Sunday, 21 July 2019

Love letters that kept couple together despite war

Love letters that kept couple together despite war

THE love letters of a Woodcote couple who were separated for six years during the Second World War have been published for the first time.

Olga and Cyril Mowforth, who played an active role in community life during the Fifties and Sixties, were separated almost immediately after marrying in 1940.

Mr Mowforth served as a tank commander in both the North African campaign and the final push against Hitler’s forces in Europe while his wife was a co-ordinator for the Civil Defence Service.

They stayed in touch throughout the conflict despite having to wait weeks and sometimes months for a response.

Their correspondence has now been compiled into a book called Good Evening Sweetheart by their daughter Sue, who has donated the original letters and a transcript to the Imperial War Museum in London.

The couple grew up in Sheffield and were living in the city before deciding to move to Whitehouse Road in Woodcote in 1953 as they wanted their three children to grow up in the countryside.

They were advocates of healthy living and would regularly take part in tandem bike rides around the area as well as following a vegetarian diet, which at the time was uncommon.

They also volunteered for the Youth Hostel Association, which has a hostel in Streatley.

Soon after relocating, Mrs Mowforth was elected as an independent member of both Woodcote Parish Council and Henley Rural District Council and her name is still listed on a plaque at the village hall.

While in office she successfully lobbied the area’s water board to connect every household to the mains drainage where previously all properties relied on cesspits.

She became widely known as the “egg lady” as the couple kept a large flock of chickens and she would sell their eggs door-to-door to supplement her husband’s income as a roving special needs teacher in neighbouring villages.

While on her rounds in Goring she was impressed by the sheltered housing complex for the elderly off Icknield Road, which is now Soha’s Towse Court development, and campaigned for something similar in Woodcote.

Mrs Mowforth was only 54 when she died of cancer in 1972, two years before the Olga Mowforth House scheme was completed in the newly-created Mowforth Close, off Folly Orchard Road.

Soha took over in 1991 and rebuilt it two decades later.

Her family left the village shortly after her death and Mr Mowforth, who moved to Hertfordshire, died in 2004, aged 91.

Her daughter, who is now 71, recently spoke about the letters on the BBC’s The One Show and in an online podcast for the History Channel.

She said: “I only had the book printed for family members but because of the 75th anniversary of D-Day there has been a lot of interest.

“I was nine when we moved to Woodcote and I remember it being a real rural paradise, which is what Mum and Dad wanted. They were always very happy living here and it was a terrible time for all of us when Mum died.

“She was very passionate about the idea that older people shouldn’t have to leave their village when they needed support to live independently as they wanted to be near their relatives, doctors and local services.

“She thought the housing in Goring was wonderful and it’s very fitting that the complex in Woodcote was named after her.

“She also loved sorting out people’s problems and I remember the phone was always ringing with people’s concerns and small niggles. She would never simply stand by if there was something that she could do to help.”

Sue said transcribing the letters was an emotional process as neither she nor her brothers John, 73, and Peter, 66, had read them before and they were unaware of what their parents went through.

The couple only saw each other during a brief break between Mr Mowforth’s campaigns in 1944.

He was briefly involved in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, although he did not discuss this in detail. He trained at Catterick barracks and was in charge of Matilda tanks in Africa as a member of the 42nd Royal Tank Regiment before moving on to the more modern Comet tanks in Europe.

He served as part of a peacekeeping force before being demobbed in 1946.

In one missive after their brief reunion, he said: “Towards the end of those [past] years I often wondered whether or not I really was in love with you. I’d lived so long on memories, faith and hope, but somehow within a few hours of being with you again all was changed — no doubts... I was head over heels in love with the loveliest girl in the world.

“We’ve still got a hard road to travel in this world gone mad, somehow I don’t care how long and difficult the future may be as long as we’re together.”

The children found the letters while clearing out Mr Mowforth’s home but only began transcribing them more recently and the process took about five years as the handwriting was often difficult to interpret. Sue said: “The conditions were absolutely horrific as he’d get covered in diesel for much of the time but he fought until Rommel was defeated.

“The fighting was dreadful in both campaigns but he didn’t mind writing about it because he had survived. Mum must have been in a dreadful state because there was such a delay — you didn’t have email or even telephones in those days.

“It’s admirable how strong they were to keep a marriage going over such a long distance. The correspondence is disjointed at times and they couldn’t include too much private or intimate detail because it had to get past the censor.

“Mum had so many voluntary commitments while running a home but she always kept an upbeat manner. I think she was pretty ill through exhaustion at times but she kept the letters cheerful to keep Dad’s spirits up.

“I think they had a fresh start and a second honeymoon when it was all over. They never really mentioned those six years when we were growing up and this showed us a side of their personalities which none of us knew.”

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