“He was a big man, kind and handsome, and just one of the best of people. And he used to sing. Oh, my! Did he used to sing… He had such a voice it would make you melt to listen to. Anytime there was a wedding or a funeral in the village there would always be a knock on our door and someone would want Frank to come and sing a song.
He always had one favorite that he would try to fit in. Whenever he got a room full of people and someone asked for a song he would say, “Alright, alright, one song. This one is for my mother Mary” then he would sing “Oh won’t you be my darling, won’t you be my sweetheart…”
When the war came all of the older boys went off together. Tom and Harry and Frank all waving goodbye was one of the saddest days. Back then it wasn’t like we would get phone calls or even frequent letters from them. It was only every now and then that news arrived from the front and they could never say where they were or what they were about. All classified you see.
About a year into the war though we got some bad news in a different way. A very official army man arrived at the door with a letter for my mum. Frank was missing in action. I remember my mum telling me that there was no way to be sure, but everyone knew what that really met. Frank was not coming home.
The war dragged on and my mother, Mary, and I, my older sisters also volunteered. Doing what we could on the home front as we called it. Tea and milk and beef were all rationed. I even recall one day some men turned up in a truck and knocked on the door.
“Excuse me miss,” they said to my mother, “we’re sorry to do this to you, but we are collecting spare metal and scraps for the factories and seeing as you don’t have no animals we would like to take your gate.” And just like that they lifted the gate out of the hinges and tossed it into the back of their truck.
It wasn’t all hardships though. Every Friday we would take our big table top radio into the shop in town to have it tuned or adjusted or some such, so that on Sunday evening it would be ready to go.
The Sunday evening program was called ‘Front to Front’. Every week they would go around to a different camp or base on the front and give the boys a chance to say a few words to those at home. They weren’t allowed to say their names, for security, but when they called out their town and said hello to Tim and Johnny and Mary then you could work out if you knew them.
One week I remember they were interviewing in an Army hospital and the announcer was going round between the men. He walked up to one man and said, “Now son, who at home would like to talk to?”.
“Oh,” said the man, “oh there’s too many to name and they know who they are anyway. I just want to say this. This one is for Mary.”
Then his voice broke out over the radio “Oh, won’t you, won’t you be my darling…” and it was our Frank.
All of the neighbours came running and by the end of the song we had twenty people sitting in our house listening to Frank sing. A great cheer went up when he finished and everyone ran back into their houses and brought out the little tea or port or sherry they had to celebrate and drink to our boy.
We still didn’t know anything else about him or what had happened to him though. It wasn’t until he walked back into town a month or so later that we saw he had his sleeve pinned up where he was missing his arm just below the elbow.
He got married when he came home and there never was a more perfect, happy couple. He became a gardener and you would see him round the village whistling and trimming away with his good hand and his stump.
This story is a transcription of a story I was told by Lily herself, one afternoon while I was having tea with her at her home in Australia. Any inaccuracies in the retelling are my fault alone. .