Their faces were full of joy and hope. Chris looked down with a smile at his "vrouwje," a Dutch endearment meaning little wife. Neither one knew the depths of brokenness that each brought to their oneness, hoping to find in the other, the missing piece, the lost part.
Nell loved this man with all her heart. For him she chose to make England her home, leaving behind her own beloved parents in the Netherlands and her sisters and brothers. It was a choice that was to leave an ache in her heart that would lodge there and become as familiar and unremitting as breath itself, but today she only saw him; his poet's soul, his courtly good manners and proud bearing.
The day after their registry office wedding, while Chris was still on leave, they boarded a train at grand Paddington Station in central London. Overhead. above the rails, stood high glassed arches, in place since the time of Queen Victoria. Chris was taking Nell to meet his mother, Lucy, in Hagley, but first they had to get to Birmingham.
They boarded the train going to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham and opened a sliding door that led into a carriage from the corridor running the length of the train. Nell was excited and nervous. She had only seen the south east of England and she looked forward to seeing more of the country. Most of all she wondered what her mother-in-law was like. She felt apprehensive, not knowing much about this woman who had given birth to her husband. Talking to her would be difficult as her English was not yet at all fluent.
She knew that she had a strange sense of humour. She had sent a package to Chris at the barracks. As they always did, whenever one of them got a parcel from home, the other soldiers gathered around to see what was in the package. It was a pork pie, a traditional English delicacy; an odd thing though, to send in a parcel. As Chris lifted it out, it became evident that there was something odd about the pie. It was made of wood. His mates laughed, but inside, Chris wasn't laughing.
The train engine pulled away with a huge head of steam and a shrill hoot; chug-chugging, slowly at first, gathering speed as the dark tunnel of the station gave way to bright daylight. The train built up to 4 beat rhythm and sped faster and faster as the carriage swayed and the rails clanged beneath the wheels.
London was left behind quickly, and rolling fields and sleepy villages and quiet station platforms took its place. Nell didn't tire of looking at the vista passing by.
In Birmingham, Nell noticed a different accent, broad and hard to understand. They changed trains and got on one to Stourbridge, from where they traveled by bus to Hagley, the village where Chris grew up. It was a long journey, taking at least 4 hours.
Hagley was surrounded by the Clent Hills and the estate of Lord Cobham whose ancestors had taken part in the gunpowder plot, attempting to blow up the houses of parliament and kill King James 1 in 1605. The house where Lucy lived was not far from Hagley Hall.
As Chris and Nell walked from the bus stop, Nell's heart beat faster with apprehension. She was hungry, thirsty and tired from the journey.
The house was surrounded by a garden stocked with a variety of crysanthemums and dahlias and just behind it was a hen house from which great clucking and broody sounds emerged. To get to the kitchen door they passed the outdoor latrine.
As they entered the kitchen, Nell blinked and her eyes grew accustomed to the darker room. Chris was talking to the woman who stood by the table. A variety of smells assaulted her nostrils, pipe tobacco, strong tea with sterilized milk and others that were as yet unidentifiable.
Lucy and Nell surveyed each other. Lucy was big boned and had unusually big hands for a woman. She wore her long dark hair braided, with the braids wound around her head. Her features were strong with high cheekbones, but her eyes had a gleam that made Nell frightened.
Nell, couldn't understand everything Lucy said to Chris, but there were some words spoken that went to her heart and were never forgotten. "Did you have to marry a foreigner? Couldn't you find an English girl?"
On the opposite wall to the entance to the kitchen, was a big old fashioned open fire and stove. In a chair on the right hand side, sat an old man, rotund and balding and smoking a pipe. This was Peter Thornburgh, Chris's step-father, who had beaten both Chris and Lucy throughout Chris's childhood. But now he seemed the only member of Nell's new family to have a kind word, and he shouted his welcome, with the voice of one who is deaf and doesn't know that he is speaking over loud.
Nell waited in vain to be offered even a sandwich. Any hopes of even being liked were disappointed. She couldn't wait to leave the oppressive atmosphere of this home. Chris though, seemed unaware of just how hurt and uncomfortable she felt.
Not a minute too soon they started back to London.There were no available flats in married quarters at the barracks yet so Chris headed back to Caterham barracks and Nell went to Farnborough Hospital.
Temporarily Nell moved into a cottage in Waldingham called Silvermount Cottage, until a flat became available at the barracks and she and Chris could live together as man and wife.
Loneliness was setting in. She found herself going to the barracks as often as she could, by bus. Later in life she was to say that it was always her going to him. She didn't see it at the time, but it was true. Still, loving was about giving, wasn't it?
Nell and Chris's story continues next Monday...