect of war on the men who are sent to fight it:

Their minds and feelings have got hurt by what they've seen and experiences, and things like that take a long time to heal. I think that is one of the worst and most terrible effects of war - its effects on people mentally, morally and spiritually, even more so than physically.

That's particularly insightful for one so young. I did wonder too how Hilda and Ronnie would have felt about having their correspondence published, but, once again, Hilda provided me with an answer:

What Memories! I could write a book of them. I say, that's an idea. Maybe I will do some day. I'm sure I could produce an interesting life-story even now.

Hilda never got around to it, but her daughter has done an excellent job for her. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy War and Love: A family's testament of anguish, endurance and devotion in occupied Amsterdam by Melanie Martin, the story of how some members of the author's family survived WWII.

You can read more about Wendy Williams here.

Buy Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams at Amazon.com.

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