After a cold start to the month of May, a southeast breeze had brought warmer air to London. We had emerged from a long, cold winter, and could look forward to longer days and our first summer of peace in 5 years. We had spent the last five years on board ship with precious little shore leave wondering whether we would survive the war.
My shipmates and I headed into London towards the Mall. The noise was tremendous, but we had been used to being bombed, shelled, and torpedoed. This was the cheering and singing of thousands of people celebrating the end of the war. We had scarcely seen a woman and now they were thronging the streets in uniform or dresses. We were swept along by the crowd, all making their way to Buckingham Palace to see the King and Churchill. Then I spotted her, the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, with dark curls and ruby red lips. We had drunk a few beers, which perhaps made me bolder than I would normally be, and my emotions were roused by the celebrations. I grabbed her round the waist and kissed her tasting her lipstick. A photographer caught the moment, and the photo was in the paper the next day. I bought a copy from the newspaper office. She did not slap my face or report me for sexual assault, as she might do these days, but she and her friends linked arms with us and danced down the street. We were so far back we could only see the Royal Family and Winston as specks on the balcony, but we cheered with everyone else. Little did we know the two Princesses were in the crowd. I managed to ask her name and address before we were separated by the crowd.
The next day, after I had sobered up, I called on her. The door was opened by a slightly older girl, who resembled Irene but not as pretty.
‘So, you’re the drunken sailor, I’ve heard all about you,’ she said, raising her eyebrows. Irene came running to the door and the rest is history. I left the Navy, and we were married soon afterwards. Money was tight, but we were happy and had three lovely children.
During the last two years we have been fighting another war, but this time against an invisible enemy. We were cut off from the world like being back on the ship, with no visitors allowed, yet the deadly virus managed to invade the Care Home. I was not allowed to see Irene in her last days in hospital, surrounded only by nurses looking like astronauts in their full PPE protection, and she could not even have a proper funeral. They are giving me a party tomorrow for my 100th birthday, and the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will all be coming. There will only be one person missing. I so wish Irene was here. I have asked for a new silver photo frame for the photo of our first kiss. It is on my bedside table, and I kiss it every night. Goodnight Irene.
About the author
June Webber is a great grandmother, lives in Dorset and is part of three writing groups. She writes short stories and poetry.