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Memories of Councillor Sally Newton

Posted in General

As we remember today ashamedly my sister Isabel and I have come to realise we never really knew what our parents did in the war.

For the first half of our lives World War II was only a few decades back, it wasn't really “history”.

So now, some seventy three years late, as a family, we have endeavoured to find out more.

Our father Robert Charles Pakes as a young boy would cycle from his home in Valley Road Welwyn Garden City to Hitchin Boys Grammar where he went to school. It would hold him in good stead for the years to come. By 19 years of age he was at war.

First he was a fresh recruit that did not come home from Dunkirk. His parents on receiving information of “lost in action” waited six weeks before they knew he was safe.

Despite the rocky start, father’s war was a full one and he was an officer in the Royal Engineers, a Sapper.

The 8th army became significant to us but we never quite knew why. As a little girl I would ask what he did in the war, his reply was that, “all daddy did was build bridges, and then blow them up again” He never really spoke about it again till much later in life.

Our mother was born in South Shields and trained in Sunderland to become a nurse. Happily enjoying her first job as matron of the sanatorium in Rugby School, never envisaged that within a few years she would be part of the Alexandra Nursing Corp. and at war.

Both father and mother individually travelled Europe and the world during the war. Mother in India, father in Italy and both in Sicily. It was in Sicily that the one ray of war of hope amidst the trauma of war entered their lives.

The nurses were out for the evening and father was assigned as driver to pick them up. The back of the truck full, none of the nurses wanted to sit up front with the charming officer at the wheel.

Mother was a nursing sister and Captain in the QA's, so typical mother, jumped in beside the handsome officer.

So started a long friendship. Mother and Father married in 1943.

As a child I also asked my mother what were her memories, all she just said “I remember the Polish lads who were on our side they fought so hard and died so courageously as did all our men”. That was all she ever said.

This story of course ended happily for us but sadly not for all. My father did tell me of how he played cards one night in Northern Italy with a fellow comrade. The following morning his friend failed to turn up in parade. During the night he had committed suicide by shooting himself.

Our parents are now gone they have become part of a generation for whom we owe so much.

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