Europe was slowly rising from the ashes of a war that had torn out it's heart. The war was over, but still much hardship lay ahead before life could resemble anything near to normal.
Nelly had turned 20 on December 15th 1946, and she felt almost grown up, even though she still wore ankle socks. She had a sweet and disarming innocence that was never to leave her, even in old age and she had a spirit of adventure that beckoned her to follow.
One night in January 1947, she boarded a boat that would take her over the stormy North Sea, from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. She was leaving with her parents' permission, in order to learn English by working as a nanny and home help to an Austrian/Scottish family in London.
She left behind the spotless, cobbled, flat streets of Rotterdam, swarming with bicycles. She left the quaint and ornate houses, windows neatly framed with lace trimmed net curtains and potted plants; often with a cat in the gazing out benignly at the world. She left a strong sense of family and home: Gezelligheid.
In the Netherlands, the curtains were never closed, and as the evening fell, scenes of cozy domesticity played themselves out for all the world to see. "Home" was a concept that was celebrated and embraced fully.
The ship chugged on throughout the dark night, over the deep sea, it's green-gray waves swelling and foaming. As the first rays of morning broke, Nelly could see the lights of a new shore, twinkling their welcome. The voices of the English seamen sounded friendly. They laughed a lot and although she couldn't understand their banter, she was ready to embrace their culture and learn.
She boarded a steam train in Harwich, which puffed and blew it's way across the Norfolk Broads to London. The landscape was flat and watery, just like Holland. In fact, she even saw windmills! From her seat in the railway carriage, her eyes drank in every detail eagerly.
Only a few hours after landing in Harwich, the train steamed into Liverpool Street Station in London. The adventure of her life was unfolding and now that she was in London, there was so much to see that she could hardly take it all in. The architecture was so different. She gazed up at the ancient buildings and monuments that had been merely names a day ago. She determined that she would explore every part of this great city over the next nine months.
Nelly had landed in England during the coldest winter in many years. Large drifts of snow covered the country and held it in an icy grip, as power stations shut down for lack of fuel. The British Army was brought in to clear snow from railway cuttings. By February there were food shortages as supplies were cut off and vegetables were frozen in the ground. A deep gloom descended upon Britain. In the Netherlands and the rest of Europe, the winter was taking a similar toll, with famine and civil disorder. Even into March the snow continued, with one of the worst blizzards of the 20th century taking place on March 5th. On March 10th a warming trend resulted in thawing, burst river banks and flooding and gale force winds.
Eventually even this terrible winter had to come to an end and it was not one moment too soon for anyone that lived through it. Nelly had kept in touch with her family in the Netherlands, writing letters about the family she lived with and her attempts at cooking for them. The months of April and May brought sunshine and life to the country and one sunny Sunday afternoon off, Nelly found herself in historic Hyde Park with a Dutch girlfriend who was also working as a nanny.
That day was also a day off for a soldier named Chris, and both of them, each with a friend, met there at Speaker's Corner. A half an hour earlier or later and perhaps they would never have crossed paths, but they did, and for better or worse, their lives were connected from that day on.
The following year, back in England after spending the winter of 1947-48 back in the Netherlands, on November 6th, 1948, Nelly married her Guardsman, Chris at a registry office. She had to have her father's written consent to marry and she did.
Although she had attempted to learn English the year before, working for an Austrian family had meant that the language of the home was German, so the vows she repeated to the best of her ability, were unintelligible to her.
She wore a camel coloured coat, and her ankle socks had given way to nylons. On her left lapel she wore a white carnation. (At the flower shop she had asked for an "anjer," the Dutch word for carnation and somehow they managed to decipher what she was looking for.) She drank in it's fragrance as she gazed up into the eyes of the man she was ready to follow anywhere and do anything for...