The First Fourteen Interviews

Now that our first fourteen interviews are available to read and listen to online and to order in print, we wanted to give you an idea of what each of these stories covers. Below, you can find a summary of each interview. Many of them are richly illustrated with photographs and images of letters, telegram, medals, and news cuttings, and as all of our resources are published under aa Creative Commons BY-ND 4.0 licence you are free to redistribute and reuse them (without modification) as long as you credit War Widows’ Stories.

So, if one piques your interest, why not head to the full page and download the audio file or transcript to read later?

Rita Armin’s husband Henry Armin served in the British Army during the Second World War. He sustained serious injuries after a botched parachute jump, leaving him seriously disabled for the rest of his life. He died in 1998. Rita describes how she met Henry and their happy marriage, including the birth of their son Philip. She outlines the struggles to receive financial and practical support while Henry was alive. Rita talks about her successful career working for British Airways, her current role as an award-winning Police Service Volunteer, and her love of travel.

Bernice Bartlett talks about meeting and marrying her husband Harry Golding aged 17. She remembers how Harry was reluctant to join the Army as he did not want to leave Bernice and their first-born son, Bernard, and how Harry never met their second son, Barry, born in 1943. Bernice talks about living in Maidstone with her mother (also a widow) during the war, and recounts the day she received the letter telling her that Harry had been killed by a booby trap near Florence in Italy, as well as visiting his grave 40 years after Harry’s death. Bernice describes her life running country pubs with her second husband, her large family including four children, eight grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, and her many hobbies, including playing bridge and whist.

Jeannie Benjamin recounts the story of her mother Margaret Benjamin who was widowed when her husband (Jeannie’s father) Eric Benjamin was killed in action during the Second World War. Margaret was left with two young daughters, Jeannie aged 18 months, and Sally, just three weeks old. Jeannie describes her parents’ loving relationship and shares letters and poems written by her father, as well as extracts from her mother’s memoir. She remembers her mother as a strong, lively personality who profoundly influenced Jeannie’s development as a feminist and an activist. Jeannie reflects on the impact of losing her father as a young child and the processes of recovering his memory in later life through researching and writing a book.

Christina Claypole was born in South Shields, and was evacuated as a child during the Second World War to Upton with her brother Ron and her mother, Christiane Kirton, who was widowed in 1942. Christina’s father John was killed when the submarine HMS Olympus was blown up in Malta. Christina describes life as an evacuee, and remembers her happy childhood despite her mother’s financial struggles. She recalls taking her mother to visit Malta and lay a wreath in the ocean, and describes her mother’s active life as a widow, including a visit to Buckingham Palace.

Joan Eggmore met her husband, Dougie, in London after the war, and they had one son, David, before Dougie passed away as a result of his service. Joan talks about their courtship and wedding day, about Dougie’s role as a draughtsman in India and Burma, and about his chronic health condition which was exacerbated by his service. She describes her early working life, including in the fur department in Harrods and as a staff nurse, and outlines how she went back to education in her forties to train as a teacher. Joan details the social and financial challenges of being a widow, including her application for a War Widows’ Pension.

Sylvia Elliott talks about her childhood in Derby during the Second World War and about meeting her husband. Bill, who had been badly injured in Korea. She describes her forty-year marriage to Bill, their two daughters, Carol and Dawn, and his commitment to the British Legion. Sylvia outlines her life since Bill’s death, including moving to Skegness, travelling around the world, and marrying again to her second husband, John. Sylvia also details the difficulties she encountered applying for a War Widow’s Pension. 

Maggie Goren’s grandfather, Lance Corporal Matthew Evans, died in the First World War, leaving behind his wife, Annie, who was pregnant with their fourth child. Maggie talks about her father’s experience growing up the son of a widow, and about the financial, educational and emotional repercussions of his father’s death. Maggie reflects on the intergenerational effects of bereavement and shares some of her writings about war.

Denise Haddon’s father, Ronald King, was killed in Malaya in 1942, when Denise was an infant. She tells the story of her parents’ relationship and describes life for her mother, Elizabeth Cooper, as a widow. Denise details the hectic early years of the war which her mother spent in Ireland before returning to Hounslow in 1947 where Denise was raised by her mother, grandmother and aunt. Denise talks about travelling to Singapore to visit her father’s grave in Kranji Cemetary, and about the implications of losing her father as a baby.

Brenda Hillman and her husband Terry, who was a pilot, were living on a service base in Malaya, when Terry was killed in a helicopter crash, leaving Brenda with their eighteen-months-old son. Brenda describes the challenges of returning to the UK, returning to teaching to earn a living and the support she received from family members. She also talks about her mother’s widowhood and remembers her father who was killed in an air-raid in West Malling.

Wendy Hutchinson was born in Kent and met her husband Tony in 1987, when he was a serving member of the British Army. Wendy talks about their busy family life with seven children and details how Tony left the Army in 1992. She describes Tony’s experience of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder, and outlines the lack of support Tony and Wendy received before Tony’s death by suicide in 2015.

Christiane Kirton’s husband, John, was killed when the submarine HMS Olympus was blown up in Malta in 1942 when Christiane was just 21. She describes her early life, her jobs in domestic service and her financial difficulties bringing up two children on her own. She talks about moving from South Shields to Doncaster during the war, struggling to make ends meet and her pride in her children and grandchildren.

Ruth Maxwell’s parents, Joyce and William, met in Ashridge Convalescent Home in 1945, Joyce recovering from suspected TB and William as a repatriated Prisoner of War. Ruth details the circumstances of William’s death as a result of renal failure in 1950, leaving Joyce with two young children and pregnant with their third child. Joyce was a founding member of the War Widows’ Association and Ruth describes her mother as a spirited, determined woman who established her own typing business to support the family. Ruth reflects on how the death of her father has impacted her throughout her life.

Mary Moreland is from Kilkeel, Co. Down in Northern Ireland. Her husband John served in the Ulster Defence Regiment in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and was killed in 1988. Mary is currently Chairwoman of the War Widows’ Association. Mary talks about the circumstances of John’s death, breaking the news to her children, her own experience of serving in the UDR, the experience of being a widow in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, developing her career, and her role within the War Widows’ Association.

Anne Rickwood’s father, Gordon, was killed in the Battle of Arnhem during the Second World War, leaving Anne’s mother, Patricia Starr Vicary, with a small baby. Anne describes her mother’s precarious financial situation and the challenges she faced as a war widow. Anne talks about her own awareness of her father’s death and how it impacted on her mother. She outlines how she visits Arnhem on an annual basis, and explains the importance of National Memorial Arboretum as a space of commemoration for her mother.

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