No 17 - May 2002
“She was a bit of alright, was Doreen” remarked Jock to his best friend. “She’d have made a good wife for you.”
Albert Fletcher was in Glasgow for the christening ceremony of the second son of Jock and Enid Dodds. Albert was also godfather to their first son.
“Why she didn’t reply to our letters we shall never know” continued Jock.
“Never is a long time, maybe one day,” remarked Albert.
Albert was still playing professional soccer at the highest level. He had to miss the weekend clash with United to attend the christening. It was a small price to pay to see his friend again. Six months had elapsed since their last meeting. Jock had chided his friend on this, but added “We can also celebrate the tenth anniversary of D-Day”.
Albert nodded, thinking Jock should have known better than to touch on such a sensitive topic.
D-Day was still four months from fruition. Professional soccer players posted to the same camp stuck together, hunted as a pack.
Albert Fletcher and Jock Dodds were vying for the attentions of the ‘Sweetest Angel in Blackpool’ as Albert described Doreen in a letter to his mother. Doreen was a corporal in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, who made the most of fashioning her best Air-Force blue uniform. Skirt an inch above the knee, King’s regulations decreed an inch below the knee. The breast filling part of her tunic a shade tighter than regulations allowed. The cobbler on Central Pier had been persuaded to add a half inch to the length of her heels of her official ‘sensible shoes’.
Both airmen were smitten.
Mrs. Fletcher prayed her son would make the fifty mile journey from Blackpool before being transferred to the battle zone. Hopefully bringing Doreen for their first meeting. Perhaps after Saturday’s football match? she thought,
Doreen’s mother secretly thought her daughter’s charm and good looks could spell trouble. Where did Doreen’s enigmatic smile come from? Certainly not herself or husband, Bill. Her own elder sister had a way with men, the careless disregard, the disdain, a certain type of man couldn’t resist this treatment. A natural asset her eldest daughter possessed and with some to spare.
Doreen accepted it was only a matter of time before her two handsome swains were transferred to the south coast. All that I will have to remind me of our wonderful friendship will be the two patches of Brylcream grease on the lounge wall at the back of the sofa, where you rested your heads and drank cups of tea.
England were due to play Scotland in the fifth annual wartime fixture of the Calcutta Cup at Old Trafford, Manchester. Albert Fletcher was England’s most lethal weapon; playing on the extreme right, he would be used prolifically. Jock Dodds would be essential to Scotland’s strike force, a hand gun to England’s advanced armoury Even in wartime, Government authorities gave the annual fixture top billing. The nation needed some deviation from the never ending hostilities in every part of the world.
The players representing both countries ware sent away to a Lancashire base for two days extensive training, prior to their private battle.
After a hectic tussle the nations drew their match, two goals each, both Fletcher and Dodds amongst the scorers. Sunday was a rest day prior to the participants returning to their base the following day. All the talk was of the forthcoming invasion of Europe. How would each individual participate? The south coast of England was already heavily tilted with a million personnel under military orders. The Royal Air Force still had to add to this number.
The following Monday both players called at Doreen’s parents’ boarding house. A twelve year old boy from the Midlands on a week’s holiday with his mother gazed at them in awe. International soccer players were a rare event. What a tale to tell his schoolmates.
Doreen’s younger sister was also impressed with the two men in RAF uniform, both sporting three stripes with a white flash in their side caps denoting their trade as Physical Training Instructors. Audrey advised both airmen not to rest their heads on the wall behind the settee. “Mummy gets upset. The grease simply refuses to budge” she said in an excellent imitation of her mother’s chastisement of the elder sister.
The lounge door opened, Both men looked eagerly. Disappointment was covered by their smile and greeting to Doreen’s father, a tidy sincere man who worked as a zoo keeper at Blackpool Tower. “Sorry to inform you chaps, Doreen’s unit has been posted to somewhere in England. That’s the official description, bound to be on the south coast. Must be something to do with the invasion”, he confided, as though Winston Churchill had given him a personal telephone call.
Both men were chagrined, Albert had summoned up courage during his playing leave to propose marriage to his fair-haired angel and Jock was very near to making a similar commitment,
Jock answered the old soldier. “A bit sudden. She was here last Wednesday and without embarkation leave or notice she’s left the district.”
The reply came quickly. “She was one of fifteen hundred WAAFs who moved. They were all taken by special train last Saturday afternoon. You two were playing football of course, otherwise she would have called.” As an afterthought he added, “Perhaps she wouldn’t have called. The squadron were under orders of strict secrecy.”
Fifty four years on, Lord Fletcher of Clevelys, honoured for his service to British football after playing a record number of times for his country, received an e-mail from Charleston in South Carolina. “Coming to UK for a visit. Love to see you. Doreen.” His heart leaped.
They met on June sixth at London’s Savoy Hotel. “Very appropriate, it’s the fifty-fourth anniversary of D-Day” were Albert’s first words after fondly embracing his love of so long ago. Her figure still trim, her eyes had not lost their sparkle. The warmth of her greeting made Albert grimace, realising how much he had missed her. He had never married, throwing all his energies into the sport that had made him internationally famous. The world’s top footballer for more than two decades, a legend in his lifetime.
“I followed your progress through letters from home” Doreen told Albert. “The media in the United States is very short on soccer, baseball is another thing of course, but my late husband and I saw you play in an exhibition match in New York. We came up for the occasion” she smiled.
Albert said “You should have made yourselves known. I have missed you terribly.” She gave him the enigmatic look he knew so well.
“I missed you but whilst Frank was alive I couldn’t face the ordeal of meeting you, but I did persuade my two sons to join your fan club. They both followed soccer from a distance. I have made them honorary Blackpool supporters.” The couple drank in silence for some minutes. It was broken when Doreen asked to you see anything of Jock?”
Albert answered “Alas, he is no longer with us. His funeral was in Glasgow over five years ago. A massive turnout, The cathedral was packed to the rafters. Thousands of his old fans filled the cathedral close, taking in the service from radio speakers. He was a well-respected father of five children. I am godfather to two of them, you know.”
Doreen gave a little squeal of delight. “No, I didn’t know. I wished I had. it was difficult for me having two such handsome swains, If I’d had to choose, you would have won the contest, but only just.”
“Why didn’t you keep in touch? At least invite me to the wedding?” Albert asked.
Doreen took two deep breaths before replying. “It was wartime. You acted on the spur of the moment. Death was an acceptable way of life. Please forgive the sick joke. The WAAFs were sent over the water three weeks after the men landed on D-Day. We were to provide administrative duties. For four months I worked in the American hospital at Caen, mostly helping in the canteen, but took on any duty. I even helped as an orderly on emergency surgical operations.
My first specifically allocated job, and incidentally it was also my last in the forces, was chauffeuse to Colonel Frank Daniels. His parents were long ago Irish people. From this appointment in 1944 to the end of the war some fifteen months later, Frank and I were inseparable. In the thick of battle one day, the following day back at Headquarters. The job was not a nine-to-five operation. We virtually lived together. It was not surprising that we married, Dwight Eisenhower was best man. Frank himself was by now a one star General. He left the Army shortly after the war in Japan finished. We settled down in his home town in South Carolina. The rest is history, as they say.”
Albert replied “I understand now”, and then changed the subject abruptly.
“How’s your younger sister, the one who played gooseberry when we finally managed to be alone in the sitting room?”
“She’s fine” smiled Doreen. “It’s her that I’m staying with. She married that snotty nosed kid from the Midlands who wheedled so many autographs from you and Jock. I’m sure he had a ready market for them at his school. A clever boy was Leslie.”
Albert was relaxed, the way he always was with Doreen. He was at his most vulnerable. She said “I’m thinking about returning to live in Blackpool. Without Frank, there’s nothing to keep me in the States. My eldest son and daughter-in-law live and work in Germany. I haven’s seen my grandchildren for three years now. My second son hasn’t married but his job has taken him to Canada. The distance is too great for frequent visits. My sons can fly to England just as easily as South Carolina.”
Albert’s head jerked a little. Was his bachelorhood being threatened? He looked directly into Doreen’s eyes. “Your memory has been the sunshine of my life. I prayed things could have been different but we play out life the way the cards are dealt. I was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday List, now eight years ago, and became a Baron.” He laughed. “And that was for doing the thing closest to my heart.”
Doreen said cheekily “I thought I was the closest thing to your heart”.
Albert gave a resigned smile. “That was then, now is now. A baronetcy commits a person’s time to the obliteration of all other interruptions of life. Constantly attending the House of Lords makes tremendous inroads into my time.”
Doreen realised Albert’s sentiments. She said “It’s been great meeting you. Don’t let it be another fifty years.”
The couple embraced at the hotel entrance while waiting for their separate taxis.
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