Post memories: Wartime courtship that spanned from Barking to the Far East
PUBLISHED: 13:00 03 June 2015
Sending letters and photos was the only way soldiers could communicate with their beloveds during the war. Robert Saul reflects on staying in touch with the love of his life – his wife Clarice – from millions of miles away
Overruled by love, the piercing backdrop of air raid sirens didn’t stop two romantics dancing the night away during the Second World War.
But the suitors were soon to be torn apart when Robert Saul was sent to the Far East in 1945.
He trained for assault on Japan as the country was occupied by Allied Powers – leaving Clarice at home in Barking where she was crowned the first post-war carnival queen.
Although the pair grew up on the same Barking street – Greatfields Road – they only met at a tea dance.
Their love blossomed into an 40 year marriage – and on the 70th anniversary of Clarice’s coronation her husband looks back on the time they shared.
“We’d dance together every week before I was sent off to war,” Robert said. “We must have written hundreds of letters while we were apart. She was made Barking Queen in 1945 and I was in India at the time.
“My letters were mainly telling her that I was safe and she’d send me some pictures too. When she told me she’d won the Barking competition I was extremely proud.”
Robert served with the parachute regiment and said he was jokingly labelled “the king” when his army mates heard about his fiancée hitting carnival royalty status.
Now living alone in Thames View Lodge, Barking, since he lost his sweetheart to a sudden stroke in 1999, Robert recalled how it all began.
“I was a keen dancer – and even keener when it was with a nice girl,” the 89-year-old admitted.
“Clarice was lovely and a great dancer. We danced the night away for the whole 18 months when we first met, until I was called up and sent to the Far East.
“We’d meet up and go dancing two or three times a week. Very often the sirens would sound while we were dancing and we’d be told to go down to the shelters.
“Men felt disjointed knowing they could get called up at any time and for this reason – we danced.”
He explained it was common for young men to get engaged when they were about to go to war because they were uncertain whether they’d ever come back.
Robert popped the question on the way home from a dance one day outside Clarice’s family house.
“I got on one knee outside the front door,” he said. “`We hardly ever went into a girlfriend’s house in those days. I’d walk her to the gate and that night I just got down on my knees. It was bittersweet but I hoped I would come home and we’d marry.”
They wed soon after Robert’s return from war in 1948 and spent decades travelling the world when they weren’t based at home on the Thamesview Estate.
“We must have written hundreds of letters to each other during the time I was away,” he said.
“There was no phoning back then. Sometimes they were lost on route, they were very precious though and it was so exciting to receive one. I’ve saved about 50 and I will leave the rest to my niece.
“Clarice was a beautiful woman and we had an absolutely idyllic marriage together.”
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