One of our 30 objects is this set of love letters between Bruce Da Cunha and his fiancée Joyce Redding of Victoria Road, Berkhamsted. Joyce met Bruce, who served in the Reconnaissance Corps of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, when he was stationed in Berkhamsted in early 1942.
As February is the month of love, we thought we would share the story of Bruce and Joyce.
Joyce was working in Sketchleys the dry cleaners during the war and one day she spied a
handsome soldier walk past. The story goes that he spied her too and walked back for another look. He came back when the shop closed to introduce himself.
Following the Company's move to the South Coast in August 1942, the couple became engaged and their correspondence was constant for the remainder of Bruce's time in the services.
Letters between them were written almost daily between 1942 and 1946 while Bruce was serving during WWII. They are a tender portrait of a love played out against the backdrop of war. Joyce’s letters to Bruce are full of the joy of being in love and the anguish of being separated. When they do manage to meet, it is only for a short time when Bruce has leave, and they enjoy moonlight walks.
We see Joyce worrying about the type of things modern brides grapple with – wedding dates and who to invite – with the added difficulties of when Bruce might get leave so they can set a date, and whether she can find white material for a dress. She is the one dealing with the practicalities of setting up home and acquiring furniture for post married life. Will he like the carpet she has been given? Although excited about the wedding, she is also nervous about walking down the aisle. In return, his letters reassure her about her choices, stating "if you like it, so will I", and he writes how much he misses her and that she doesn’t need to be nervous. He sends her roses; she tells him not to get too fat as the bed she has found isn't that big!
The letters also give a snapshot of life on the Home Front during the Second World War, both in Berkhamsted and further afield. Joyce writes of the "pictures" she goes to see with her friend Jean at the Rex, the increase in the sweet ration, and crossing the American Air Force base to visit family in Bovingdon. While Bruce writes, "the air raid syrens [sic] have just gone at Romsey and Southampton they are going every half hour through the day and week they are never silent here".
Amongst all this, the reality of war is never far away. We learn of a plane crash on the George Street end of the railway that had just happened in view of Joyce's house, which she can’t bear thinking about. Also from Joyce we understand the issues they faced from being in a mixed-race relationship – people staring and saying unkind things – and her defiance that nothing would prevent them from being together or spoil their happiness. Happily, they did marry in December 1942 and began addressing their letters to each other as “my darling wife” and “darling husband”. It is not long before Joyce is writing to Bruce with the good news of her big tummy and, to the delight of everyone, a daughter is born in early January 1944.
Bruce went on to take part in the Normandy landings in June 1944, before settling in Berkhamsted when he left the services.
These remarkable letters tell such a wonderful story of an enduring love that survived the hardships of war, separation and the attitudes of the time.