The reason for my recent interest in our family history, is I received an e-mail from a very much removed distant cousin of my husband's this week. She's researching the family tree, and whilst Googling, had tripped over an old post of mine which sparked her interest.
Happily, I have a collection of photographs dating back to the early 1800's of the Ludolf clan, so have promised to scan and forward on what I can. She in return has generously offered to forward on a copy of the family tree, once it is (as best as she can trace) complete.
(Part one can be read here and part two here.)
She (Veronica) must have been in her early seventies when we first met.
Her face always lit up as she recounted her days in the WRAF (Women's Royal Air Force) during WW2. Although she never left the ground (or Country, come to that), she experienced a great many adventures, and risked her life in the name of her King and Country, more than once..
Assigned training as a plotter in The Operations Room, she became one of the the first ever Radar Operator's in Britain. Billited just outside of London, her workplace was situated in the back of one of three converted trucks, slap bang in the middle of a cornfield..
The Army Land girls worked the fields adjacent, and according to Veronica, they were a high-spirited, devil-me-care, lot. Hard working by day, they would happily party all night if given half the chance. This gave Veronica considerable consternation when she abruptly found herself unofficially appointed in charge of their welfare - being in the WRAF, she had no legitimate sway in Army matters, but that still didn't stop her from being ordered to oversee their morning roll-call.
Although in her mid-twenties, thus-far Veronica had led a very sheltered life, she had never dated before, and she certainly didn't drink. She had no idea what to do about the often AWOL, frequently hung-over, and all too often, love-struck or heartbroken girls absent from duty. Loathe to land anyone in trouble, she frequently found herself fudging things to allow time for the offending culprits to make it back in line. Hardly surprisingly, this made her quite popular, which may be why the girls soon took it upon themselves to further her education whenever possible.
Despite rigid rationing, many underground drinking bars flourished, and it was to one of these, off-duty, they escorted her to one day. It held the tradition every new female crossing the premises should stand up on a table, down a shot in one, and, aided by some very helpful servicemen, with fresh boot-polish applied to the soles of her shoes, be flipped up-sides-down, to "walk" the ceiling. Veronica wasn't exactly keen, but realising there was no getting out of it, she agreed to be "flipped" but only on the proviso one of the females in her group joined her on the table, to keep her skirt held up high enough to ensure her modesty. (This "walk" - plus shots - sealed the beginning of some lasting friendships for Veronica, some of which were to span decades).
It was she who missed the roll-call, that next morning - something she had a hard time living down.
It wasn't always an easy relationship with my mother-in-law, but I loved hearing her tales of her days in the war. I am awed at how her generation coped during the blitz, all the loved ones they lost, the hardships they endured.
The cornfields surrounding Veronica's quarters were all equipped with heavy duty artillery, and part of her duties involved firing one of these at the incoming German planes that relentlessly bombed London. Whilst most of the civilian populace were taking shelter underground, she was out there risking life and limb. During one evening raid, the truck she worked from took a direct hit, ironically, manning the gun that day effectively saved her life.
When peace was finally declared, it was a very different Veronica who eventually returned home to her mother's house. Once de-mobbed, she, like thousands of others, had a new way of life to find, out in Civvy Street, and it wasn't necessarily an easy transition.
As I mentioned earlier, Veronica and I didn't always have the easiest of relationships, but I had to admire her. I think I should end by fast forwarding through to one of the last times I ever saw her.
(Wonder why I am not in the picture?)
It was the occasion of her fiftieth wedding anniversary, and it was probably one of best coups Veronica ever pulled on me. She was very frail at the time, wheelchair-bound from a broken hip, and with many breathing difficulties, she still rose to the event to celebrate it in style. Hiring a venue at one of Harrogate's top hotels, a couple of hundred of us were invited to celebrate with them to join together for a slap up meal in honour of the auspicious landmark.
Naturally, being family, we were to be seated at the "top table" and were to take our pew placed alongside both her and Jack. Only our eldest accompanied us there, seeing as how our other three children were still a little too young and unpredictable to be expected to sit through all the courses and subsequent speeches to follow. Needless to say, everyone there would want a record of this happy gathering, and so the room was bound to be positively laden with flashlights, cameras and a multitude of video recorders.
I knew I would barely know anyone there outside of our immediate family, so it goes without saying I was a tad unsure and slightly nervous as to how it would all go down. You can imagine then how thunderstruck I was when Veronica telephoned to inform me of her "special evening request". It appeared she had recently developed a certain extreme allergy to both perfume and cosmetics. Anyone placed anywhere near her must not, under any circumstance, wear so much as a lick of either.
I considered coming down with the 'flu, but being no body's fool Al quickly pre-empted me.
"Don't even think of crying off, it's important you're there.. besides, you always look gorgeous."
So it was, bare faced and deodorant-free, feeling the ugliest woman in town, wishing myself invisible, I finally turfed up to be filed through to be greeted by our couple of the hour.
Visibly doing a double take, I truly didn't believe my eyes.
There she sat in all her glory, looking nothing less than radiant, Veronica was all elegantly coiffured and fully made-up, right down to her unmistakable trademark Scarlet lipstick. When her eyes met mine, she positively glowed.
"I thought you were allergic to cosmetics?"
"Not to the hypo-allergic variety, dear.." purred she, eyes all a-twinkle.