Early days

Ronnie and Hilda in the early days of their marriage

REVIEWS



Combines a very personal story with fascinating social history

The letters exchanged between this soon-to-be-married couple shortly after the Second World War illustrate beautifully both the social conditions in England at the time and the aftermath of the war in continental Europe. I admit I'm slightly biassed as I come from very close to where the couple were to live in Rochdale, but the detail of life at the time - really not that long ago - takes us into a very different world.

In parallel with Hilda's letters giving a flavour of life in England at the time, Ronnie's experience in the army are also an important reminder that the the war did not suddenly end in 1945. From his delightful comment on there being nothing worth seeing at the cinema, so he took in an opera at La Scala instead to chilling stories of guarding Nazis heading for war crimes trials, it's a salutary reminder of a very different time - but with an ultimately happy ending as the letters cease when the pair are finally united.

 Brian Clegg

AMAZON TOP 500 REVIEWER


'Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance' is precisely that: a heart-warming journey from a chance encounter and love at first sight through long periods of separation imposed by Ronnie’s army service overseas in the aftermath of the Second World War until he is finally discharged and they are at last able to marry in June 1947, 19 months after their first meeting. Yet this memoir is much more than its title might suggest. Author Wendy Williams’ decision to let her late parents’ extensive surviving correspondence speak for itself gives the two principal figures an extraordinarily vivid presence. Their copious letters, his frequently written at odd moments stolen from an almost ceaseless round of military duties, are a timeless evocation of a first love that was to endure for the rest of their lives. Yet the epistolary form means that we gain a first-hand impression of the background against which their romance developed. Hilda, in the first years of her teaching career, writes to her fiancé amidst the shortages and traumas of a post-War Britain struggling to heal its wounds and regain prosperity. The details she includes, at pains to share her day-to-day life with him in the only way she can, tell us much about the possibilities and limitations that ordinary people of her generation experienced. Entertainment, train travel and social pastimes were prominent, yet the practical challenges of setting up a home in readiness for their married life were huge.

The stark, unstated contrast with the deprivations that Ronnie experiences in continental Europe, rising rapidly through the military ranks but charged with mopping up the sometimes gruesome legacy of the Peace, is arresting. This is another world, and one too little known about today. He takes prisoners-of-war to the firing squad, fights chaotic organisation to bring a semblance of fairness to a detention camp; he tears down huts for firewood to keep himself warm in the freezing Austrian countryside. Longing only to return home finally to his wife-to-be, he applies all the skills and discipline that fighting in Italy had taught him to this no-man’s land of sinking morale as units are disbanded and prisoner escort duties deprive him of sleep. There are vivid impressions, too, of the places he sees, for he goes everywhere with eyes open and a mind curious to learn about this world so remote from his Rochdale home.

Wendy Williams has given her late parents the lasting voice – their own – that they deserve to have. Here are two young people in their early twenties, forced by historical and personal circumstances to grow up all too quickly. The skilful editing of the correspondence creates a sense of vivid dialogue between their two worlds. Ronnie and Hilda come alive for us, with all the sensitivities and foibles of real people, and, with them, they bring alive two worlds now all but lost to us. This is social history at first hand, and the well-judged annotations, introduction and appendices, complemented by an excellent range of photographic material, situate the personal story fascinatingly within the broader context of the period.

by Grahame Whitehead


This book promises much on the cover yet delivers ‘in Spades.’

As an insight to the hardships caused by administrative incompetence by HM command, by inference the failure of the 1945 government to honour its pledges to its troops, this is a sorry military record of failure which was buoyed-up by the total loyalty of those who had endured (and continued after) incredible deprivation in the service of King and Country.

Reading the letters from Lancashire one assumes all ‘tickety-boo’; read the book to realise the whole story.

Much recommended.

by John Keys


I began by browsing at random but quickly went back to the beginning and, two hours later, was still reading. It's a beautifully put-together account of a love story in late wartime but I was particularly gripped by what was going on in Hilda's life back in Lancashire - her day-to-day existence, living over the family shop and teaching in a secondary modern school, the outings to the pictures and evening classes that helped pass the time until she could be with her beloved Ronnie again, all the detailed hopes and plans for their subsequent marriage. These letters bring it all to life and helpful footnotes flesh out the background for us - a real first-hand social history.

by Kathryn Dews


Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book with its details of what life was really like in those post war years. Ronnie’s life in the army was harsh but his attitude to all adversity was steadfast. Their letters were an inspiration to each other.

by Nigel


A fascinating read for the history buff

So much detail about life in Britain immediately following the war from Hilda, while Ronnie's letters reveal as much about the aftermath of the war in Italy and Austria: the threat from Tito in Yugoslavia, the Russians making trouble with the Hungarians, all interspersed with the mundane detail of drills and kit inspections.

They give us insight into the political situation in Britain at that time: 'Yes, this Labour government made a grave mistake promising so many things', 'Stalin says Churchill is a warmonger'.

I highly recommend!

by Jennifer Douglas


An accurate history and a poignant read.....

An extraordinary experience to read about the past lives of people whom you grew up knowing just as your best friend's mum and dad into the spotlight! We have so much information about WW2 but perhaps not so many of us realise just how much the 'wind down' of the immediate post war years impacted upon the lives of soldiers and civilians. No wonder that in all the years I knew him, Ronnie could speak so fulsomely and eloquently about his army years. Hilda's mum, Mrs Cartwright, was a person my own mother and I honoured and respected, marvellous to see her memorialised and recorded in this way. What a life affirming book for all of us who seek to be connected with our past and what made us what we are.

Amazon customer


This collection of letters from 1945-47 between a soldier still serving abroad whilst awaiting demob, and his fiancée in Lancashire provide fascinating and often surprising insights into life in the posy-war years. Ronnie is stationed in various trouble spots in Europe: Italy, Austria, Hungary, where peace is still a long way off and the army must deal with crime, violence and vast numbers of displaced persons and PoWs. Hilda is a primary school teacher, living with her family and dealing with the problems of post-war Britain where everything was in short supply: housing, food, clothing.

This is an appropriate read for a commemorative year to remind us that D-day didn't mark the end of our troubles and left us with many unsolved problems.

Doreen Markam


What a lovely, real life romance

Through their heartfelt letters written at the end of World War II, we get to see Ronnie and Hilda - who'd gotten engaged after a whirlwind ten day courtship - get to know each other better as they wait for Ronnie to be demobilized from the British Army. From Hilda we learn about all the rations still in effect while from Ronnie we see the duties that still needed to be done even after peace was won. Their romance is charming and I was thrilled to be able to read about it.

by IRRS, Amazon.com


Comments by readers of Rochdale Online

What a splendid story. My sister clearly remembers being “mothered” by Hilda Cartwright when she started senior school.

Her name has never been forgotten in our family and even now seventy years later, I, who had almost zero contact with her, think “Hilda Cartwright’s shop” when I pass. Alwyn Smith


I remember Hilda with affection. She was my mentor when I started at Bury Grammar School, aged 10, in 1939. We travelled home by train to Rochdale, walked down Drake Street and caught the Littleborough bus. I got off at Dyehouse Lane and walked to Clegg Hall, alone and in the blackout. Life was very different then! Apparently we both became teachers, but after four years at New Moston I moved south. The book sounds very interesting. Audrey Davidson. (Smith)


lovereading.co.uk INDIE BOOKS WE LOVE

A soul-warming and impeccably curated collection of letters exchanged between an engaged couple from 1945-1947.

Revealing the beautiful romance between a couple who went on to be married for 58 years alongside fascinating social history, this anthology of letters - enhanced with dozens of photos and detailed footnotes - is an enthralling delight.

Ronnie and Hilda met in 1945 when he was home on leave from Italy after fighting in some of the most brutal battles of WW2. Though they came from different backgrounds – Ronnie’s much tougher then Hilda’s more secure, carefree upbringing - there was a spark between them and they were engaged only ten days after meeting, before Ronnie returned to his duties. Through the letters that grace the pages of this elegantly executed book, we’re offered a window into how they came to know one another, with an abundance of sweetness laced through all their correspondence, such as when Ronnie remarks early on, “By the way, I’ve got a lovely cold. I’m really enjoying my eyes watering because I caught it off you!”

Hilda and Ronnie’s letters lay bare their personal love story, and provide unique insights into the social history of life for post-war Britons, both at home and overseas. Ronnie shares his experience of attending the trials of SS soldiers and witnessing firing squads, while also expressing a longing to see Hilda in her “new dress, deep red cherry”, while Hilda tells of comings and goings at home, sharing ideas and plans for their much-anticipated wedding.

Framed by family history and details of the couple’s later life, this is a radiant read from start to finish.


Review in "That's Books and Entertainment

Ronnie and Hilda's Romance is a book about the romance of Ronnie and Hilda.

Ronnie and Hilda Williams met, completely by chance, in Lancashire in 1945, when they were both just 21 years of age.

This was when Ronnie as on home leave after taking part in some of the most harrowing and difficult campaigns of the Second World War, in Italy.

The romance of Ronnie and Hilda is told by their daughter Wendy Williams who used over 250 of the letters that were passed between the couple as the basis for this most moving love story.

Fully aware that Ronnie would be called upon to return to active service they took the decision to become engaged after knowing each other for less than a fortnight. Ten day, to be exact.

Until Ronnie's demob two years later in 1947, their letters were the main way the young couple used to learn about each other and to get to know one another.

It's filled with wonderful family anecdotes, humorous and serious and it is a warm and very human story.

It's also copiously illustrated with some lovely photographs.

You will also learn what films they watched, what they read, what they listened to and you'll also read the incredible story of Mr Bundle.

The book makes a lively read and is all the better for knowing that the people within its pages were all very real. Well, with the exception of Mr Bundle. And if you pay your £12.99 for the book, you'll learn all about the real people and the very charming story of the fictional Mr Bundle, too!

The book is published by Matador.

Posted by Martin S


The Bookbag - Sue Magee

Ronnie Williams was the son of Thomas Henry Williams (known as Harry) and Ethel Wall. There's some doubt as to whether or not they were ever married or even Harry's birthdate: he claimed to have been born in 1863, but he was already many years older than Ethel and he might well have shaved a few years off his age. For a while the family was quite well-to-do but disaster struck in the 1929 Depression and five-year-old Ronnie had to adjust to a very different lifestyle. One thing he did inherit from his father was his need to be well-turned-out and this would stay with him throughout his life. He joined the army at eighteen in 1942.

Hilda was just six months younger than Ronnie. She was the daughter of Wilfred James Cartwright and the former Edith Ashworth: Wilfred and Edith were shopkeepers. Hilda met Ronnie in late 1945 when she went to someone else's house to have a bath: had she been half an hour earlier or later they might never have met. Ronnie had never had a girlfriend before but he knew that Hilda was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He proposed when they had only known each other for ten days - and Hilda accepted. There was just one problem: Hilda was in living in Rochdale and Ronnie had to return to the army, initially in Milan. He would not be demobbed until April 1947 and the couple got to know each other by sending letters every couple of days. Hilda and Ronnie's Romance is built on the content of those letters.

History is rarely written by the people who were there at the time and even if it is, it's unusual for what's written to be contemporaneous. Events are filtered through memory, which makes its own adjustments as time goes by. In Hilda and Ronnie's Romance we have two people, with few axes to grind, who simply want to get to know each other, to know what the other has been doing and to plan for their future. In reading what they have to say to each other we learn about the state of post-war Britain, with its shortages, privations and restrictions as well as the chaos of a Europe in the immediate aftermath of the surrender of Germany.

Hilda was a teacher and Ronnie rose from being a Private when we first meet him to the lofty heights of Staff Sergeant some sixteen months later. Both are mature for their age - just twenty one in 1945 - and Ronnie is particularly responsible, although neither is good with money. It's a tribute to author Wendy Williams that she allows the real personalities to emerge, only removing from the letters anything which was intensely personal.

Whilst Hilda and Ronnie are obviously wrapped up in each other, it's not to the exclusion of other people. Hilda provides news about her extended family and she's also conscious of the effect of war on the men who are sent to fight it:

Their minds and feelings have got hurt by what they've seen and experiences, and things like that take a long time to heal. I think that is one of the worst and most terrible effects of war - its effects on people mentally, morally and spiritually, even more so than physically.

That's particularly insightful for one so young. I did wonder too how Hilda and Ronnie would have felt about having their correspondence published, but, once again, Hilda provided me with an answer:

What Memories! I could write a book of them. I say, that's an idea. Maybe I will do some day. I'm sure I could produce an interesting life-story even now.

Hilda never got around to it, but her daughter has done an excellent job for her.


Reviews from NetGalley and Goodreads

Rachel F

Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance by Wendy Williams (their daughter) is a great love story written out by letters back and forth from Ronnie Williams and Hilda Cartwright during the early part of their relationship/courtship. The span was from when they first met in 1945 to when Ronnie was honorably discharged at the end of his service in the military.

Ms Williams also added a follow up including: their wedding, their married life, and their last years (together and apart).

I enjoyed reading all of the footnotes (as they added so many more fascinating tidbits) as well as the amazing pictures that were added.

I loved to be able to put faces with names. It was truly enjoyable to read a true romance blossoming and all of the fascinating things that happened on a daily basis in England at the post-war time.

Ms Williams is very lucky to have had such amazing parents with such a sweet, romantic story to tell.

Thank you NetGalley and Matador/Troubador Publishing for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

 Laurie K

Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance is told through a series of letters written over the course of eighteen months. After meeting and becoming engaged in a matter of ten days, Ronnie is posted overseas until he is demobilized from the army. For that reason, it is through these letters that their relationship, understanding, and love of each other developed and flourished.

The warmth and respect that these two people shared comes through with every word. I enjoyed reading the day to day happenings of Ronnie and Hilda dealing with life in the aftermath of WWII, it actually was very hard for me to put this book down once I started it. This is such a lovely book! An amazingly simple story, but it still had great depth.


Tara Keating 

A beautiful love story told through a series of letters, from 1945 it spans start of their courtship to marriage ( foot notes added include their wedding and married life which adds a lovely touch) this is a lovely true love story of a normal couple but an exceptional love. Well told and heartwarming, with pictures to accompany their letters.


Jayne Sims 

Ronnie and Hilda hit it off so well that within ten days, he proposed and the description here made me tear up for the first time. “He could only afford to buy a ring with the tiniest of stones, but she treasured it more than words could say.” That phrase recurs between the two of them in their letters as each sends the other little gifts during their long separation. It didn’t seem to matter what was exchanged – homemade cakes, stockings, toothpaste, a lipstick – the other was delighted and never hesitated to say so. I chuckled when it’s obvious that Ronnie’s army mates are teasing him a little when it’s clear he’s sitting and thinking of Hilda. And he never hesitates to spend what little precious free time he has writing long letters to her in between doing the 10,001 things the army orders him to do. Just thinking of her while he’s writing is reward enough for him.

The maturity shown in their correspondence is astounding but even at their young ages, Hilda was already an experienced, college educated teacher while Ronnie had been in the service for nearly five years. They clearly know their minds and give a lot of thought to their plans. But just because the war was won, it didn’t mean the tough times were over. Rationing and shortages were still the norm in Britain and Hilda must have been tickled to get those stockings that Ronnie found in Europe. Ronnie’s post war duties sounded horrible – guarding Nazi prisoners and conveying them to war trials – and the winter weather was atrocious.

But through the letters, we can see two level headed young people getting to know each other better and longing for their post war lives together to begin. It is indeed a world that is long gone but it – and their romance – come alive and warm my heart. And yeah, I enjoyed reading about Hilda’s two cats and her dog, too. Thank you for sharing their love and their story with the world. 


Cristie Underwood 

This biography was well researched and contained a lot of information that I hadn’t previously read in other books. The author’s attention to detail is evident in the writing. Highly recommend!


Carolyn F

What a lovely book this is, giving us a glimpse into the lives of two ordinary people during the second world war. Their story is told via the numerous letters that flew back and forth between them while Ronnie was on active service.

These letters give us a rare portrait of what life was like during the war, both for those serving and those left waiting for them at home. Ronnie and Hilda's growing romance is an absolute joy to behold, and the couple are intensely likeable. The innocence shown in their letters made my heart ache at times, The respect and love they share is beautiful to see. For me it is the mundanities that stand out, the ordinary things they tell each other, like Hilda buying some new powder, or what Ronnie had to eat. The footnotes giving you more information about subjects they talk about in their letters are great, because they give you a glimpse into their lives beyond the letters.

Wendy Williams has made her parents lives shine bright on this book, and i feel very honoured to gave been able to get to know them through their letters. An absolute delight.


Kalina K

Very heart warming story. As a history buff, I found this story interesting because many people often forget about those stationed in Europe after the war. It was nice to get a glimpse into what took place afterwards. And who really doesn't love a good love story?!


Kristin J 

It's a heartwarming book about love and the post-WWII era. Through the letters, one can sense the warmth and respect they have for each other. It was also a bit interesting looking at some of the photos, as it gives the story some faces.


Trick Wiley

What a wonderful,wonderful story off two people who loved each other! You don't see this kind of love story anymore! What a way to have lived how then and stayed with each other through anything! Net Galley gave this little love story of two separate people who became one! Such a nice read!


Irene 

This book can definitely go in the Romance section or even War. Ronnie and Hilda meet in 1945 and after a mere 10 days he proposes and she accepts. They had to wait until 1947 when he was demobbed before getting married and so what we have here is their letters to each other during this time - his experience in several countries in the aftermath of war and hers as an ordinary person coping in extraordinary times. This is a fantastic book, hard to put down especially as the author is their daughter. No loose ends here, we are told how life treated them, what they enjoyed doing and what happened to their friends and families. What a lovely couple they were! I defy anyone to read this and not have a tear in their eye afterwards.


 Patricia C

I loved this book so much. Like many couples during WWII, Ronnie and Hilda get engaged quickly after meeting. But the rest of the engagement is through letters. And aren't people more honest in letters? No email or cellphones in those days. I adored this book.


Jane

Quite apt to read a book that Ronnie and Hilda story in an upside down world.

Written from letters they wrote to each other from when they met in 1945 and when Ronnie was finally demobbed from military service. Very interesting social account and of course love story after the war and austerity times did not stop people reliving lives and getting married.

The couple's daughter added information re the wedding, and their life and last years- which was lovely that this was shared.

Such lovely people a piece of social history and for their daughter to have such lovely parents.

PRESS COVERAGE

Entry in "The Bookseller"


Rochdale Observer front page 03.07.19

Rochdale Observer inside page 03.07.19.

Middleton Guardian 04.07.19.

Article in Rochdale Online, 24.06.19.

A book documenting a Rochdale couple’s enduring love in the aftermath of World War Two has been written by their daughter.

Ronnie and Hilda Williams met by chance aged 21, in Lancashire in November 1945, when Ronnie was home on his first leave after fighting in some of the most bitter campaigns of the war in Italy.

Their romance, documented in over 250 original letters, forms the narrative of this intriguing story, ‘Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance (Towards a new Life after World War II)’ which has been put together by their daughter, Wendy Williams, a translator and reviser originally from Rochdale.

Most of the letters which form the basis of the book were sent to and received from the author’s grandparents’ shop on Halifax Road in Smallbridge, which they ran between 1936 and 1960.

Wendy, who now lives in Nottingham, said: "My mother, Hilda Cartwright at the time, was a newly qualified teacher, living with her parents, Wilfred and Edith Cartwright, at their grocer's and off-licence at 418 Halifax Road.

"Almost all of the letters are written to and from that address, and my mother's letters in particular give a wealth of information about the local area from Rochdale to Littleborough."

With the uncertainty of the future, and Ronnie’s obligation to return to active duty as a soldier abroad, Hilda and Ronnie took the ultimate leap of faith and became engaged after knowing each other for only ten days. Until Ronnie was demobbed in May 1947, the letters they exchanged were their principal means of getting to know each other.

Their eloquent letters, which are in turn happy, sad, humorous, serious and informative, provide a fascinating and vivid glimpse of what life was like in the immediate post-war period, both for Ronnie, still suffering hardship in active service, and for Hilda, in a Britain struggling to return to normality.

Wendy added: "Although mum started working in Middleton, by 1957 she was teaching at St John's Junior School, firstly on Halifax Road, then on Wardle Road when the school moved.

"She continued to work there until 1984 when she retired, and my parents moved to be with me and my young son. I am sure that many people will still remember having been taught by her."

‘Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance’ is a social and military history, a romance, and, above all, it is about the hope for a new and better life after the long-awaited end of World War Two.

‘Ronnie and Hilda’s Romance’ is already available in ebook format, and will be published in paperback 28 June 2019.