Copyright Oggbashan October 2019
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
This is based on a real event.
In the late 1920s the four of us were friends as two couples. Albert had been my friend since school and a choirboy at the same church near our parents’ homes just North of the City of London. Sheila and Joan had also gone to the same schools and church. All four of us attended evening classes and took Civil Service entrance examinations and became clerks in the same department within walking distance of our homes. I, Charles, was with Joan. Albert’s girlfriend was Sheila.
The four of us went everywhere together, often taking a bus or train journey for a weekend walk in the country. As we were returning from one walk we saw a new housing estate being built. A notice was being put up advertising a reduction in price and ‘easy terms’ for purchase. The homes had been reduced to £250 pounds and a mortgage of £245 was offered. The four of us walked into the sales office and looked at the show house. It was modern, with an internal bathroom that our parents’ apartments didn’t have. The houses had garages, not that we could ever dream of owning a car, and reasonable size gardens backing on to protected woodland that would never be developed.
The American stock market crash had just happened and people were worried. The houses had been reduced because people were not buying. But all four of us had Civil Service jobs on an increasing salary scale. What might not be feasible for many, might be for us. The mortgage repayments and the increased commuting costs would be just affordable and when we got our annual increases we would be able to live slightly better. We would be pushed to our financial limits for the first couple of years but after that? We would have a house on the edge of the country we loved. It would take us three-quarters of an hour commuting each way but our quality of life would be much better and we could marry and set up home away from our parents’ overcrowded homes.
The salesperson was desperate. The four of us were the first potential customers for a couple of weeks and if some houses weren’t sold soon, he and the building company would be in real trouble. He was the elder son of the company’s owners. He spoke to his father. The builders would lend us the five pounds deposit for a year at no interest, arrange the mortgage for the balance of two hundred and forty five pounds and pay the legal costs.
That was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Albert and Sheila, and me, Charles and Joan, agreed to buy two adjoining houses. We could marry and set up home in a newly built bahis firmaları modern house in a great location.
I married Joan just before Christmas in the London church where I had been a choirboy. We were rather surprised that Albert and Sheila went off to Huntingdonshire, where Sheila’s grandparents lived, for their marriage at the same time.
The Civil Service rules at the time meant that if a woman, who was an established Civil Servant, got married she had to resign form her established post and be re-employed as a temporary. Based on her years of service, she was given a lump sum as compensation for losing her pension rights. If I died first, she would get a pension based on one third of mine at that time. Joan’s lump sum meant we could repay the builder’s five pounds and by the end of our first year in the house we had reduced the mortgage to two hundred pounds. Even so, it was a struggle to make ends meet. None of the four of us could afford the bus fares to the railway station so we all went by bicycle.
The next year was a disaster. The recession had hit the UK and the Civil Service was not exempt. First our automatic annual salary increases were stopped. A few months later all Civil Servants’ pay was reduced by ten per cent. We were really struggling until the final blow. All temporary Civil Servants were discharged. Joan lost her job and with it half of our reduced income. We could no longer afford the mortgage and our house was repossessed. Joan and I had to rent a cheap shoddy apartment within walking distance of my office. We had lost our first and idyllic home. It would take until 1957 for us to start buying a house again with the proceeds of foreign service allowance for three years’ posting abroad. Only then could we hope to match what we had lost in the early 1930s.
Yet Albert and Sheila, although financially stretched, managed to keep their house and were paying their mortgage despite the cuts in Civil Service pay and numbers. I and Joan knew why but it was a deep secret shared by only the four of us.
Forty-nine years later our children were planning our Golden Wedding for the next year and of course our oldest friends, Albert and Sheila, were invited too.
Out of the blue, shortly after the invitation had been sent to Albert and Sheila, I had a phone call from their eldest son, David. He had been trying to arrange a Golden Wedding celebration for his parents, without them knowing, but had met a real problem. He didn’t know the exact date of their wedding nor at which church in Huntingdon. It must have been a church wedding since they had always been active members of their local church, and still were. I asked him to come to see me to discuss it. He agreed.
When David arrived I sat him down with a cup of tea. He explained that his researches in the General Registry Office, the Huntingdon kaçak iddaa churches and even the National Archives had produced nothing. Yet all three should have records of the marriage.
“David,” I said, “you can’t organise a Golden Wedding celebration without speaking to your parents. I’m sorry, but you will have to do it.”
“If I tell you, you must NEVER tell your parents that I did. What they tell you must be a surprise to you. Do you accept that?”
“I suppose so, Charles.”
“There is no ‘suppose’. Either you promise or I can’t tell you, David.”
“OK, Charles. I promise. I will not tell my parents what you say.”
I explained about the two couples buying new houses side by side and how Joan and I had been unable to pay the mortgage and had been repossessed, losing our home next to Albert and Sheila where they still lived. We could not afford it once Joan had lost her job. But Albert and Sheila could. How?
I could see that David was beginning to see how.
“Sheila didn’t lose her job. She was still an established Civil Servant and stayed one until you were born, David.”
“Exactly. The Civil Service rules at that time were that a woman had to resign on marriage and be re-employed as a temporary, and a few years later all temporaries were discharged. Yet your mother wasn’t because she was still established.”
“She must have lied to her employers, Charles.”
“No. she didn’t. David.”
He was beginning to see where this was going.
“Then the reason that I can’t find a record of the marriage is because they never did marry.”
“They didn’t. They arrived at their new house and joined the new church as Mr and Mrs and no one knew they weren’t. At work she was still Miss and unmarried. She took off her wedding ring on the way to work and put it back on the way home. The only people who knew the truth were me and my wife and we have never told anyone until now.”
“But when she resigned when I was born, they could have married, surely?”
“They could have but it was a very unpleasant time for both of them. You were born on 1946, almost nine months after VJ Day. When your mother was obviously pregnant at work and announced that she was resigning to have you, she was seen as an unmarried mother. Her superiors, despite her significant contribution to the war effort, were displeased with her and also upset with your father. Although they had been promoted by then and well-regarded, both were given official written reprimands. She didn’t have an official leaving present nor acknowledgement. Her colleagues organised an unofficial one in a nearby pub but your mother had to leave with no official thanks for her years of work. Your father’s career was blighted for a few years. But she still had her pension entitlement for the years she had worked kaçak bahis and is getting it now. Understandably she was hurt by the official disapproval.”
“But at home…?
“They had been living a lie for years. It was hard enough being criticised at work. In 1946 attitudes to unmarried couples, particularly those who were prominent members of their local church, was very unforgiving. It is different now, but then it would have been very hard to admit that they weren’t married. It was easier to carry on pretending that they were married.”
“So I can’t organise a Golden Wedding to celebrate fifty years of a marriage that never happened, can I, Charles?”
“They will have been together, effectively as husband and wife, for fifty years. That is a cause for celebration but you need to talk to your parents and see what they feel, David.”
“And I’m a bastard, as are my brothers and sisters?”
“Technically yes. Now, if your parents married, you wouldn’t be.”
“That’s an idea. I wonder?”
“I can’t help you much more, David. Remember your promise. I didn’t tell you. You will have to get your parents to tell you the truth and then you decide, with them, what to do next. I think that fifty years together should be celebrated but how? You and your parents have to answer that.”
David did talk to his parents and he told them he couldn’t find the date and place of their wedding, so he was stuck trying to organise a Golden Wedding celebration. They admitted the truth, that they had never married. The three of them went to see the Vicar at the church where they had been prominent members for fifty years and asked that Albert and Sheila should eventually marry, just before Christmas, fifty years after they had started the pretence that they had married.
Once they had done that, they admitted the truth to their friends in the Church’s congregation, and things snowballed. They would have their wedding. The bride would wear a golden dress and be attended by granddaughters as bridesmaids. Someone tipped off the local paper that Albert and Sheila, apparently married for fifty years, were finally going to do it fifty years late. It appeared on the front page of the local paper and was picked up by several national papers and then a TV channel who arranged for the ceremony to be recorded for TV news.
The happy couple and their bastard children were interviewed several times. At the marriage ceremony itself I, Charles, acted as the bride’s father and their eldest son, David, was his father’s Best Man. The church was so full that the ceremony had to be on loudspeakers to the assembled crowd of well-wishers who couldn’t fit into the church. At the reception the Best Man’s speech included thanks to his parents for finally making their children no longer bastards.
The newly married couple left for their much belated honeymoon in a gold-coloured Rolls-Royce as the gold-themed reception continued until the early hours.
Our Golden Wedding party as Charles and Joan, although enjoyable, seemed a much quieter affair.