During World War II, almost all men were drafted to service to join the war effort. On the Western Front during that time, it was hard to imagine how the lives of those deployed and those left behind had drastically changed— the mothers, fathers, siblings, partners, and children. Not only that, but the constant fear of getting killed or the worry for your loved one deployed in the warzone was agonizing. Families endured these just like the Mowforth couple. The couple had only been married for three months before the husband, Cyril, was sent off to war in 1940, leaving his wife, Olga, for six long years.
Sent to War
Cyril and Olga first met on a lengthy trip. They both played an active role in their community after the war in the 50s and 60s. They also led and vegetarian diet. While we now have veganism, pescetarianism, and other particular diet forms, the vegetarian diet was uncommon then.
Olga and Cyril also volunteered for the Youth Hostel Association. After they relocated, Olga was elected as an independent member of the Woodcote Parish Council and the Henley Rural District Council, with her name even listed on a village hall plaque.
While she was in the position, Olga lobbied the area’s water board to connect every household to the mains drainage, so they didn’t have to rely on cesspits.
In 1940, three months after getting married, Cyril Mowforth was sent to serve as a sergeant and tank commander with the 42nd Royal Tank Regiment in the North African campaign. The regiment was part of the final push against the Nazi forces in Europe, leaving Olga as a coordinator for the Civil Defense Service. However, even when she was away from the war zone, Olga would also face German threats as she drove a Civil Defense ambulance to their hometown.
For six years, the only way they could keep their love alive was through the handwritten letters and postcards that they would send back and forth, even when they had to wait weeks, and sometimes even months for a response, when there were delays in the post office.
One time, when Cyril was in a port on his way to Egypt, he wrote, “The locals here are very interesting. Most of them speak fairly good English and seem to be well-read, some of them up to our council school standard.” But, he added, “I’d better start applying your formula and look two years forward instead of idle thoughts about our happy past.”
To which Olga responded, “You’re wrong there, dear. Look forward, yes indeed, but those old memories are precious and until we make new ones, go over them often.”
The two shortly reunited in May 1944, just before the Normandy Landings, when Cyril was posted back to Catterick. After three months, he joined the Allied troops across France and later wrote, “Four years now, and I’m more in love with you than ever before.”
Cyril survived the war and finally came home for good in March 1946. He then became a special needs teacher in nearby villages. They grew a huge vegetable garden to make sure their money would suffice. Known as the “egg lady” in the neighborhood, Olga would keep a large flock of chickens and sell their eggs door-to-door. They lived a happy life with their three children until it was cut short when Olga died of cancer at 54.
Publicizing the Letters
After World War II, the letters were shut away in their attic, seemingly sealed forever until their daughter Sue Mowforth found them after Cyril died at 91, totaling around 1,000. Sue made letters public to let the public know about the depth of her parents’ love in the middle of a dark era. For three days, she would transcribe the letters, finding out for the first time what their parent went through during the war and how they overcame the obstacles that came along with it.
Here was one of Cyril’s poems, Sorrow and Shock
You and I and me and you,
How we are and what we do,
Of whom we think, to whom we talk,
Of what we dream, with whom we walk.
Where we went, last week, last night,
Of things that come within our sight.
What we hope to do tomorrow,
Greetings, yearnings, joy and sorrow.
Relations’ news and neighbours’ chatters,
Gardening notes, financial matters.
These, the content of our days
Tell of parting, broken ways.
Writing! Writing! Words and phrases,
When what we crave are love’s embraces,
But only when all Fascists cease,
Shall we together live in peace.