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Frills, Finery & Aunties: Memories of the Littlest Bridesmaid

This week’s instalment of ‘Our Days’ comes courtesy of Cecile Stevenson, Kath Brown’s ‘littlest bridesmaid’ at her wedding in October 1940.

I woke early, as excited children do.  Today was a special day – I was going to a wedding.  I was three-years-and-five-months old and I had never been to a wedding before, but today my Uncle Bert was marrying Kathleen and she would be my new auntie.  I had several aunties already, and I liked them all.  They tended to have sweets in interesting tins, or in kitchen drawers or in their handbags, and they indulged my sweet tooth whenever I saw them. Another auntie would be very welcome. Best of all, I was to be a bridesmaid at the wedding and I had a beautiful dress to wear.  It was blue, the prettiest colour ever, and it had frills all over it. There were frills on the skirt and frills round the neck and frills on the sleeves and I loved it.

The wedding was to be in South Ormsby Church. The bridesmaids –  me, Auntie Flo, Auntie Marjorie and my soon-to-be-Auntie Kathleen’s niece Joan – gathered at the bottom of a steep slope on the edge of the church grounds.  A pathway leading to the church ran up the side of the slope.  The hard-trodden earth had stones, pebbles, earthenware and the like embedded in it, and the pathway was narrowed by an overhanging hedge on the right-hand side.  Joan and I were told to lead the way, and the four of us started to climb.  I was carrying a bouquet bigger than my head, and almost straightaway I needed to put my hands down on the steep path to steady myself.  Auntie Flo pulled me up with a sharp tug and I was told very firmly that I mustn’t do that or I would dirty my dress and my hands.  She said that she would carry my bouquet for me and she told Joan to hold my hand and help me up the slope.

Joan was seven years old.  We had never met before, but I knew somehow that big girls who were seven didn’t always want to be bothered with three-year olds.  I looked up at her anxiously – and she smiled encouragingly.  She took my hand and we reached the top of the path quickly and easily.  She smiled at me again.  I liked Joan. Auntie Flo reunited me with my bouquet and we stood at the church door to wait for Kathleen, who soon arrived by a different and easier route.  She was wearing a dress of gold satin which shimmered softly in the pale autumn light. She looked beautiful, and I knew that she did, but I liked my dress better.  Hers didn’t have any frills!

After the wedding there was a party at South Ormsby Hall, which they told me was called a reception, and a photograph on the steps of the Hall’s imposing entrance, all courtesy of Mrs Massingberd-Mundy for whom Auntie Kathleen had worked before she married Uncle Bert.

The photograph shows one of those moments usually described as ‘frozen in time’. I know it’s a cliché, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.  Looking at it now, I wonder if it carries more information than just a straightforward record of a very pretty country wedding from long ago.  Joan is there, charmingly poised with her feet together, still holding my hand and smiling. I stand foursquare; feet apart, stolid and serious, verging on severe.  I don’t know why I was so unsmiling.  The adult wedding party look well in their finery but with hindsight or imagination I wonder if there isn’t a hint of restraint behind their pleasant expressions?

World War Two had been going on for just over a year and the evacuation from Dunkirk was not long behind us.  The beautiful Wolds area where we were standing was surrounded by airfields – bomber-ready bases and training schools for aircrew to learn all those unimaginable skills needed for warfare.  The Battle of Britain, which had raged through the summer and into the autumn, was still being fought in the skies over the southern counties.  Something of this must have been at the back of their minds as they enjoyed the wedding day and its celebrations.  They would certainly have known that they were living with danger and uncertainty and that a long slog lay ahead.

Into those very unpredictable and perilous times my Uncle Bert and Auntie Kathleen took a leap of faith and started their long marriage, and a small girl was given a memory that she has never forgotten.  I wonder what happened to all those pretty dresses?

I wish I still had mine.



* Banner image courtesy of Imperial War Museum via Wikipedia / Public Domain


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