Jim was tall and very handsome, with thick red hair and a long straight nose. Dorothy had platinum blonde hair – so blonde it was nearly white. She was extremely pretty. They bumped into eachother outside Grimsby cinema after a showing one evening, and fell in love.
Jim was from the slums of Hull, one of twelve other brothers and sisters. A poor family in a rough neighbourhood.
Dorothy was from a well-to-do family in Grimsby, with just one sister and a nice family home.
The story goes that when Dorothy visited Jim, people on his crowded street would actually come out of their house to get a good look at her walking past, with her nice clothes and striking good looks.
World war two broke out. Jim proposed to Dorothy, she said yes. He had to go overseas after joining the army, but they agreed to marry on his return.
Dorothy stayed in Lincolnshire and served in the fire service. Grimsby being a regular target due to its docks. Years passed, and she did not hear from Jim, until recieving a telegram in 1942 informing her that he was missing in action, presumed dead.
Dorothy found love again in a dashing R.A.F officer named Robert. They got married in a little local church, and they were happy.
Jim had been captured at the fall of Singapore - considered one of the greatest defeats in the history of the British Army. He was captured by the Japanese and forced to work as a prisoner for many years on the infamous “Death Railway”, building a long and labourius railway track through Burma and Thailand, including the Bridge over the River Kwai. Conditions were horrendous. Torture and extreme punishments were rife. It was, and is, a part of the war people are reluctant to talk about, and was kept hidden from public knowledge for many years.
It was hell on earth.
One prisoner died for every sleeper that is laid. Jim eventually became so weak and ill from malaria, that he was taken from hard labour and given “light duties” – burying his dead friends. There was no way Dorothy could have known the horrors that her fiance was going through.
On completion of the railway, the few remaining prisoners were packed onto a Japanese ship and taken to sea. They were not told why or where they were going. Not realising that allied prisoners were on board, the ship was bombed by American pilots and Jim spent three days and four nights in the shark infested waters, clinging for life to a piece of the wreckage. He believed he was going to die, and prayed.
An American submarine picked him up and brought him home. He was in his early twenties, weighed 6 stone, had none of his natural teeth left, bamboo injuries to to limbs from beatings, skin cancer and malaria. He was taken back home to Hull with no money, no “help for heros”, no thanks. He was advised not to speak of his ordeal.
Jim tracked down Dorothy who immediately divorced Robert and married Jim. It was not an easy marriage, but it did last. Jim had deep scars both mentally and physically. How do you get over something like that? Can you get over something like that? I doubt it. He was hurt and extremely jealous of the love affair between Dorothy and Robert in his absence, and it is hard to say whether he ever truely forgave her deep down, but they muddled on, found love again, and had a family of their own.
The only evidence the marriage of Dorothy and Robert happened at all, is her marital status on Dorothy and Jim’s wedding certificate (divorced) and a pair of silver candlesticks given to Dorothy by Robert’s family as a wedding gift.
Dorothy and Jim were my grandparents. The impact of what he went through still resonates through our family today. We were very close, although I never heard him speak about it. Jim died of lung cancer when I was 16 – sadly when he bacame very ill, he thought he was back on death railway.
Dorothy . . . Nan . . . died when I was 21 from a sudden heart attack. They were amazing Grandparents and are still much missed.
The candle sticks now sit on my mantle piece, their elaborate beauty a veneer for the story of broken hearts they tell.
Poor Robert. I sometimes wonder if he is still alive.