Letter from a Stranger
Romance in War – Book 1
Copyright (c) Louise Roberts 2015
Published by Luminosity Publishing
Available on Amazon:
Available at Luminosity Publishing:
A letter from a stranger is meant to boost the morale of front-line troops. For one soldier romance blissfully awaits…
At the outbreak of the Second World War, in Britain, women were encouraged to write letters to the men on the front line. For Jean White, this would lead to a friendship with Bill Brooks, an anti-aircraft gunner with the Royal Artillery serving on the south coast of England at the height of the Blitz.
As German aircraft drop their deadly payloads over London and devastate most of southern England, the relationship between Jean and Bill blossoms. Through their correspondence, at first and then when they finally meet. It’s as though the world has stood still. A quiet weekend away from London strengthens their bond and romance blissfully flourishes.
As the war intensifies, and Bill’s impending departure to foreign shores looms ever closer, their future together seems insecure, until a few days before his departure when Bill proposes marriage. Will Jean accept the proposal or will doubt keep them apart?
Historical Note – Author’s Afterword
Although “Letter from a Stranger” is a work of fiction, it is based on fact. During the outbreak of the Second World War, in Britain, women were encouraged to write letters to the men on the front line. For Irene Leonard [Jean White] this would lead to a friendship with Thomas Arthur William Turner [William “Bill” Brooks], an anti-aircraft gunner with the Royal Artillery.
When Tom was alive, I spoke to him a fair bit about his war years but I never found out how he had met Irene. It was only years later after they had both passed away that on speaking to my spouse I discovered how my in-laws had met.
The exact details of how and when they met are hazy, and unfortunately none of their letters were ever found amongst their belongings. As such I have had to invent the correspondence. Luckily, Tom’s youngest sister, Jan still lives though now in her eighties. Thanks to her memory, she was able to provide me with a lot of background information on the family and of when she herself had been evacuated. Although in the novella she and her brother were together, in reality they had not, and it seems Ernie had had a tough time of it. One specific memory of her brother, Tom, was him continually saying, after he had met Irene, that one day he was going to marry her.
Tom Turner, a deeply patriotic individual throughout his life, enlisted in September 1939 as soon as the war against Germany was announced. He was with the British Expeditionary Force in France and was one of the last men to be taken off the beaches at Dunkirk. He had told me he had served in Crete, but when he said he had also sailed on the Empress of Asia in 1941 bound for Suez, the timeline could not have been possible. It was also highly unlikely he would have been on the convoy from Scotland as those men who had served in Crete were immediately evacuated to Egypt to be redeployed in the Eighth Army to fight in the Western Desert as Tom did, but much later.
From my research and notes from when he had first recounted his experiences, I had to blot out any mention of Crete in this novella. It made more sense that ‘Bill Brooks’ served on the south coast of England defending the capital as an anti-aircraft gunner. In order to switch over to the twenty-five pounder guns, he would have needed to attend a specialist training course. The training centre in Harrogate was started in 1939 and is still in existence today – although the wooden huts which served as barracks in Penny Pot Lane during World War Two have long since been replaced by modern brick buildings.
On 26 April 1941 the Empress of Asia which had been launched 23 November 1912 by Fairfield Shipping Company, Govan in Scotland for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company sailed out of the Firth of Clyde for Liverpool where she was due to embark two thousand men from the Yorkshire Regiment better known as the Green Howards. The 16,090-ton ship had been requisitioned as a troop ship on 13 February 1941 for the second time in its history [she was also a troop ship during WWI]. On 28 April 1941 she formed part of convoy WS8A [Winston Specials] and sailed from Liverpool to Egypt via the Cape, South Africa transporting troops to North Africa. Amongst them was Sergeant Thomas Arthur William Turner assigned to Anti-Aircraft gun battery whilst on the ship, arriving at Suez on 13 June 1941.
On arrival in North Africa Tom Turner and his unit were in action at Tobruk where he sustained injury to shrapnel when the gun emplacement next to theirs received a direct hit. Their positions were subsequently overrun, and Tom found himself a Prisoner of War. Whilst awaiting transportation out of Africa he met up with his brother John “Jack” Turner also as a POW although he had been captured by the Italians. A wire fence separated the two groups of men.
Tom was transferred to a camp in Bavaria. Stalag XVIII-C was located near the town of St. Johann im Pongau [where many years later the area would be made even more famous when the movie “The Sound of Music” was filmed]. Tom often spoke of his time in the camp and said the German soldiers had treated them with consideration. He never had a bad word said about his captors. It had always been his desire to return to Austria after the war, but circumstances never allowed it to happen. Although in the story Alf Lilley had been “Bill Brook’s” friend since school days, in reality Alf first met Tom at the POW camp. They remained friends after the war.
On 18 December 1944 the camp was bombed by U.S. aircraft. Forty-six prisoners and several guards were killed. Both the British and French camp hospitals were hit, with the British hut being almost completely destroyed. Tom was further injured when during the clean up by POWs of the nearby railway sidings damaged by the bombings he fell badly when his leg became trapped in between some railway track points.
Stalag XVIII-C was liberated by Allied troops on 11 May 1945. Tom was amongst one of the lucky individuals to have been transported home almost immediately.
True to his word the moment he returned from the war Tom married Irene on 23 June 1945.
Tom & Irene Turner
23 June 1945