Letters between a Leamington woman and her wartime sweetheart offer an amazing glimpse into the real lives of those affected by D-Day 75 years ago.
When her husband Joe was part of the D-Day landings in France in June 1944, Audrey Gerrans wrote to him every day, and vice-versa. And Audrey still has the all the letters – more than 700 between them.
We are very grateful to her family for allowing us to print some of the letters, as a poignant insight into the historic occasion. The letters are printed at the bottom of this story.
Here is a background on the two people:
Joe Gerrans was born on April 12 1919 and was 20 at outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
He worked for Queen Mary as a clerk in Marlborough House and Sandringham after leaving Westminster City School at 17. He was at Sandringham when Edward VIII abdicated in 1936.
Joe was brought up in an Army family; his father was a tailor in the Grenadier Guards. He was stationed in Sittingbourne, Kent, in 1943 where he met Audrey in the cherry orchards where she was fruit-picking. He was in the Royal Army Medical Corp, 13 Field Dressing Station, attached to the Welsh Guards. His unit was waiting on a ship for a couple of weeks off the Kent coast, prevented from sailing to France by bad weather. They eventually crossed to Normandy on June 25, arriving on the 27.
After landing in France his unit saw fighting in Holland and Belgium, before crossing the Rhine into Germany in March 1945.
After deployment in Southampton caring for injured servicemen when they were brought home, he was reunited with Audrey in Sittingbourne in 1946.
After the war Joe joined an insurance company and was a marine underwriter in London and Bristol until his retirement in 1962.
Before and after the war he played football for Barnet, and for the Army during the war.
Joe died aged 77 in 1997.
Audrey Burkett was born on January 30 1923, and was 16 at outbreak of the Second World War. She is now 96 and has lived in Leamington for more than 20 years. She still does an afternoon volunteering at Save the Children in Regent Street.
She lived with her family in Sittingbourne, left school at 14 and worked as a child’s nanny before training in accountancy before the outbreak of the war. Then went into the munitions factory, the old paper mill in Sittingbourne to help the war effort, making shell cases.
After a six month courtship, they married in Sittingbourne in January 1944 on the eve of Audrey’s 21st birthday. Joe was 24.
Audrey worked in Frenchay hospital medical library in Bristol for 30 years and has two children, six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
Here are some of the letters between the couple:
The shock of our parting yesterday is the most terrible experience I’ve ever suffered. Since that heart-aching moment when we kissed and said au revoir I seem to have been in a dream. Now I am happy, dear wife, that our love will remain as strong as yesterday and I am resigned to the truth that no matter how much we cry and long for each other, we can do nothing about it and must both wait patiently for that heavenly day when I shall come home to you, never to leave your side again.
I’m going to be a brave girl. I’ve got to be if you want to find the same Audrey here that you left. I’ll pray for your safety and the day that you come back to me. Joe, we’ll be so happy, just you and I, nothing can stop us dearest. This can’t last forever. Every minute of the day you’ll be in my thoughts husband dear and every minute that passes brings me nearer to the day when we’ll be together, and who knows, it may not be so very far away.
I’m wondering what you’re doing as I write. Wherever you are dearest love, please look after yourself; I don’t know what I’d do if I came home to find you not the same sweet Audrey; I shall not change dear love, be it months or years before I come back; and I shall come back Audrey, still the same Joe who loves you and always will love just you, dear one.
Audrey dear, your letter was lovely and if you continue to write me letters like this one, being away from you will be so much easier.
My Dearest Husband
I was on Snips Hill between 2.15 and 3 o’clock last night fire watching when I saw your convoy go through. It was dark dear so I don’t suppose you saw me. I took a big white handkerchief with me to wave, hoping you would see it. But I know you were thinking of me dear and our hearts were both together. What difference can a few months or even a year or years make to we two – our love will not dim and die with time dear.
It’s just a week since I left you and it seems ages since we kissed goodbye; oh lovely one, I’m missing you terribly and am living only for the day when I’ll hold you in my arms again. I’ve got your little charm Audrey, and your photos, my ring and cigarette case – all these lovely things that my darling wife has given me I value most. Every night I kiss you sweetheart; at one time I would have thought this silly but now I know the grandest love in the whole world is not silly, it’s heavenly dear.
Whatever the future holds, I have no regrets; I have loved the nicest girl ever.
Hello My Darling
It’s been a week since you’ve been gone dear and it seems like so many years. I’m missing you so much my dearest one. Kath and I are going to the pictures tonight dear to see ‘Lassie Come Home’. I think it should be good but I wish you were going to be with me Joe my darling. We spent some of our nicest moments in the pictures didn’t we dear. I hope you’re not worrying about me too much sweetheart for you know I’ll be alright. You’re going to find exactly the same Audrey that you left.
Hello My Sweet Wife
Just in case I don’t get the chance to write tomorrow, I want you to know I shall be thinking of you on our fifth anniversary. Five months darling and I’m more in love with you than ever.
Audrey. I have just received 5 letters from you and boy oh boy, am I happy, dear one!! I’ve just read the last one, number 6, and see you are well dear and okay. I see you’ve written every day, thank you my sweetheart. I love only you and always will.
I must leave you now dear for I want to get this censored tonight. Goodnight my Audrey, I love you more than ever. Chin up honey!
Hello Dear Joe
One of those things has just come over chased up by a Spitfire. I think it got him too. Last night at work one exploded over our place, you should have seen the girls run for the shelter. Not your Audrey though dear, I just flattened out under a case. I had my light dress on too and was a bit black when I got up. The girls laughed at me but they could have been hit by the shrapnel that was coming through the roof...the shelter’s about 300 yards from where we work.
Hello my Dearly Beloved
Today is the five month anniversary of our wedding and I’m so glad to get a chance to write to you. Barring incidents, Audrey, I hope to make this a long letter – an anniversary present darling. I received your seventh letter this morning dear love, and again it was lovely. I have all your letters before me and am going to try and answer them in order.
My Dearest One
What wouldn’t I give to catch a glimpse of your dear face. I want to see you, to hear your voice, to feel the touch of your hand in mine and for you to look at me and tell me that you love me. Oh Darling, it’s the agony of waiting for some news of you. Sometimes I could scream.
Dad has just come in and said one of his nice black rabbits has died, so that’s one rabbit dinner we’ll be minus. Still, I don’t like them so I don’t mind much.
Please be careful of those flying bombs – I’m so worried about you. Yes dear, you must go flat whenever you hear them – tuck your elbows under your ribs, keeping your stomach off the floor dear, and put your hands over your face. Oh my precious wife, watch out for yourself. Nobody knows what these infernal things will do. Being apart from you is terrible enough without the fact that you are in danger too.
Everything is okay with me dear and there is nothing I want you to send me unless you could get Mum to wrap you up in a neat little parcel, label it ‘With utmost care’ and send to me ‘Urgent’!
There’s no doubt dear wife that this parting has only served to strengthen our love that binds us together, making us one.
My dearest Joe
I heard one of your songs on the Radio at lunch time ‘You Were Never Lovelier’. I remember when you used to sing it to me and sometimes play it on the gramophone at home and we’d dance together darling. I’d love to be dancing with you just now.
It’s two weeks yesterday since we landed in France dear having left England on 25th June. We landed on the 27th and spent a few days squaring up etc. We saw and are still seeing great displays of might and power which give us all the greatest confidence. The Russian front news is terrific.
The weather has been kinder to us these last few days and as a change from mud we now have clouds of dust – think I prefer the mud. However, you need no toothpaste with so much dust around!
Darling, Darling, Darling Joe
I’ve got two letters. I’m so excited I could laugh and cry for sheer joy. How can I sit still to write to you when I’m all of a jump. The girls at work think I’m crazy writing to you so often but how can they tell what happiness I get out of it and I know you are happy to receive them dear.
There’s a couple of Jitter Bugs going over. One went over just now with a Spitfire after it, but the guns are opening up on these two.
Again I’ve had a busy day Audrey but I’ve managed half an hour with you tonight before turning in. Letter 37 turned up this afternoon and once again I’m very thankful to my very dear wife.
The war situation looks optimistic dear and perhaps it won’t be long before you’re in my eager arms again. Gee, how I long for that great day to come. Look after yourself my beloved – watch those buzz bombs all the time. I am fit and well Audrey but just a little tired and foot-weary tonight dear, so I know you’ll forgive me if I crawl away to bed.
My Dearest Sweetheart
I was woken this morning by Kath bringing up the post and yes, three letters from my Joe. Thank you my darling. We are certainly writing a lot to each other aren’t we. Peggy is here and we lay on the bed talking and I told her dear, how we first met. I loved going over it again, you know, how you told me you were crazy about me that Sunday night and I see as I look back that we were meant for each other and as I went through our story I thought, no wonder I fell for that guy.