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A Wartime Wedding

(Supplied Photo)

By Sue Careless

MY ENGLISH PARENTS married during the constraints and austerity of the Second World War. Perhaps, given today’s typical North American extravaganza, we could learn something from a simple wartime wedding.   

My mother, Pat, a city girl, was serving in the Women’s Land Army when she first encountered my father, Ralph, an engineering officer in the Royal Air Force. They met near Coventry at a community dance and whist drive (a card tournament) in the fall of 1943 when they were both 20. Ralph was good at cards and Pat at dancing.

After Ralph proposed to Pat and she accepted, they went shopping for an engagement ring. Their choice was limited to one small diamond.

They were married at 11am on Epiphany 1945, at Holy Apostles’ Anglican Church in Leicester, England. The minister was busy with a wedding ceremony almost every half hour, mostly for American soldiers marrying British girls.

Many wartime and postwar brides wore suits but Pat had been saving up her government-issued clothing coupons and was lucky enough to find a wedding gown, one of only four in the shop. No nylons were available in the UK until after the war so she had to wear Lisle stockings made from knitted cotton. Ralph looked smart in his blue officer’s uniform.

The bride was so nervous or vivacious or both that she greeted everyone as she walked down the aisle. She carried a huge bouquet of red carnations as well as some silver cardboard horseshoes and beribboned wooden spoons. The bridesmaids’ bouquets of violets and heather were particularly coveted because flowers were hard to come by in war-torn January. Film was so scarce that the photographer took only three posed black-and-white images.

The church hall was available for just a one-hour reception, at which sixty people enjoyed a High Tea prepared by the bride’s parents. They pulled off the best spread possible with hoarded food ration coupons. It was hard to get fruit and sugar for the three-layer wedding cake but the bride’s father, a retired chef, made it himself. (Traditionally, the top layer of the rum-laden fruitcake with its hard royal icing would be saved for the christening, the next year, of the couple’s first child.)

There were few presents because civilian goods and wages were so limited and bridal showers were unheard of. This was in the days before bridal registries and the couple received several lemonade sets as well as numerous tea towels and promises of gifts. 

Ralph had saved up for ten days’ leave. Paris or anywhere else in Europe was out of the question for a honeymoon. Nor could they cross the Atlantic. Instead they took an afternoon train from Leicester to London, but missed their London connection and eventually took another train, deployed with soldiers from London, west to Bath for a two-night stay. The train suffered so many delays that they didn’t arrive at their destination until 4am in the morning and were woken at 8am for a meager breakfast.

They continued down to Salcombe in South Devon. Here they went for long walks in the countryside but the actual coast was off limits and they had to observe blackout after dusk. Half their hotel was billeted with American soldiers while the rest of the residents were elderly seniors. Ralph took Pat out in a rowboat on the estuary but fell into the water when he docked and had to squish his way through the hotel lobby under the bemused gaze of the guests. 

This past January, Pat and Ralph Stratford celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in their home in Whitby, Ont. And from time to time they attend their grandchildren’s weddings – all very different affairs from their own, but still full of excitement and love.    TAP


Some Words of Advice

By Sue Careless

“COMMUNICATION” is a real buzz word in marriage and relationship therapy. Of course whole books have been written on the subject but here are a few key concepts that could improve any marriage:

• You cannot expect your spouse to be a mind reader, no matter how long you’ve been married. You probably will need to verbalize what is really bothering you but do so carefully (see below). And let some things ride. It’s not worth debating everything.   

• Avoid the terms ‘always’ and ‘never’ in arguments such as “You’re always late” or “You never take the garbage out.”

• Avoid over-generalizations when specifics are easier to address. Instead of saying 

      “You’re a lousy dresser!’

“That orange polka-dot scarf/tie really isn’t flattering on you.”

• Avoid: “You’re such a slob!”


      “You have a little mustard on your chin.”

      The person spoken to will feel far less defensive because it is a specific situation that is being raised -- not the whole person who is being criticized.

• Am I mad at the situation or at you? Sometimes one is frustrated by a situation at work or with the children that has nothing to do with the spouse per se but you want to take your frustration out on someone. Saying “I’m mad right now but it has nothing to do with you” helps clarify the situation and may clear the air.

• Give the spouse time to change gears. When we need to apologize and admit we are wrong, it helps if the person apologizing is given time to “change gears,” as it were. Your will does the right thing by apologizing but your emotions may not have caught up yet.

• Choose the right moment and place to address a problem, which is usually not in the heat of a battle or in bed. Never address tough problems after ten at night – or nine if one of you is pregnant. Never discuss in-laws or money when you are in bed. 

• No one likes to immediately stop what they’re doing. Just as you give a child a “heads- up” such as “Three more slides then we have to head home,” so it helps to ask (not tell) a spouse “Could you fix the ___________ some time today /this week?” rather than demand immediate action (emergencies excepted).

• Send ‘happy news hotlines. When possible, make a phone call to your spouse that is only good news with no negatives.

• Give praise when praise is due: “You were right….” “I was so glad you ….”

• Praise your spouse to your in-laws. They will be all ears.    TAP


Keeping Wedding Costs Down

Compiled by Sue Careless

CHRISTIAN COUPLES can easily be swept into the consumerism vortex of North American weddings. Last year the average Canadian wedding cost $31,685. (Engagement ring and honeymoon included; the wedding alone cost $23,000.) If you are already burdened with student debt or want to avoid breaking the bank, follow some of our more than thirty tips which you can read online at……   

* Pick your top three priorities and perhaps allocate a little extra money for them. Next, pick the three things that come lowest on your priority list and budget accordingly.

* Keep your guest list down. (128 guests is the average number.)

* Keep your wedding party small.

* Book your wedding off-season between November and April.

* Avoid Saturday. Book a weekday. Try a Friday evening.

* Instead of dinner, plan a brunch, lunch or afternoon tea. People eat and drink less in the daytime.

* Consider renting a church hall instead of a hotel venue—but check first if liquor/wine is prohibited (if that matters to you).

* Buy or rent a gently used wedding dress or buy one on sale in late winter or early spring.

* Allow bridesmaids to wear a dress of their own choosing, but in the same colour scheme.

* Skip the save-the-date stationary and email your guests. Mail only those few not online.  

* Ask for wedding help instead of wedding gifts. Could a guest talented in flower arranging or cake baking make that their gift?

* Choose flowers and food that are local and in season. 

* Choose non-floral centerpieces such as candles. 

* Make sure the only dessert is the wedding cake.

* Have a small wedding cake for display; then serve slices from a sheet cake in the kitchen.

* Hire the ladies guild at church or a family-owned restaurant to do the catering. They will go the extra mile and be more reasonably priced. 

* Plan a 3-course dinner instead of a 5-course one. 

* Serve beer and wine, not hard liquor.

* During your engagement, ask family and friends to buy duty-free liquor when they travel; then reimburse them.

* Close the open bar during dinner.

* Only have live music for part of the time.

* Hire musicians from the local college.

* Hire a DJ or make iPod playlists or CD mixes of songs that mean something to you.

* Could a relative with a large garden host the reception? Then rent chairs, tables and a marquee.  

* Hire local small businesses that are just starting up but who have strong recommendations.

* Have a talented student photographer take the photos. Or have a professional take all the formal shots but let guests take the informal ones at the reception. Hire a photographer for only 6 hours instead of 8.    

* If your wedding is small, you may not need a second photographer.


The Engagement Ring

Diamond engagement rings can set a couple back significantly. If the couple thinks an engagement ring is really necessary, they can still keep the cost down:

* Use a family ring or buy from an antique store or pawn shop. 

* Choose a setting with several small stones instead of one large one.

* Start with a small diamond and upgrade later.   

* Choose an alternative gemstone to a diamond such as a sapphire, emerald or pearl.   

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