REVIEW: Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance by Wendy Williams
Ronnie and Hilda Williams met by chance aged 21 in Lancashire in November 1945, when Ronnie was home on his first leave after fighting in some of the most bitter campaigns of the Second World War in Italy.
With the uncertainty of the future and Ronnie’s obligation to return to active duty as a soldier abroad, Hilda and Ronnie took the ultimate leap of faith and became engaged after knowing each other for only ten days. Until Ronnie was demobbed in May 1947, their letters, over 250 of which remain, were their principal means of getting to know each other and form the main part of this heart-warming story.
These eloquent letters, which are in turn happy, sad, humorous, serious and informative, provide a fascinating and vivid glimpse of what life was like in the immediate post-War period, both for Ronnie, still suffering hardship in active service, and for Hilda in a Britain struggling to return to normality. Their determination to be together against all odds will stay with you until long after the final page.
Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance is a social and military history, a romance, and, above all, it is about hope for a new and better life after the long-awaited end of the Second World War.
Dear Ms. Williams,
When I saw the lovely cover for this book, I hurried to see what it was about. To my delight, it’s the real story of your parents’ courtship through to their reunion just before their marriage as told through their letters, photos and mementos. I was captivated while reading it.
Wow, from a chance meeting – and yes, think how different their lives might have been but for that bath Hilda took – to engaged in ten days! But there’s so much more to the book. The opening section that details Ronnie and Hilda’s families gives a good deal of information about how harsh life was in the early 20th century – infant and child mortality, food insecurity, child labor, job insecurity, and the losses due to the Great War hung over so many.
Ronnie and Hilda hit it off so well that within ten days, he proposed and the description here made me tear up for the first time. “He could only afford to buy a ring with the tiniest of stones, but she treasured it more than words could say.” That phrase recurs between the two of them in their letters as each sends the other little gifts during their long separation. It didn’t seem to matter what was exchanged – homemade cakes, stockings, toothpaste, a lipstick – the other was delighted and never hesitated to say so. I chuckled when it’s obvious that Ronnie’s army mates are teasing him a little when it’s clear he’s sitting and thinking of Hilda. And he never hesitates to spend what little precious free time he has writing long letters to her in between doing the 10,001 things the army orders him to do. Just thinking of her while he’s writing is reward enough for him.
The maturity shown in their correspondence is astounding but even at their young ages, Hilda was already an experienced, college educated teacher while Ronnie had been in the service for nearly five years. They clearly know their minds and give a lot of thought to their plans. But just because the war was won, it didn’t mean the tough times were over. Rationing and shortages were still the norm in Britain and Hilda must have been tickled to get those stockings that Ronnie found in Europe. Ronnie’s post war duties sounded horrible – guarding Nazi prisoners and conveying them to war trials – and the winter weather was atrocious.
But through the letters, we can see two level headed young people getting to know each other better and longing for their post war lives together to begin. It is indeed a world that is long gone but it – and their romance – come alive and warm my heart. And yeah, I enjoyed reading about Hilda’s two cats and her dog, too. Thank you for sharing their love and their story with the world. B
Another true – and delightful – story about an early 20th century romance is Ethel & Ernest – the film or the book – by Raymond Briggs (author of “The Snowman”)