'Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance' is precisely that: a heart-warming journey from a chance encounter and love at first sight through long periods of separation imposed by Ronnie’s army service overseas in the aftermath of the Second World War until he is finally discharged and they are at last able to marry in June 1947, 19 months after their first meeting. Yet this memoir is much more than its title might suggest. Author Wendy Williams’ decision to let her late parents’ extensive surviving correspondence speak for itself gives the two principal figures an extraordinarily vivid presence. Their copious letters, his frequently written at odd moments stolen from an almost ceaseless round of military duties, are a timeless evocation of a first love that was to endure for the rest of their lives. Yet the epistolary form means that we gain a first-hand impression of the background against which their romance developed. Hilda, in the first years of her teaching career, writes to her fiancé amidst the shortages and traumas of a post-War Britain struggling to heal its wounds and regain prosperity. The details she includes, at pains to share her day-to-day life with him in the only way she can, tell us much about the possibilities and limitations that ordinary people of her generation experienced. Entertainment, train travel and social pastimes were prominent, yet the practical challenges of setting up a home in readiness for their married life were huge.
The stark, unstated contrast with the deprivations that Ronnie experiences in continental Europe, rising rapidly through the military ranks but charged with mopping up the sometimes gruesome legacy of the Peace, is arresting. This is another world, and one too little known about today. He takes prisoners-of-war to the firing squad, fights chaotic organisation to bring a semblance of fairness to a detention camp; he tears down huts for firewood to keep himself warm in the freezing Austrian countryside. Longing only to return home finally to his wife-to-be, he applies all the skills and discipline that fighting in Italy had taught him to this no-man’s land of sinking morale as units are disbanded and prisoner escort duties deprive him of sleep. There are vivid impressions, too, of the places he sees, for he goes everywhere with eyes open and a mind curious to learn about this world so remote from his Rochdale home.
Wendy Williams has given her late parents the lasting voice – their own – that they deserve to have. Here are two young people in their early twenties, forced by historical and personal circumstances to grow up all too quickly. The skilful editing of the correspondence creates a sense of vivid dialogue between their two worlds. Ronnie and Hilda come alive for us, with all the sensitivities and foibles of real people, and, with them, they bring alive two worlds now all but lost to us. This is social history at first hand, and the well-judged annotations, introduction and appendices, complemented by an excellent range of photographic material, situate the personal story fascinatingly within the broader context of the period.
by Grahame Whitehead
This book promises much on the cover yet delivers ‘in Spades.’
As an insight to the hardships caused by administrative incompetence by HM command, by inference the failure of the 1945 government to honour its pledges to its troops, this is a sorry military record of failure which was buoyed-up by the total loyalty of those who had endured (and continued after) incredible deprivation in the service of King and Country.
Reading the letters from Lancashire one assumes all ‘tickety-boo’; read the book to realise the whole story.
by John Keys
I began by browsing at random but quickly went back to the beginning and, two hours later, was still reading. It's a beautifully put-together account of a love story in late wartime but I was particularly gripped by what was going on in Hilda's life back in Lancashire - her day-to-day existence, living over the family shop and teaching in a secondary modern school, the outings to the pictures and evening classes that helped pass the time until she could be with her beloved Ronnie again, all the detailed hopes and plans for their subsequent marriage. These letters bring it all to life and helpful footnotes flesh out the background for us - a real first-hand social history.
by Kathryn Dews
Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance by Wendy Williams (their daughter) is a great love story written out by letters back and forth from Ronnie Williams and Hilda Cartwright during the early part of their relationship/courtship. The span was from when they first met in 1945 to when Ronnie was honorably discharged at the end of his service in the military.
Ms Williams also added a follow up including: their wedding, their married life, and their last years (together and apart).
I enjoyed reading all of the footnotes (as they added so many more fascinating tidbits) as well as the amazing pictures that were added.
I loved to be able to put faces with names. It was truly enjoyable to read a true romance blossoming and all of the fascinating things that happened on a daily basis in England at the post-war time.
Ms Williams is very lucky to have had such amazing parents with such a sweet, romantic story to tell.
Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance is told through a series of letters written over the course of eighteen months. After meeting and becoming engaged in a matter of ten days, Ronnie is posted overseas until he is demobilized from the army. For that reason, it is through these letters that their relationship, understanding, and love of each other developed and flourished.
The warmth and respect that these two people shared comes through with every word. I enjoyed reading the day to day happenings of Ronnie and Hilda dealing with life in the aftermath of WWII, it actually was very hard for me to put this book down once I started it. This is such a lovely book! An amazingly simple story, but it still had great depth.
A beautiful love story told through a series of letters, from 1945 it spans start of their courtship to marriage ( foot notes added include their wedding and married life which adds a lovely touch) this is a lovely true love story of a normal couple but an exceptional love. Well told and heartwarming, with pictures to accompany their letters.
Ronnie and Hilda hit it off so well that within ten days, he proposed and the description here made me tear up for the first time. “He could only afford to buy a ring with the tiniest of stones, but she treasured it more than words could say.” That phrase recurs between the two of them in their letters as each sends the other little gifts during their long separation. It didn’t seem to matter what was exchanged – homemade cakes, stockings, toothpaste, a lipstick – the other was delighted and never hesitated to say so. I chuckled when it’s obvious that Ronnie’s army mates are teasing him a little when it’s clear he’s sitting and thinking of Hilda. And he never hesitates to spend what little precious free time he has writing long letters to her in between doing the 10,001 things the army orders him to do. Just thinking of her while he’s writing is reward enough for him.
The maturity shown in their correspondence is astounding but even at their young ages, Hilda was already an experienced, college educated teacher while Ronnie had been in the service for nearly five years. They clearly know their minds and give a lot of thought to their plans. But just because the war was won, it didn’t mean the tough times were over. Rationing and shortages were still the norm in Britain and Hilda must have been tickled to get those stockings that Ronnie found in Europe. Ronnie’s post war duties sounded horrible – guarding Nazi prisoners and conveying them to war trials – and the winter weather was atrocious.
But through the letters, we can see two level headed young people getting to know each other better and longing for their post war lives together to begin. It is indeed a world that is long gone but it – and their romance – come alive and warm my heart. And yeah, I enjoyed reading about Hilda’s two cats and her dog, too. Thank you for sharing their love and their story with the world. B
What a lovely book this is, giving us a glimpse into the lives of two ordinary people during the second world war. Their story is told via the numerous letters that flew back and forth between them while Ronnie was on active service.
These letters give us a rare portrait of what life was like during for war, both for those serving and those left waiting for them at home. Ronnie and Hilda's growing romance is an absolute joy to behold, and the couple are intensely likeable. The innocence shown in their letters made my heart ache at times, The respect and love they share is beautiful to see. For me it is the mundanities that stand out, the ordinary things they tell Eeach other, like Hilda buying some new powder, or what Ronnie had to eat. The footnotes giving you more information about subjects they talk about in their letters are great, because they give you a glimpse into their lives beyond the letters.
Wendy Williams has made her parents lives shine Brighton this book, and i feel very honoured to gave been able to get to know them through their letters. An absolute delight.
The letters exchanged between this soon-to-be-married couple shortly after the Second World War illustrate beautifully both the social conditions in England at the time and the aftermath of the war in continental Europe. I admit I'm slightly biassed as I come from very close to where the couple were to live in Rochdale, but the detail of life at the time - really not that long ago - takes us into a very different world.
In parallel with Hilda's letters giving a flavour of life in England at the time, Ronnie's experience in the army are also an important reminder that the the war did not suddenly end in 1945. From his delightful comment on there being nothing worth seeing at the cinema, so he took in an opera at La Scala instead to chilling stories of guarding Nazis heading for war crimes trials, it's a salutary reminder of a very different time - but with an ultimately happy ending as the letters cease when the pair are finally united.
by Brian Clegg