I decided on a title for my second novel, the story of a British officer of World War I with amnesia who returns to England to face an aristocratic life he can’t remember and the Romani wife he doesn’t know. I decided to call it AFTER THE BELLS. Bells of victory, you know, bells.
And now I have this stuck in my head:
But the bells we generally associate with June are wedding bells. My parents would have been married 70 years this year. My father was going to college on the G.I. Bill when they met. They set up housekeeping in a house he had built for her, a classic little just-like-the-neighbors bungalow, and they proceeded to have five children, just like the neighbors.
My father had a girlfriend before the war. She wrote him every day. He received her letters, usually more than one at a time, during calm interludes between horrific storms. After the war, he couldn’t bring himself to see her because he associated her with his terrible combat experiences.
Before World War I, she could have sued him for breach of promise. An engagement was a serious contract in those days, a delicate dance of etiquette performed to conceal the nitty-gritty negotiations going on behind the scenes. When the suitor asked her father for her hand in marriage, he was talking about money, or status, or some other quantifiable thing. Even for the Edwardians, romance was a nice extra.
Like so much else, those conventions were blown out the door by the war. Nobody wanted to wait six months to get married — in six months, the groom might well be dead. Many young men popped the question, said, “I do,” and had at least one night of honeymoon all during one leave. Who knew when he’d have leave again? Who knew whether he would come back? At least she’d have a soldier’s pay, and there might be a baby, the ultimate reminder that life goes forward even if we don’t.
But no matter how practical their thinking, they still got dreamy! The British newspaper the Telegraph reported in 2013 the results of a study by Genes Reunited, a family history website, that reviewed contemporaneous news reports related to romance and marriage, including the trend of courtships carried out via the mail and resulting in weddings of complete strangers.
Here are some brides on the big day. Note the German couple.
The bride is in mourning.