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Senior Moment
'A Love Affair'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

February 12, 2017

www.saugeentimes.com

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He was a handsome young Canadian soldier stationed in wartime England with his regiment, the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. She was a pretty, eighteen year old English woman serving her country in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Their romance could have been the fictional plot of a Hollywood movie—except that it happened in real life.

Yvonne “Chip” Carpenter and Robert “Inky” Inkster were married on March 27, 1945. Shortly before her death three months ago, I met and interviewed Chip (column December 4, 2016) about her war experiences as a radar operator.

At that time, I learned about the detailed memoirs of their lives, each had separately written in their later years. Here then, in their own words, is the story of a wartime romance—one with a happy ending.

CHIP: In June, 1942, the powers that be decided to post me to Farlight in Hastings, Sussex, where there was lots of air traffic. Bombers and fighters of both the Luftwaffe and RAF—both ways—all day—and most nights. After the wearisome journey by truck to Farlight, Jerry Ness and I decided to go on a pub crawl to quench our thirst and to find cigarettes, a commodity in very short supply. Two soldiers approached our table and asked if they could join us. Jerry said “Of course” and lit up like a Christmas tree. All I wanted to do was to go to my billet and get some sleep, but I couldn’t just get up and leave her with both of them. And besides these Canadian lieutenants had cigarettes---lots of them. They were my undoing!!!

INKY: It’s the early eve of the 19th June, 1942. My friend, Bruce, and I are sitting in the sumptuous American Bar in The Queen’s Hotel in Hasting, Sussex. Bruce noticed two girls at the bar and commented: “Let’s go talk with them.” Bruce chose Jerry or maybe Jerry chose Bruce, leaving the two shy ones to cope as best they could. I figured she must have been 29 and probably pregnant as well. How wrong could one be?

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CHIP: Have you figured why inky thought so poorly of me? Let me explain---I just had a 12 hour ride in the back of a truck with no cushions. Uniforms were poorly fitted. I did my belt up as tight as I could to prove I had a waist but all it did was to bunch up the excess material, hence the pregnant look. After three shandies, when I had just learned to drink only a couple of months ago, I must have looked like something the cat dragged in.

INKY: It turned out she was just three hours short of being eighteen, a convent-raised girl and every bit as innocent as I was. She had lied about her age to joined up in 1941 when she was seventeen.

CHIP: Goodness knows how long it was before I went “pubbing” again. Off I went alone, and perhaps in hopes? I didn’t see anyone I recognized so I ordered a shandy and was happily reading a newspaper which someone had left at the table I chose to sit at, when a quiet voice said—“Hello Chippy, nice to see you again.” ---and there was Inky. He admitted many years later that I looked a lot younger the second time and as I didn’t get more pregnant-looking, he figured it was OK to like me.

INKY: We spent the next ten months getting to know each other, usually meeting at the American Bar. Often I would go to the fish and chip shop and bring back two shillings and six pence worth of chips wrapped in newspaper. What a mountain of chips you could get for half a crown! The bar had a very good record player so we would buy our favourite vinyl records and play them. Later, I would escort her back to her billet. We became accustomed to the blackout and never got lost. By Christmas time we were going steady, to use the vernacular of the time.

CHIP: We would go for walks during the day; there was a lovely park nearby. We got trapped on the beach after curfew one night and had to climb over a broken-glass-topped wall at least eight feet high; with all the giggling going on I don’t know how we made it, nor why we didn’t get shot by the beach patrol.

INKY: Come the end of April our Regiment was told we would be leaving Hastings but we weren’t permitted to tell anyone. At the same time Chip received orders for a new posting. She left after sorrowful goodbyes and two days later, unbeknownst to her, we were also gone, driving our vehicles all the way to Scotland. On a weekend leave Chip returned to Hastings to find me gone.

CHIP: I had found out I was being posted to Yatesbury as a RADAR instructor and was leaving the very next morning. I told him and gave him an address where he could write me and got a very non-committal answer. Not even a goodbye kiss. He told me, as an excuse, that he had trench mouth and it was contagious. Perhaps this was his way of getting out of the relationship, if one could call it that. I had to say goodbye and walk to my billet with tears in my eyes, which I hoped he hadn’t seen. Damn him! Guess all these months had meant nothing to him. Typical Canadian! Mutter, mutter, mutter. I had really begun to care for him.

Next week, the love story continues to unfold ...

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