Friday, October 24, 2014

A Visit From A British Soldier; Vila Nova, Terceira

This entry is dedicated to my aunt, Aida Adelaide, my mother's sister who happens to celebrate a birthday this month.  This evening at dinner, my mother told me the following story about when the British military was stationed on the island.  The story was brought on about the real butter I had on the table, and the invention of margarine of all things.  The history of margarine, sparked a memory in my mother, and although I've heard the story may be once or twice before, tonight I listened a little more carefully.  It is a touching story, I hope you enjoy it.  Happy Birthday Tia Aidinha!!

During WW II, in 1943 the Royal Air Force was stationed on the island of Terceira, Azores.

My mother who was a child back then, still remembers their presence on the island.  She remembers that although it was a scary time, the British military brought a positive presence, and she felt safe knowing that some of them were stationed in her village.  She had heard stories of Hitler and the war, the rationing, and the military war planes noisily flying overhead her island.  Her father had even instructed her and her sister where to hide if Hitler and the Germans were to come to the island.  It was a scary and uncertain time, but every now and then, there would be a British solider who would walk down the street, or drive by in a military vehicle.  The vehicle would stop and  soldiers come out and would often say hello to the children.  They would greet my mother and her friends with lollipops and candy bars.  Their little faces had no doubt reminded them of possibly their own children, or younger brothers and sisters who were waiting for their return back home.  

On one occasion, as my mother made her way to her uncle's home, a large military vehicle carrying a cannon came driving towards her.  My mother remembers being so frightened she stopped frozen on the street in fear.  The driver must have noticed her reaction.  The vehicle stopped, and out of the vehicle stood a tall young man, with light blue eyes and a broad smile on his face.  He  presented my mother with the biggest chocolate bar out of his front pocket.  It was the biggest candy bar she had ever seen in her life!  She joyfully took the candy bar, and ran home to show her parents.  Unfortunately to her dismay, she had to share it with her younger sister.

There were a number of soldiers that were stationed up the street from her uncle's home in Vila Nova, Terceira, and they would often come down the street in the early evenings to socialize at a small cafe/cantina near her uncle's home.   They would gather there to drink and to play cards and converse among themselves, and try to communicate with the other men from the village.  As the evenings progressed, their voices and  laughter would progress to get louder, and sometimes, on occasion, a few proved to drink a little too much.  At those times, the soldiers' laughter would soon turn into tears as their conversations turned to their loved ones waiting in England, fellow soldiers, and the stories and struggles of the war.  Although most of the people who lived in the village did not understand their words, their emotions and expressions of sorrow and "saudade"needed no translation.

On one particular day, my grandfather was out and about carrying my aunt in his arms.  My grandfather noticed a soldier stopping on the street to admire the little toddler.  She may have been only 3 or 4 years old at the time.  My aunt had light hair, with blue eyes and the vision of her apparently touched him deeply.  My grandfather felt a little weary with his stares, but after a short time the soldier came up to him, with tears in his eyes, explaining to my grandfather how much his daughter reminded him of his own.  A few days later, the soldier came up to my grandfather, and asked if there was any possibly way he could see my aunt one night as she lay sleeping.

My grandfather was so touched by the soldier's sincere words, he felt he had an obligation as a father to  help.  That evening he came  home and told my grandmother what had happened.  Although my grandmother was hesitant about it, she soon found herself  touched by the story of the soldier and she readily agreed to help.  The next evening, my grandmother purposely put the best crocheted linens on the bed, and dressed her youngest daughter in her best night gown.  My aunt Aida had no idea what was going on, and quickly fell asleep.  While she lay there sleeping, my grandmother carefully combed her light hair to the side, and pinned a pretty pink ribbon.

My mother remembers this day like it was yesterday, and recalled how confused she felt.  She did not understand why a British soldier was coming by to see her sister.  Would he bring her more chocolate?  Did he want to steal her baby sister away?  Nervously she waited until the soldier finally arrived at the door.  My grandfather opened the door, and quietly led him into the house, to where my mom and her mother stood,  near the bed where my aunt lay peacefully sleeping.  He carried no chocolates in his pockets, but the expression on his face, brought tears to my grandmother's eyes.

The soldier stood there above the bed for a little while.  He smiled at the little girl, as he mumbled a few words in English to himself.  He knelt down, and stroked her check carefully with his finger, and then arose from the bed, smiled again, and mumbled a few words in English once more, wiping a tear off of his own cheek.  The soldier then quietly left the house in silence and a few muffled words, perhaps trying to communicate to my grandparents his thank you.  My grandparents followed him out the door, and watched him make his way on the road, sympathetically.  The soldier then turned around to them,  and waved a goodbye to my mother at the window.

My mother wondered if the British soldier would ever return to visit them again, but he never did.  Years later another soldier would come, during another war, and from a different country.  That American soldier would later be my father.

Below you can see a movie on You Tube from 1943, when England set military base in Terceira.  The video does not say which island they were occupied on--just "The Azores".

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