I became Mrs Johnny Dash in May 1940.
It was at a party in London that I had first met Johnny and I had spied him across the room immediately.
There were many glamorous girls at that party but he had eyes only for me and smiled at me through the crowd.
Nervously, I smiled back and quickly lowered my eyes. Mother had always said that men don’t like forward girls, that a lady should be demure and quiet.
Her voice was always part of me then, strident and so emphatic within my head.
‘You have to catch yourself a man, Jane before you become too old. Your sisters all have husbands and good providers too! Time to focus on being a wife.’
In those days, I thought I would never lose that voice in my head.
But there he was, smiling at me from across the other side of the room. Smiling at me!
Quickly he was at my side and smiled at me.
‘I’m Johnny,’ he said, eyes twinkling, ‘what’s your name, beautiful?’
‘Jane,’ I managed to say and smiled brightly, trying to be attractive as my mother had taught me.
He was so handsome in his uniform, clipped moustache and gleaming hair. I fell madly in love in an instant; he was like a matinee idol at the flicks, so debonair and handsome.
It was so romantic when he walked me home and even though I knew it was wrong, I let him kiss me. I could imagine my mother tut-tutting at that – ladies don’t allow gentleman to kiss them on the first meeting!
But the war had changed a lot of things. Some girls were allowing their men to do more than kiss! And I heard some of them whisper that they enjoyed it as well!
Johnny insisted on seeing me again and, of course, I was delighted. He told me he thought he was falling in love with me and I just swooned!
That night, I gave him my Precious Gift, my virginity. There was a war on and I wanted some happiness before the bad times came.
For the first time in my life, I ignored my mother’s voice in my head.
As I held him as he painfully moved inside me, I was glad to be so close to him, to hold him and to make him happy.
We spent all our time together and, for the most part, I enjoyed most of the lovemaking although Johnny, of course, enjoyed it much more than I.
He explained to me how he had to be careful as he didn’t want me to become pregnant. I always thought that it was inevitable, that girls always became pregnant after “doing it” but Johnny used what he called “precautions”.
I never looked, just let him put his thingy in me and move it around.
Late in June, we were married quickly at a special war registry office that Johnny knew of.
Apparently, it was only for service personnel and we were lucky to be the only ones that late night as the gloomy war years pressed down on us.
I was twenty-one, Johnny twenty three. Johnny was going back to active duty and we didn’t know if we would ever see each other again.
We spent our honeymoon in an awful boarding house in Blackpool where we hardly emerged from our bedroom. My wedding ring was a cheap band but I loved it as it proved to the world that I was a “married woman”.
Johnny said not to tell my family yet as we would have a big proper wedding once the war was over. Oh how I wanted that kind of wedding, how I wanted to walk down the aisle at our church and to see my mother beaming proudly at me.
I knew it was my wifely duty to give my husband what he wanted and I was just so glad to be close to him, to hold him while he made love to me. It wasn’t that enjoyable and I was glad that it was usually over so quickly. I’d much rather cuddle and kiss and didn’t see what all the fuss was.
And then, as we knew it would, the call to duty sang to Johnny and he had to return to his base and his brave comrades.
‘I must go, Jane,’ he said at my small London flat. ‘Rodney, my old pal, will be here with his old banger in a mo to get us back to the base. Keep your chin up, old girl.’
I waved them off, not knowing when I would see my husband again, tears flowing freely but at the back of my mind, I wondered why Johnny seemed happy to get away.
The first few days after he left were the worst. Almost numb, I went through the motions at the small bookshop I worked in.
A week after Johnny had left, the owner of the bookshop told me he had to let me go, that there wasn’t enough sales to justify keeping me on.
‘People aren’t spending money on books, Jane,’ he explained nervously, ‘there’s a war on.’
‘Things may pick up,’ I said hopefully but he shook his head.
‘No, I think things will become worse before they get better. It’s the war,’ he said as if I didn’t understand.
‘Oh, I understand, Mister Deacon.’
Trying to look on the bright side, I thought this was the opportunity for me to work for the war. I applied for as many jobs as I could but the War Ministry, in the early war years, was only interested in single women to go into the services.
There were always the factories but I didn’t know how I would mix with working class girls as my mother was always telling me that as middle-class people we always had to be proper and know our place.
It was an awful time, facing unemployment and missing Johnny terribly. I just didn’t know what I was to do.
And then Sid Barstow turned up at my flat.
He raised his Pork Pie hat and I took an instant dislike to his sporty dress, his cockney accent and the way he looked me up and down, like he was imagining me naked.
Men can be such animals sometimes, my mother would confide, interested in only one thing. She would say it darkly and I could not muster the nerve to ask about my father. Many times I came close to asking but never did and resolved to ask about him some time in the future. Unfortunately, that future never arrived.
‘Yes,’ I said icily, ‘and you are?’
‘Sid Barstow, can we have a little chat?’
‘I’m extremely busy…’
‘It’s about your husband, Johnny.’
‘Johnny?’ I gasped instantly. ‘He’s all right…’
‘Far as I know, he is. Can I come in?’
I nodded and he stepped in, looking around the cramped quarters.
‘Homely,’ was his only comment and sat down without me asking.
‘I’ll come straight to the point, Mrs Dash, your hubby owes me money, two hundred and fifty quid to be exact!’
I sat down with a bump!
‘Two hundred…what for?’
‘He likes to gamble, don’t he. A lot of those flyboys do, it’s in their nature,’ he smirked. ‘I want the money. I spoke to him a week ago and he told me you had my money.’
‘Me? That’s impossible!’
‘You are his wife?’ he raised an eyebrow as if he doubted that we were married.
‘Yes, of course!’ I said hotly.
‘Well, if you don’t have it, I’m going to have to go to his commanding officer. They’ll take it from his flight pay and will make a hell of a black mark in his record.’
He stood up and put his Pork Pie hat back on.
‘Nice chatting, Mrs Dash. I’ll see my own way out.’
He turned and looked at me, his beady eyes carelessly examining every inch of me.
‘I’ll pay you back a little each week…’
‘How?’ Barstow sneered, ‘you haven’t got a job!’
He shook his head.
‘Doing what? Not many jobs for a book shop assistant, is there?’
‘I’ll find something!’
Barstow sighed, took his hat off and sat down again.
‘Look Mrs Dash, I know there’s a war on and everything but a bloke has to make ends meet. Tell you what I’ll do; I’ll let you pay me off a pound a week for a year…’
‘A year? But that’s only fifty two pounds!’
‘Quick, ain’t you?’ he grinned lewdly. ‘I know that but you can do me a favour, help me out like.’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ I said icily, expecting the worse, my mother’s voice warning me silently.
‘Nothing like that, Mrs Dash,’ he protested, ‘what do you take me for? No, my cousin works in an employment agency and she’s been trying to find a maid for a posh house. All the single girls are working for the war so I said I would help her out. If I find someone, she’ll give me the recruitment fee so we’ll be even after you’ve paid me the fifty nicker.’
I suppose I should have wondered about such an expensive recruitment fee but I was overcome with the possibility of a job.