Today is the 28th March 2019, and this is Nadine interviewing for the War Widows project, and I’m here with Susan Rimmer. Susan, can you tell me how old you are?
And where do you live at the moment?
In Yorkshire, Otley.
Susan, can we start with your childhood? Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I was born in Glasgow. I lived there till I was 9, and we used to come to Otley on holiday, to my auntie’s. And we begged my mum, “Can we come and live here?” which we did. Nobody understood a word I was saying with the accent, so I quickly sort of lost it. I went to the two little primary schools, and then I went to the big school. And I’m still friends, my best friend from when I was 10, who I went to school with, friends with her. And I just love living in Yorkshire, it’s brilliant.
Have you got any siblings?
I’ve got one sister, she’s five years older. She still speaks Scottish. You’d think she’d never left. But I think with me being 9 and being at school for six years, and then being the centre of attention because I spoke differently, and I didn’t like that. I still don’t.
What was school like?
Okay, I suppose. I didn’t like it, didn’t dislike it, just … You have to do it, don’t you? I had some friends who, as I say, I’ve kept in touch with, so on the whole it’s alright.
What were your parents like?
I just had a mum and she died when she was 67. But she wasn’t a cuddly, cuddly mum but she did everything for me. She was brilliant. And when Jim [her late husband] actually was killed in Ireland, my mother took four months off work, because I was six months’ pregnant, and she practically brought my daughter up with me. Because I lived with her and then, when I bought a house, I bought the house next door, so I’d just knock on the wall if I needed her. She was always there for me. She looked after me and when she was ill I looked after her.
She sounds lovely.
Can I take you back to the time, maybe, just before you met your first husband? What was it like as a teenager? Was that in Otley too?
Yeah, normal; out on Friday night, drinking underage. But the Police used to come round the pubs then, so we used to have coke, when we got into the town we had coke, didn’t put the Bacardi in it. And then, fish and chips on the way home, and mushy peas, and then bed. [Laughter]. Friday night was the best night. But you had your local, there was a lot of pubs in Otley, there used to be twenty-odd pubs. But we used to go in about four or five but, yeah, it was good. But I got married young, so [Laughter], I soon grew up.
Do you want to tell me about that? Do you remember the first time you met your first husband?
Well, I knew his family since I was 10, so I had I sort of knew who he was, but he was in the Army and he was seven years older. And I met him in the pub. Because my friend was going out with his friend and she said, “Oh, they’re home on leave,” they’d been to Hong Kong and they were home for six weeks, and then they were going to Catterick. And she was saying, “Oh, go out with Jim, go out with Jim.” And I didn’t want to. And I did. And then a couple of days later I said, “No, I don’t want to go out with him again.”
But somehow, I don’t know how, I did, I carried on. And then two months later we were engaged and ten months later we were married. So, quick. [Laughter].
So how old were you when you first met him, when you went out on that date?
I’d be 17 and a half. Because I met him December 1970 and got married October ’71. Jim died July the ’72, and Donna Marie was born October ’72. So, I grew up fast.
Can you remember what you did for that first date that you unwillingly went on?
Well, we were supposed to go bowling and I didn’t want to go. Anyway, it was shut [Laughter], so I was quite pleased. So, just round the pubs. That’s all there was to do, really, because Otley’s a market town, there were no, like, dances, you know. You’d have had to go to Leeds or Bradford, somewhere, so pubs mostly, yeah.
What was it like?
What, in the pub?
On your first date.
I don’t know really, because I didn’t really want to be there [Laughter]. I was just doing a favour because he was home on leave. But after we didn’t go bowling, I was alright then, because I just didn’t want to go bowling with somebody that I didn’t really know. But sat in the pub with all your circle of friends, it was fine. But I still hadn’t changed my mind, and I had a good ’un in Jim.
What made you change your mind after those first couple of days when you thought, “No, I don’t want to go on a date”?
I think initially I think I felt sorry for him because I’m thinking, “Oh, he’s home on leave, he’s home for six weeks, and his friend’s going out with my friend. He’s on his own.” Probably [laughter], yeah. But it worked and, yeah, no regrets.
Do you want to tell me a little bit about that time, when you did realise he wasn’t such a bad ’un, and between …
I think when I began to look forward to the weekends when I was … Because being in Catterick, it’s not too far away. And he could go home every weekend. And when I began to, “Oh, he’ll be coming home soon on Friday,” yeah, I must have thought then, “Yeah, he’s alright.” [Laughter]. He was … I think he fell more for me before I did for him, really. But he was older, you see, and he used to, we used to write every day, even when he was just in Catterick. I got hundreds of letters, yeah.
That’s lovely. What, if you don’t mind me prying, what kind of letters?
I don’t know, I just remember because I’m not very romantic, but I do remember doing crosses where ‘I love you’, and it took me ages to do this. Silly little, well, teenager, wasn’t I, [Laughter], I suppose? I don’t know what I found to write about because all I did was work in the factory, but I managed to get two or three pages every day. I don’t know why I bothered really because he was coming home on the Friday, but silly things you do when you’re young.
Young love, five days of separation.
Seems long at the time, doesn’t it?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s true, that. Yeah, it is.
So how did the relationship go from there?
Quick. [Laughter]. Because we got married quarters, you know, so you know that you don’t have to save up, you don’t have to go looking for a house. You’ve got all your furniture, you get your cutlery, your bedding, everything. So, it was just a case, and in those days you didn’t bother about a big fancy wedding, you know. I got a white wedding dress, got married in the local church and we went to the local pub, which was near the house, for your wedding reception. And neighbours and friends did your buffet for you. There was no ‘costing so many thousands of pounds for your wedding,’ nothing like that in those days.
No colour schemes to pick and all that?
No, no. And I actually got, my wedding dress was, it was just a new fashion that had come out. It was just plain straight down with lace over it like a coat, and a lace hood. So somebody that I knew, she made the bridesmaids’ dresses in purple lining, coat lining. And then she got curtains and made all the white lace overcoats with hoods, and that’s my dress. It was quite nice, really.
It sounds it.
It was, yeah, it was. Oh, and I had a piper to pipe me into the church and pipe me out. That was nice.
Do you remember how and when he proposed?
No. Probably in a letter. No, I don’t actually. It’s just something I think; if you love somebody you just get on with it and think, “Well …” No, I don’t, that’s funny that, I’ve never thought of that before. [Laughter].
That’s fine. [Laughter].
So how was the wedding day? You talked about your dress.
Nice. Yeah, it was the end of October so a bit cold but, getting out of the wedding car, and my granddad gave me away. He was 83. And he’d come from Scotland. And he did the Highland Fling at my wedding. It was just … It was relaxing, there was no fuss. You just got married, enjoyed your day and that was it. And I borrowed a dress off his sister to wear at night. I don’t know why I didn’t keep my wedding dress on. I would do now; I’d keep it on all day. [Laughter].
Have you still got it?
Yeah. Yes, I have. I always think, ‘Well, maybe one of my granddaughters might, you never know, they might decide they like it.’ But it’s just something I couldn’t part with. It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s part of me, I suppose.
Fig. 1: Susan and her first husband, Jim, on their wedding day in October 1971.
Did you have a honeymoon?
No. Jim was in … Jim broke his leg in the September, September the 11th, an accident in Ireland, nothing to do with the Troubles. And he fractured his skull and broke his leg. He was in hospital in Ireland then they shipped him over to Catterick. So he was still in hospital and they said, “Well, we’ll let you out to get married.” So they let him out for ten days; after ten days he was straight back in, and he was in hospital till January the 11th, four months, with just a broken leg.
So I went to Catterick, we went on the 10th, he went back in the hospital, and we got the married quarter, funnily enough, on Remembrance Day, on November the 11th. But every day till January we spent visiting him in hospital because I was just stuck on my own. It was horrible. I did get to know people but it wasn’t a good start to Army life, put it that way. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like being in a house by myself, and it was an end house. I was scared, basically, I was scared. I used to … I didn’t sleep with a light on but I used to put the electric fire on just, I don’t know why, a bit of glow, I suppose. But no, I didn’t like Army life.
And then, well he got out in January and then he was away in April. So, out of nine months of being married we probably had about, maybe three.
And you were only 18, of course, so it was quite a thing to be in your own home and all on your own.
Yeah. If he’d have been at home all the time, as soon as we got there, I think things would have been, well, they would have been better I suppose, yeah. But it put me off Army life, anyway.
So, what was it like, then, what was everyday life like …
… once Jim was home from hospital?
Oh, once he was home … Oh, that was alright, yeah. But he was an ambulance driver, and he used to go off in a morning, and he used to come back. There was the coal fire, you could heat your water with it. I could never get this fire going, and he used to come home and have to light the fire. I felt sorry for him. I couldn’t cook. I still can’t cook, but I was really bad then. And he must have been sick of things like chips, beans and egg, and shepherd’s pie [Laughter]. I was bad, I really was. But like, I was 18, you know, and I was young. I’d never cooked. My mum was a cook, so if I used to help her, she’d say, “Ooh, Susan, give me it here.” Because I was too slow, and I wasn’t interested anyway. So, my mum always did it and I, basically, was rubbish. But he put up with it. [Laughter]. No option had he, really?
So, you said he was an ambulance driver at the time, so where was he stationed when he wasn’t at home?
Yeah, Catterick Camp, or Catterick Garrison, as it’s called now. Cold place, and when it snowed, boy did it snow. It really was a cold place. Not many nice memories, really, of Army life. Because I was on my own. Actually, the friend from Otley, she got married in the January and she came to live near me, and I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll be alright now.’ But it wasn’t the same, somehow, because we weren’t with our group and there weren’t all the pubs. We never went out. You know what I mean? No, a bit boring.
I think, to be an Army wife, you’ve got to be a stronger person than I was, maybe, I don’t know. I can talk to people, I’m really friendly, but I don’t like being with strangers. If I’m by myself I don’t mix that way, but if I’m … Like I met you for the first time and I’m quite chatty with you, it’s, but no, not for me, not Army life.
Did you make any friends in the area −
− in the Army?
Did you have a group …
Just neighbours, really, because I never went anywhere to meet anybody. And it was usually neighbours with children, because I like kids. And then sometimes I’d, we actually had a cot in the married quarters, and I used to say to one of the neighbours who was from Scotland, “Give us Stephanie for a night and you can go out,” and whatever. And I’d have her sleeping over. That was nice because it was, I know she couldn’t protect me, but I felt safe because I wasn’t by myself.
So maybe Jim would have, if it had been a normal thing and we had kids in the Army, probably would have been alright. But to be by yourself for a few months wasn’t nice. I did have one friend, actually. It was Jim’s friend who he worked with, and they were from Stockport. But they didn’t live … It was quite a distance to walk. And then I think she got a job, so I didn’t see them much. But that was the only people I knew when I got there, which, it was another world. It really was. Going from a little back-to-back house on a row of terraced houses, where you knew everybody on the street, to go to an Army place where you knew nobody, it’s a shock. [Laughter]. It is, it really is.
Especially at that age, I think.
Yeah. And it was cold, it was winter and, maybe if it had been summer and you went out for a walk or you were sat in the garden. But you couldn’t do that in November.
So, there were no other families or women who kind of took you under their wing?
Well, there was one neighbour, yeah, and her husband. Actually, we see them regularly now, well, a couple of times a year. But he actually became a Major, and she was lovely, she was really nice. But we never sort of went anywhere. I think I missed going, I didn’t really drink that much, but I think I missed going to the pub, socialising. And then when Jim did come home, he had a pot on his leg, and then he had a limp. And we didn’t go out. I think we went out once. We went to Darlington. Not like now, eh Dave? [Laughter].
How did Jim find it, do you know, at that time?
Well, it was normal for him, wasn’t it, really? Probably fed up in hospital all those months. It’s a long time, isn’t it, four months?
So, he was in his mid-20s then, when you’d just got married?
Yeah, he was 25 when we got married. A bit older than me.
So what happened from there, Susan?
Well, he went to Ireland, I think it was April he went, and then me: “Ooh, I don’t like it here. I’ll go home to my mum for a week.” And I actually never went back to Catterick. I stayed. And then, thirteen days, when he was due home, I’d said to my mum, “Oh, I’m going to have to go back soon.” So, thirteen days to go, and he got killed. And I can remember the doctor coming to, well, I don’t know, he must have given me a sedative or something. And I remember thinking, “But he’s home in thirteen days.” To go with four months of the tour and then knowing they’re coming home soon, you start to get, “Oh, he’s coming home, he’s coming home.”
And that’s all I remember saying is: “But he’s due home in thirteen days.” So, it was a horrible time, I wouldn’t like to do it again.
So what year was that?
1972. I’d actually, I’d been out, and I met somebody coming up the road, and she was getting married. And I said, “Come and look at my wedding photos, you can borrow my dress.” Because you did in those days, you didn’t have to have your own thing. And she was actually looking at my wedding photos when there was a knock on the door, and it was two police ladies. We didn’t have a telephone in those days. And I knew. I knew as soon as I opened the door.
Anyway, they came in and I remember saying to them, “I wouldn’t like your job, to have to go and tell somebody.” And then they wanted to get my mum because I was six months’ pregnant. And I said, “I’ll go and get her myself.” I mean, she worked on, the Chevin [mountain] is a massive, massive … A bit like Ilkley Moor, and she worked up the Chevin. And how I thought I was going to walk up there, I don’t know, but all I wanted was my mum. Anyway, they went to the local shop and they phoned the workplace. And, as I say, her boss gave her four months off to look after me.
And then I opened the door because I heard the taxi bringing her back, and I ran outside and I said, “He’s gone, he’s gone.” And it was horrible.
Do you remember what the policewomen said to you?
No. No, it’s, I remember the doctor coming and giving me something. [Pause]. I talk about Jim a lot but when I go into it [sobs] … You don’t forget. And it’s 47 years ago which, to a young person, sounds a lifetime but it still hurts. [Pause] But I’ve no regrets, I’d do it all again, even if I knew what was going to happen.
So you’re glad you kept seeing him, even after the first couple of dates when you thought, “No, this one’s not for me.”?
Yes, I am. I wouldn’t change my life for anything, really.
Can I ask you what happened to him? How he died?
It was a landmine. Apparently, Jim was in the middle vehicle and they decided if they blew that up, they’d a chance of killing the people in front and behind. Jim and his man with him, he was killed straight out. And the boy – boy? I don’t know how old he was, but the lad in the back lost his leg. But it was quick. Because he always said, “If anything happens I hope it’s quick.” And it was.
Do you know where in Northern Ireland this was?
In Crossmaglen. I actually got offered the chance to go. Because we went to Northern Ireland, and they said, “Do you want to see where he died?” And I said, “No.” Now, my daughter would like to see. But it’s strange for my daughter because she was born three months after and she’s no memories, only what people tell her. And I never knew until two years ago that that upsets her, and she was in tears. She said, “I’ve no memories of…” So I don’t know how she feels, you know, because you would imagine, “Well, she’s never known her dad, at least she’s not going to be missing him.” But she misses the fact that she never knew him, I suppose, you know.
But he’s buried down in Otley Cemetery and we go down a lot with her, get the artificial flowers because the rabbits and squirrels eat them. So, we get the artificial ones. And my mum’s there and my auntie, so we go to the three graves. My grandchildren come with me. They know, they’ve got two granddads as far as they’re concerned, you know. But I don’t want them to be forgotten. I still wear my wedding ring on this finger, and I’ve got my wedding photos in the house. Dave got that one blown up for me, which I wouldn’t have thought to do.
But I met Dave in the Army because we went to see some other friends and we stayed with them for six weeks, Donna Marie was 6 and a half. And then the first Christmas, when he was on leave, he came back with two Christmas wreaths. So, I said, “Oh, one for the back door and one for the front.” He said, “No, they’re for the cemetery,” he said, “They’re for Jim. But one’s from you, and one’s from me.” And that still chokes me. [Sobs] That is lovely, it really is. That’s telling me I’ve got a good ‘un. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had two good husbands, but one not long enough.
But you just carry on, don’t you? I never thought I’d get married again, but I was only young. And Jim used to say, “If anything happens, you know, you get married again. Don’t be staying by yourself.” But we didn’t think it’d be that quick, but it was. So, I’ve had a sad life, but I’ve had a good one as well.
So clearly, inevitably, he was aware something might happen.
And you were probably aware that something might happen.
I think him more so than me because they saw the Troubles, they knew. I mean, the photo there, he’s got a black eye. And that was, a child threw a brick at him. I think that was two weeks before he died but I’m not absolutely certain about that. But I think it was. I don’t know how I got that photo. It must have been in his stuff. Because I didn’t have it before he went to Ireland, so it must have been when he was on the tour. Because I mean, they went more than once. Dave’s been twice since I met him. It’s not nice. That was hard when I met Dave and then he was posted to Ireland for four months. That was horrible. I was actually put on tranquilisers by the doctor because I was a nervous wreck. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but you don’t know. But we got through it. We lived to tell the tale. [Laughs]
Fig. 2: Susan’s first husband, Jim, in Northern Ireland in 1972.
it must have been very scary.
It was, actually. More scary than when Jim was there because I knew what could happen.
One of the other women I’ve interviewed said something that seems to chime with all the war widows I’ve spoken to so far. And she said, “The funny thing is, you just never think it’s going to be you. Even though you know, technically, something can happen and that’s the nature of what they do.”
I think that’s because your subconscious doesn’t want you to think. Otherwise, for them four months you would be living a nervous wreck, wouldn’t you? You just try and, it’s always there in the back of your mind, but you try and ignore it because there’s nothing you can do, is there? Why worry about things until they happen? Which is true, really. I think I’ve learnt that. No point in worrying, if anything’ll happen, it’ll happen.
Especially if there’s nothing you can do.
Yeah. It’s like the grandchildren, I love them to bits, they’re now … Joshua’s 11, Sophie’s 13 and Eleanor’s 16. And they’ve grown up so fast. But while I’ve got those children, I’ve got a bit of Jim somewhere in them. And they live in Otley, so they come for weekends. I can’t get rid of them. [Laughter]. Not that I would want to but, yeah, it’s nice.
It’s a lovely thought.
I know it was a difficult time, Susan, but can I take you back to what it was like after you had the news? So obviously, you were pregnant, your daughter was born three months after you had the news that Jim died. What was it like? What was every day like?
Well, the people in Otley were really nice because I knew a lot of people anyway, but it was in all the newspapers. It’s funny because Donna Marie was born on the Sunday and the local vicar was doing his hospital rounds. And apparently, he went into the working men’s club, where I didn’t go but everybody sort of knew then, and he announced, “The baby’s arrived.” [Laughter]. And everybody knew who he meant, and he was so pleased. He was the vicar who had married us, you know, and he christened Donna Marie.
But it was hard because you’re on your own, you’re only young. It’s like, during the war when people were killed there was always somebody who knew what it was like. But when you’re, like now, and you know nobody that it’s happened to, and you think, it was hard because your friends … I didn’t feel single because I was married. In my head I was married. But when I went out – I didn’t go out for eighteen months – but when I did I felt on my own because, I didn’t feel single and yet I didn’t … When I was with married people I felt really weird. I didn’t like it at all.
But when I was with single people, I felt different to them because in my head I was still married. Not a nice age to be widowed because you don’t want to be going out and … Well, you can’t go out and have fun because your life’s ruined for a while, you know. Yeah, strange. But I had Donna Marie, so I was fine, really, because I lived next door to my mum. It was just socially my life had changed and it was odd.
So obviously, you would have had to move out of married quarters?
Well, that’s another story. You get three months to move out but, because I was pregnant and Donna Marie was born, I can’t remember when I went to Catterick to pack all my stuff up and go. And I can’t remember who even took me. But when I got there, there was a lady coming out of my house. They’d moved somebody in and the Army had packed all my stuff up. And in a way, I was relieved because it meant it was done. But it was a shock just to see somebody coming out, and I still classed that as my home. In a way, I’m glad they did it but they should have let me know. They should have said, “Oh, if you’re not coming back …” I mean, I had the keys, what if that lady had been out and I’d have gone in, and if she’d have had the same Army furniture I wouldn’t have known! No, they should have let me know.
But the Army never bothered with me; they didn’t. It’s like, “Oh well, you’re alright, you’re living with your mum, you’ll be fine.” But it would have been nice for them to have just checked up on me now and again. The reason I went to Germany was; Ann and Geoff, that was them from Stockport, they wanted me to go and stay with them, and I didn’t want to fly. They were in Germany. And I said, “Oh, I’ll come after Christmas.” I wasn’t going at all. Next thing I know they went to the Family Officer and they sent me a ticket, so I had to go. But the Army wouldn’t have done that; that was Ann and Geoff.
So I went to stay with them and I met Dave, and I’ve never looked back. Best thing I ever did, yeah, because my life started again then.
Your friends make you do good things, don’t they −
Sometimes, yeah. [Laughter].
− it seems.
Better things there.
Well, yeah. Yeah, Carol made me go out with Jim. And Ann and Geoff sort of, well, they didn’t make me go out with Dave, but they took me to where I met him. Yeah, thank goodness for friends. [Laughter]
That’s good friends, isn’t it? [Laughter].
What was it like with your baby daughter for the first year or so?
What was who like?
What was life like?
Because she was born three months after he died. You said you moved back in with your mother, or next door?
Yeah, well, I didn’t move next door till Donna Marie was 2, so I lived with my mum. But …
So you went back to her.
… I remember being in hospital and I had her on the Sunday, and I was going home on the Tuesday, waiting for the ambulance to come to take me back. They did that in those days. And the newspapers came, and that upset me. And one of the nurses took me out and she said, “Look, Susan, if you hadn’t cried, we’d have thought you were a bit hard,” you know. But I’d kept well until I saw the photographs.
And then going home in the ambulance, I felt so sorry for the ambulance driver because he was chatting away and he was saying, “Ooh, you’ll be back again next year with another one.” He didn’t know who I was. Now, when he dropped me off, I thought to myself, ‘When you open the paper today’ because it was in all the papers, ‘he’s going to think, oh, what have I said?’ you know. But he didn’t know, and I just joined in with him, really.
But it was nice, and I mean, a new baby’s wonderful, isn’t it? But [Pause], if it hadn’t been for my mum I don’t know how I would have coped, you know. Because Donna Marie had colic. Oh, for three months every night she was awake, slept all day. And we took it in turns. But if I’d have been widowed and by myself, I don’t know what I would have done, I really don’t. My mum was wonderful. But you don’t actually realise ‘til after and you think, [Quietly] “Oh God.” When you see these young mums, I mean, now they’re having them when they’re blooming 13 and 14. And they think it’s quite the norm. And I often think, “Yeah, but you wait till you’re up through the night with a young baby.” Yeah, pretty scary.
I had a doll and pram when I was 13. Somebody in our Sophie’s class who’s 13 is having a baby, you know. Very scary. Life changes, and not always for the better. [Laughter].
So it was definitely your mum, your family, that you feel mainly supported you?
Oh, yeah. My mum and my auntie, yeah. And I mean, living next door in a little terraced house, it’s brilliant [Laughter]. And when I did start going out on a Friday with my friends, I never worried, “Oh, the baby,” because my mum had been there every single day. And she knew everything about Donna Marie, so yeah. And for Donna Marie it was like having two mums.
What was it like for you? You had your mum’s support but it must have still been hard not to have her father there.
Yeah, it’s mostly when you go out and you see couples and you know … You’re with your single friends but, as I say, you don’t feel single. And when you’re with your married friends you don’t feel married. It’s [Pause] not nice, no. I always think now, if I go, say, if I go out to a social night and there’s women on their own, and they’re alright because they’re together and they’ve got friends. And if they want to dance, they’ll get up and dance. But I was by myself and my single friends, they didn’t know how I felt. Whereas nowadays, when you get two widows at the dance hall sort of thing, they’ve both been through it, so they know. So it was odd that way. But you just get on with it. At least I went out, I didn’t sort of just sit and mope; because you can’t do that forever.
How did you make do without Jim’s income? What was the financial support like?
I was alright. I mean, I can’t remember what it was now, but you got your widow’s pension. And because the compensation money paid for a little back-to-back house, I didn’t have a mortgage. And my mum used to feed me. And I was in her house more than mine, so I wasn’t using much electric and that. Yeah, I didn’t struggle, I didn’t struggle. I didn’t have any money in the bank, but I managed. Probably because my mum fed me [Laughter].
No more cooking for you.
No. That’s why I can’t cook. But I didn’t have to sort of go and buy shopping. Thinking back, you know, it must have cost her a fortune, but she never said anything [Laughter]. She was my mum. I was lucky.
Do you remember having to fill in any paperwork for the War Widows’ Pension or the compensation, or anything?
No. I remember the day after they came and gave me some money. [Reflectively] I think, I’ve got a feeling it was – oh, I don’t know, don’t quote me. I think it was something like £800. I can’t remember now. But in those days, you see, a little back-to-back house was £2,000, believe it or not. That seems so much. And the compensation paid for the house and my furniture, and then it was all gone. But that was, in my eyes, that was good because I’d no … Nothing to worry about. I always had a roof over my head, you know. And then I bought the one behind. I got a mortgage and I bought the one behind because the lady died. And I made it into a big house. So yeah, still next door to my mum, that was the main thing.
And then we used to share the garden because they’d bought two back-to-back houses and knocked them through. So we had one big garden, it was fine for her to play in, with a slide and a paddling pool and the usual stuff for kids.
I also had a niece who was three weeks older and she, and her brother who was two and a half years older, they used to come in all the school holidays. So, it was like having three kids; they never wanted to go home. They used to like being with me. And yet, I couldn’t cook, but they loved being at my house. So she had company, otherwise she might have been a lonely child. But she was alright that way. And then when she went to school, it was just across the road. And she was quiet, was Donna, really quiet. She had friends but they had to come to her. She would just stand in the playground till somebody came over, “Come and play.” But she did have friends, yeah.
It sounds like a lovely, close-knit family, with your mum’s support and…
Small family but, yeah. Maybe that’s better, having a small one. Not as many to fall out with. [Laughter].
Do you remember any visiting officers coming to see you after Jim died?
I think they came the day after. And then, I don’t remember much about it, to be honest. Oh, they asked about the funeral, which was a bit of a shock because when I got out of the funeral car, he was on a gun carriage, which I didn’t know. And I mean, that was, I don’t mean lovely, but it was [pauses and sighs], like an honour, do you know what I mean? I knew that it was going to be a military funeral, but I didn’t expect the gun carriage. And every … I think the whole of Otley were out. They were all down the street, all in the church, it was absolutely full. I mean, I was in a bit of a daze really, but I did go to a military funeral. Somebody from Otley got killed in [pause], was it Afghanistan? Or Iraq. Oh, I can’t remember which. And he was 25, I think.
And I went to that, and it was just like going to Jim’s funeral, apart from the guns went off outside the church because he was getting cremated. Whereas, Jim’s down at the cemetery, they did the guns. But I think I took more in at his funeral than I did at Jim’s, but it was basically, it was the same church, you know. So yeah, sad that it’s still going on.
Jim’s also got his name on the Memorial Garden, and it’s supposed to be for the Second World War, but they added Jim’s name, and then this other boy. And then there was one from the Suez 1956, I think. He was a pilot, 19, so … That’s an honour that his name’s down. But it’s a little market town, its … People were good. They also did a story on me, the local paper, with the War Widows’ Pension. But the MP we had at the time, he took us off to London. What a day that was! That was the first time I’d ever met other war widows, and there was about twelve of us. And we had banners saying, “Justice for War Widows.” Because, you know the story about … It’s complicated, because we got married in 1989, you lose your pension, which we know about. But when the Prime Minister reinstated it, there’s about 300 of us that don’t get it because we got married before 2005, I think. So we’re fighting to get back like the other war widows have got.
So off we go to London for the day, and I met Mark Lancaster, who was the Minister of Defence. He was really nice. But three years on, we still haven’t got it back, but we’re getting there. The Prime Minister’s now stepped in; she said it’s a scandal. And you know, I don’t know how much money, I don’t know what the War Widows’ Pension is. I don’t care, it’s the principle. I am no different to somebody who got married in 2005. And so that’s a fight on my hands. It’s the principle that really, I’m a stickler for my principles, I must admit.
But I was on television, I was on the radio, I was in the newspapers. And I don’t like my photo being took, and it was front page, yeah. But it got us a bit of publicity, yeah. But in London, I wouldn’t like to live in London. The cameras were there on us, and they called me the leader, and there I am talking to the cameramen. And then we went to the BBC studios and they were chatting to us there. And then they’d been on the radio through to London but, oh, it was exciting in a way, but I just didn’t like the photos or the cameras. I like talking but I didn’t like being seen. [Laughter].
So, can I take you back a little bit to what led up to all that, and the campaigning? So, when did you meet your second husband?
And you met him when you …
Again, hesitantly, you went to Germany?
Yeah, that’s true.
Can you tell me about that? When you first met?
When I first … Well, he’s younger than me. He was behind the bar and it was a dance thing. And my friends, their other friends were in the band, which Dave’s in. So they said, “Come and watch this and we’ll go.” So, off we go, I think, I don’t know who was babysitting for Donna Marie, but there were a lot of kids left with somebody.
And off we go. And he was behind the bar and, you’re not going to believe this, but I didn’t realise how tall he was because he was behind the bar and I was sat down, and he was 6’ 7”, and I’m 5’ 1”. So, a bit of a difference. But I hadn’t stood next to him. And he felt sorry for me, so he thought … Because the Army, they took me there but they didn’t, they weren’t planning on showing me anything. I’m not bothered about that, but he felt sorry for me. So, he said, “Oh, I’ll take you out to,” wherever, and I said, “No.” And I don’t think he was used to being refused. And he came back and he said, “Oh, I’ll take you so-and-so,” and I said, “Well, I’ve got a little girl.” He said, “Well, I’ll take you to the zoo.”
Anyway, I went, but when he actually came to pick me up on our first date, and I stood up, I couldn’t believe … And I was thinking, “People are going to laugh at us.” Because he really, compared to me, and people do stare at us sometimes, but it doesn’t bother me now. And he took me out in Germany, to the pub again. And the pubs were so different, it was just like; you went past and there was a pub, but it didn’t stand out like our pubs do.
And he made me laugh, and he still makes me laugh. He just, he’s funny, he makes everybody laugh. He went for an x-ray last week, and I’m sat in the waiting room and he went off with the nurse. And within minutes I could hear all the nurses laughing. I didn’t ask what he’d done but he just, he’s a funny person, he really is. And that’s good in a marriage, if they can still make you laugh. But the best thing about Dave, he cooks. Wonderful cook, absolutely wonderful cook.
He had a car accident with the grandchildren, nearly lost them all, and they were going to take his leg off in the car, his feet were the wrong way round. And he had blood transfusions, and he’s had bowel cancer and, oh, everything’s been not so nice the last few years. But, luckily, all the children were … They were kept in hospital a couple of days but they were alright, basically. And Dave was kept in for two weeks. This was in … They took him to Preston Hospital. So, they transferred him to Leeds and my friends came all the way to Cleveleys to pick me up to take me home. Right good friends, you see. And it’s … And I’ve forgotten what I was going to say! Senior moments [Amused]. I don’t know what I was going to say.
He went to hospital in Leeds. He got transferred there.
Oh yeah, so then he came home, and he was in bed for three months. And I had to cook. So, what I was doing was, going in the kitchen, and I was coming back, and I was saying, “Right, I’ve done this. Now how long do I put this on for? And when do I switch the potatoes on?” And I managed, but it was mostly things like sausage casserole, stew … things that I could put in one pot. But as soon as he got on his feet he said, “I’m going back in that kitchen.” Because I’m not that good. I fed him and he didn’t … He wasn’t sick or anything, but he can cook. He really, really can cook.
Who do you think suffered more in that time?
[Laughter]. Actually, he felt sorry for me because, I did lose a bit of weight, and I’ve put it back on, you know with in and out. I had to bring him bowls of water in to get washed, and then another bowl to do his feet. I had to cream all his legs. His skin had gone so dry. And when he stood up after, because the District Nurses were coming, and they said, “Right, we’ll try and stand you up.” I went out of the room because I was so scared he’d fall because he’d been in bed a long time and his muscles had …
Anyway, he shouted me, he said, “Right, I’m up.” And he stood with a Zimmer frame, and the first thing I said, “I’d forgotten how tall you were.” [Chuckle]. And when the grandchildren saw him, that’s the first thing they said. So when my daughter came one Sunday, I said to the children, “Don’t say anything to your mum.” And she opened the door and he was stood up and she said, “Oh, I’d forgotten how tall you were.” Now, how can you forget something it’s … But to see him laid in that bed three months, it must have been … I mean, we brought the bed into the living room, and I brought a double bed because, so that he’d have room.
But my daughter’s a carer … So, I said, “How do I change the sheets?” So she showed me, without getting him out of bed, because, to get him into the wheelchair was such an effort. Because he’s twenty-odd stone. And she showed me a way that you do it quite easy when you know how. So, we coped with that. And then the ambulance used to come every so often to take him for his physio. But he actually walked, he went to hospital to be taught how to walk again, and he actually walked in on crutches, he was so determined that he was going to do it. But I think that’s the soldier in him; you plod on, you don’t just sit back, you make an effort.
So what was the year you met him?
And when did you get married again?
’89. Ten years to the day that we met. So maybe I am a bit romantic. [Laughter]
You waited a bit longer this time.
Fig. 3: Susan and Dave, her second husband, on their wedding day in 1989.
Yeah, I just didn’t see any … I don’t know why we didn’t, to be honest. Just didn’t get round … Then we bought a house. My mum, because I’d looked after my mum, she couldn’t manage to stay with me anymore because of the stairs, so she went into a, where there was a warden, and we used to, I went every dinnertime after I finished work. And then my daughter spent weekends with her. Dave was always nipping in with food or something for her. And then we decided we’d buy a house together, so we bought a house, which we’ve been in 30 years. Yeah, 31 actually, nearly.
What did it feel like, after Jim, to be in a long-term relationship and then married again?
You said Jim always wanted you to …
Yeah, good because with Jim, like I say, he was in hospital four months, so I didn’t start married life right good, you know. Yeah, and it’s funny because some people used to say that he looked like Jim, but I can’t see it at all. I never did see it. But even Jim’s dad has said that. He used to go drinking with Jim’s dad, which was nice because they accepted him. He fitted carpets for my father-in-law and stuff, you know. Yeah, it was nice. People are not, they love Dave. But you see, we both worked at the Post Office. Dave was a postman and I was a postlady, and you get to know everybody. There’s not many, I don’t think there’s, the only houses that Dave hasn’t delivered mail to is new houses since he left. But he’s so well-known and so well-liked. He really, really is well-liked.
When he was in hospital, he had 61 different people visit him in three weeks. That is good. And he had 70 ‘Get Well’ cards, so I had to stick them on the wall with Blutak, because obviously, you can’t put 70 cards up. Yeah, I’ve got a good ‘un, I have, I really have. Life’s good.
So, Dave was still in the military when you two met?
Yeah. But I wouldn’t go back in the Army, no. He eventually got out but, not for me, Army life. No. I like normality, maybe not 9-til-5 jobs but I like knowing that he’s coming home every night, you know, which, in the Army, four months is a long time, you know. I think if you’ve got kids it wouldn’t be too bad because you would take the kids to school and you would meet people. We had things like Bingo and the NAAFI and that, but [pause], not when you’re just married, and you don’t know anybody. You don’t go to things like that. So, no, not for me.
Did you know you were going to lose your War Widows’ Pension once you married Dave?
Oh yeah, yeah. That wasn’t an issue, really, it’s …
How did you feel about it at the time? Did you feel …
It didn’t bother me because, it never bothered us because we were getting married. And it’s a fact that you can’t get it back when others do just because you got married before 2005. I’ll never understand, I know there’s got to be a cut-off somewhere but a widow’s a widow. If your husband’s been killed in Ireland or Iraq, wherever, it doesn’t matter, they’re still dead.
And Anna Sowerby [Soubry], what really angers me, Anna Sowerby, I don’t know if I’m saying her name right or not, the MP wrote to my MP, and it was printed in the newspaper. And it basically said, if I really wanted the money back, I could divorce Dave and then have my money back. Then marry again and keep it. Now, why should I get divorced just for … I don’t know what it is, whatever? It’s money, it’s not worth getting divorced for, I don’t think so anyway.
And then she also said, “Private James Lee only served six years and a hundred and so many days.” She had it down to the days that he served. But he only served that because he was killed. He didn’t suddenly think, “Oh, I want to leave the Army,” you know, and I thought … But to tell somebody to get divorced if they want their money back.
And it’s still a long time. That means he served from when he was, what, 18?
He’d have been…
19? Through to when he died.
Yeah, 1966 he joined, and he was born in ’46, so he’d have been 20. Yeah, but just the way “only served.” If he’d have only served nine months it wouldn’t have mattered, it was; he didn’t leave by choice.
So just to pick that apart again, so when, the legislation when you married Dave was, of course, that if you were married you would lose your War Widows’ Pension.
And then later on, a few years ago now, it was decided that that was unjust because the War Widows’ Pension is not a benefit, it’s a compensation.
And so women had their War Widows’ Pension reinstated if it was taken away from them after they’d married again. With the exception, as you say, of about 300 widows –
300, roughly, yeah.
− who fell through a little gap that had been established because you got married at a point that didn’t count for the reinstatement. And this is what you’re campaigning for now, isn’t it?
Well, what started it all off was, a lady came on TV and she said, “The war widows are getting their pensions reinstated.” And then she said, which is really confusing, “If you lost your husband before April 1973 you will not be affected because your pension never stopped.” Well, mine did. I’m not fighting all the … I’m just fighting for what the other war widows have got. But we’ve been at it for three years, well, I think we’ll get it. Hopefully, we’ll get it. They say the money’s there, it’s just the Treasury or … It’s complicated. Three years, it’s, I mean, I’ve not been continually fighting. I did my bit when I went on TV and everything. But we shouldn’t have to fight for what other people get.
It’s like I said on the TV, if there were ten soldiers killed tomorrow, and you said to five of them, “Well, you can have your pension back but you five can’t.” What is the difference? A war widow’s a war widow, no matter when she gets married again, or whatever.
And of course, the fact that war widows used to lose their pensions, the War Widows’ Pension, when they remarried, for some people it changed the decisions they made about their relationships, didn’t it? Because some people couldn’t afford to lose their pensions.
One of the war widows that I’ve met since, she’s never got married again because … Now, you see, to me [Pause], if I’d have thought that, I wouldn’t have had all these years with Dave. I’d rather be happy and be a bit skint than … But maybe that’s just me, I don’t know.
Sometimes it’s more than a bit skint, isn’t it?
But maybe I knew I had a good feller, and it was worth it. [Laughs] Yeah, I’ve no regrets.
I know the law’s changed now, and I know you said, you know, you just wanted to get married to Dave, so it didn’t bother you at the time. But just from a point of principle, I suppose, how do you feel about the fact that it used to be the case that war widows had their pensions revoked when they remarried? Because in a way, it’s saying they’re not a war widow anymore, isn’t it, because they’re married again?
But of course, they’re still a war widow, they still lost a husband.
Yeah, I’ll always class myself as a war widow. To be honest, I’ve not really thought that much about it, just something you think, “Well, that’s life,” and you just … A lot of things in life aren’t fair, you know. It’s like, we’re in a good position now, we both worked at the post office and we had to pay into the pension, whether we liked it or not. But now, I think, “Well, I’ve got that bit of money because that was lucky. But I wouldn’t have thought of doing a private pension. Whereas, I suppose you’d have to think about that nowadays, wouldn’t you?
So, I just, I’m a bit of a just, oh well, that’s how it is. It’s like all this carry-on with blooming Brexit. And yet, I’m fascinated by it, and I don’t understand a lot of it, but they’re like kids, aren’t they?
I don’t think anyone does, including the politicians [laughs].
And I’m not going to worry about it. It’s like all that, “Oh, we’ll get a ‘no deal’.” Why worry, because we can’t do anything about it, you know, just, whatever happens you’ve got to plod on. Carry on, keep smiling.
How – oh, I’ve lost my train of thought now, [Quietly] what was I going to ask you? Oh, so when did you become aware of the War Widows’ Association, and of the war widows around the country? Because you certainly went away when Jim died, really.
I don’t know. Well, the MP that I got in touch with, I was his post lady, and I used to see him going off to London in a morning, and we got chatting one day. And it could have been through him; he actually gave me an address to write to. But do you know, I never did it because I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t really understand what they are and I’m alright. It’s been all these years on my own.’
And then, probably through the MP, basically, because he’s the one that took me to London, where I met the other war widows. And then it was nicer then because there were people who knew what I felt and I knew, I mean, some of the stories they told, so sad. Made me cry, you know. And I thought, “Oh, I’m not on my own.” It’s like, I went … I got a free holiday from, it might have been the Lions or the Round Table, it was some charity, it’s too long ago. But anyway, they gave me this free holiday in Ilfracombe. Donna was about 4, and I made myself so ill I couldn’t go. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t know it was for all widows. I was scared to get on a train by myself, and I didn’t know there was somebody meeting me off the end, and stuff.
And I’d phoned the Army up and I said, “Could you please help me with my train fare?” and the Army said, “Can’t you go on a coach, it’d be cheaper?” Now, I get car sick so there was no way I was … So, the Army just didn’t bother with me. And then I got offered another free holiday, and I don’t know if it was Pontin’s or Butlin’s, it was in Blackpool, it might have been, I think it was Pontin’s. And I went, I plucked up the courage, Donna was about 5, maybe 6, and I thought, “Well, Blackpool,” I’d been to. I could get home if I needed to. So off I go, and it was great. And the whole place was full of war widows and their children. And I got sat at this table with a policeman’s widow, and I don’t mean this funny, but he’d died of a brain tumour, and she’d got five, I think it was five, four or five children. And every year the Police Force gave these children a holiday. My husband’s killed in Ireland in action and I never got offered anything from the Army.
The only thing they did, which was because of my friend, was fly me over when I met Dave. But it was like, well, you don’t matter to them. And I wasn’t on my own because when I hear the other stories sometimes. One lady was just basically, five-month old baby, she was 21, “Your husband’s been killed, off you go home. Have you somewhere to go? Bye bye.” That’s sad, they could at least take you home, you know.
I mean, I often wonder now, if I hadn’t been with my mum, and I didn’t have anybody who had a car, would the Army have taken me back to my mum’s? Or would they just have expected me to just get on a train and go? Probably. Yeah, sad.
Did you say you were offered a trip to Northern Ireland?
Oh, this is from, let me get this right, it’s called SEFF, South Eastern, I can’t say this word, oh, it’s the Irish, what does SEFF mean, Dave?
Dave: South East Fermanagh Foundation
Fermanagh. I could never say that.
Thank you, Dave.
Right. So, he came to like, when we were doing the banners at London, and he came up to me, this Kenny, and he said, “Do you know you’re entitled to £500 a year?” And there was that much going on in my head and I said, “Well, do you want to go see my husband because I can’t take everything in?” So, he went to see Dave, and he’d gone to see the War Widows’ [Association] because we were entitled to £500 a year from this thing, Foundation thing.
So, I got it, and my daughter gets it. So, we said we’d put it towards a gas bill, so I sent all the details and I was expecting them to pay the gas bill, you know, to put it in. But I actually got a cheque for £500, which now, for the widows, has gone up to £1,000. Which, that pays my, well, pays half my poll tax. So, he kept in touch, and then they made a quilt, and Jim’s piece has got his name on and the badge. And then they were giving a blessing, well, I’m not religious but I thought, “Well, it’s nice.”
So off we go to Ireland – they paid for it. And I said I’d never go to Ireland, and I didn’t feel at ease, to be honest. But they were so lovely. And I don’t like flying, so less than an hour later we were in Belfast, and we had a driver. And he took us to this lovely little place and then put us up in a hotel for the night, fed us, obviously. And then we went to the church service in the morning with this quilt. And then we met Arlene Foster, a very nice lady, really tall, really nice. So, then they took us to Edinburgh; that was to meet some of the Parliament to see about the pension things. One MP turned up, so that was good. But we did get to see all the seats where they sit; it was interesting. They took us round Edinburgh Castle, put us up in a hotel for the night.
And two weeks ago, I think it was, we went to, near Manchester, Antringam?
That’s it, yeah, we went there and hotel again. And they met other war widows, and also people that was in the Manchester Bombing. And, oh, some of them, they’re nervous wrecks. Still having therapy from 1992 and 1996. And that shocked me because they can’t get on, I mean, I wouldn’t like to be in a bomb, but they can’t get on with their lives, you know what I mean? It’s … How sad! But this is from the Foundation and they’re ever so good. But they did say, did I want to go to Crossmaglen and, “No, but my daughter might go.” And they said they’ll pay for her and take her over. It’s just that she’s a carer, and she works weekends and she’s got the kids. But I’ve told her if she wants to go, I’ll have the kids and they can go for the day. It might make her feel better.
It was great having a daughter, though, because we used to go shopping together and all that. It was nice. And then she went to live in Scotland and married an RAF lad. Must take after her mother. And then two of her children were born there, but, ooh, I did miss her. But she was 32 when she left Otley, but she’s back now. It’s good having the kids near. I’m so glad I had her because I think that would have been worse if I hadn’t have had kids. I would have really felt, I don’t know. I can’t imagine not having them lot round me.
Do you think people know about the challenges that you’ve come up against, the challenges of the other war widows you’ve met have come up against?
No, probably not. My friends do, those that I’m close to; they’re the ones that see you upset and stuff. I mean, the War Widows’ [Association] now send us a wreath, that’s nice. And this November it was, or last November, it was a white cross, beautiful really. And there was another person laying it in Otley, and I thought to myself, ‘Who’s that, because I’m the only one,’ you know. Anyway, when she left I went to have a nosey, and it said “War Widows” on. And I didn’t know who they were. And then we went to, in Bradford, to a dinner and we met some … And the people were there that had been to Otley. And they said, “You’re from Otley, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah.” And it was on behalf of their mother who was a war widow. But they didn’t live in Otley, they lived a few miles away, but they decided to … But I was desperate to know who all these people were. [Laughter].
And then she was talking about her sister, and her sister lives in Cleveleys! Which is quite strange. And I’m sure she said that she was a war widow, because she said would I meet up with her. And I said, “Yeah.” I haven’t done as yet but she’s got my phone number. Because I’d never heard of Cleveleys before, ever. But we like it here, we’ve got a good life. But then again, life is what you make of it, isn’t it? You either sit at home and be miserable and mope or you just get up and carry on and enjoy yourself as much as you can. I go in the pubs, but I don’t drink, but I do like to socialise. I like to sit and chat.
We’ve got friends with a couple in their 80s, oh, she’s wonderful. She’s from Scotland, so we go and see her every day when we’re here. She looks forward to seeing us and we look forward to seeing her. It’s good.
I wonder if your accent comes back a bit when you speak to Scottish people?
No. But when I’m out with my sister, you know, and she’ll say, she lives in Whitby and we’ll go over there, and I’ll say, “Oh, this is my sister.” And you can see them looking and eventually they say, “How come she doesn’t speak Scottish?” [Laughter]. And they do it with me, “How come you don’t speak like her?” you know, “Why is she still Scottish and you’re not?”
That’s one regret, I’d love to have my accent back, I really would, but, gone [Laughter]. One thing you can’t replace.
You mentioned the War Widows’ Association send you a wreath to lay at your local Remembrance Service. What does Remembrance mean to you?
A very, very sad day, a very emotional day for me. Because, obviously, everybody who’s been killed there, but more so Jim, because he’s the one in here, in my heart and that. But when you see what the veterans, Dave goes to Eden Camp every year. Do you know where Eden Camp is? Yeah. Dave does that, every year he leads the parade and you see all these soldiers, and I mean they’re all pretty lame now and pretty old. But, and it just gets to you, you get a lump in your throat. He also does Armed Forces Day in Scarborough, they’ve done it for years, and he leads the whole parade. And just to watch, and they’re so proud, you know. And you know on Remembrance Sunday when they see, in Albert, is it the Albert Hall where they are? Oh, that gets to me. And when they’re coming down and it shows you the war widows, it always brings a lump to my throat, that, it’s …
But they shouldn’t be forgotten, they should always, always be remembered because, by, what they gave up for this country them old men. And even them, you see them getting upset after all these years. Some won’t talk about it because they’ve seen too much, haven’t they? But them that do, it’s sad. I don’t think young ‘uns realise what, you know, the older generation have done. Well, they’re not bothered, half of them, are they?
And the war widows get forgotten as well, don’t they?
Yeah, I suppose they do, yeah. That’s something else I’ve never really … You see, in Otley, all the people that know me know I’m a war widow and all that. But here, it’s different in Cleveleys, because they’ll get, somebody was talking about, you know the soldier who’s getting done, which is stupid, and they were saying, “They fought for this country.” And she was going on and on, sticking up for the soldiers. And I thought, “If only you knew about me,” but she didn’t, she was a holidaymaker. But some of the locals do know because Dave tells them.
But if you’ve never known a war widow, you see, in the war you accepted it because there was thousands of widows, wasn’t there? It was just horrible. But, no, something you don’t … Unless you know somebody, I don’t think you give them a second thought, really. Why should you, I suppose, it’s something that’s not going to affect you if you don’t know anybody, you know.
Whereas, it’s like when Jim died, it was all over everywhere, obviously. Now, when people in Otley who knew me, when they hear of another soldier being killed, they will go back to thinking about me, that way. But if you’ve never known anybody, no, people won’t bother. Maybe I wouldn’t, maybe … No, I don’t know. I wouldn’t like to think that I wouldn’t bother thinking about the people, because I am pretty sensitive. But unless you know somebody, out of sight, out of mind, yeah, probably.
Have you ever been to the War Widows Remembrance on the Saturday in London?
No. Because we do our local thing on Sunday. That means more to me because his name’s there. I went to the, I can’t say this word again, where the name’s down on that big wall. What’s that, Dave, again?
Oh, the Memorial Arboretum, yeah.
There’s certain words I can’t remember. That was, that was quite …
Yeah. Well, we went and planted a tree, three widows, I think there was, from the Dukes, and then a few years later our Donna Marie went with her husband. And she found her dad’s tree with his name on. And then we went the following year and we couldn’t find it. And we went to the reception desk and they said, “Oh no, it’s not here, there’s no Dukes.” I said, “There was three Duke of Wellington’s,” I said, “we planted …” But she wouldn’t have it.
So off we go, and we found somebody and they took us to the Northern Ireland bit, but we couldn’t find his tree. But it is there somewhere. And then we went to see the names on the wall. When you look at all those names – unbelievable! Especially 1972; that was the worst year in Ireland. But it’s not really a place where you want to see your husband’s name on a wall ‘Johnny was here’. But it’s nice that it’s always going to be there, and people won’t forget. I mean, they’re not going to look at his name, obviously, but just to see all those names, it’s, yeah. Because people shouldn’t be forgotten when they’ve died in a war, or all the Troubles or anything.
And of course, the year that you were widowed, the year that Jim died, was actually only just the year that the War Widows started to organise themselves.
It was just about the year that they were founded.
Yeah. But I’ve never heard anything about them. Nobody wrote to me and said, “Oh, we’ve got, there is somewhere where you can …” And to be honest, I might not have bothered then, you know. I was young. And I … I’m not one for going off with people I don’t know. I know they all go on trip. If it wasn’t for Dave I wouldn’t go on my own, you know. No.
Is there anything we haven’t talked about, Susan, that you’d like to talk about?
No, I think we’ve covered it all. In fact, I can’t believe I’ve got a daughter who’s nearly 47. [Laughter]. I can’t believe I’m nearly 66. But no, I think we’ve covered everything.
Can I ask you a final question? So when the people who listen to these stories, read them, listen to all the other War Widows’ Stories, [Pause], what is it that you would like to say to people? The people who don’t know about war widows, who don’t know what it’s like, who might have never really thought about …
Just, think how lucky you are that you’ve not gone through it, basically. Because it’s not nice. I think maybe I’m stronger than I think I am. I think I must be to … It’s like, when Dave got the cancer, and that was bad, that was horrible, and hopefully he’s still alright. And then with the grandchildren and that; that was another horrendous thing, especially when we got told by the Police that they were lucky they got out of the car. Oh, the man got sent to jail, by the way, because he left them trapped in a car that was going on fire. So I just summed up, they were looking after us.
Do you know who turned up? Midnight. A nurse that was, well, I don’t know where she was going, but there was a nurse, so she sort of calmed them all down. A fireman who was off duty, who had an extinguisher in his car, so he put the smoke out. And then a schoolteacher who got the children out of the car into her car and calmed them down. Now, that’s amazing, isn’t it? Three people that were desperately needed to be there at the right time. So maybe there is a God, eh? We can hope.
Shall I stop the recording, Susan, is there anything else you’d like to say?
No, I think I’ve said it all. Thank you for being interested.
Always. [Laughter] Thank you for telling us your story.
I’ll stop the recording.
[End of Recording]
 ‘Leeds war widow Susan Rimmer “punished for finding love”’, Yorkshire Post (5 June 2016), https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/leeds-war-widow-susan-rimmer-punished-for-finding-love-1-7966340
This interview transcript, its online version, and the corresponding audio files are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives Licence. This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as the work in question is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to War Widows Stories. If you wish to use this work in ways not covered under this licence, you must request permission.
To do so, and for any other questions about this interview, how you may use it, or about the project, please contact Dr Nadine Muller via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by post at the following addressing: John Foster Building, Liverpool John Moores University, 80-98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, L3 5UZ.