When two hearts collide

There were moments when he looked like he was going to become overcome with emotion.

Friday, 26th July 2013, 9:26 am
Arthur Beales with his wife Elizabeth. INLS 2413-501MT.

One thing is for sure - Arthur Beales is as devoted to his sweetheart, Elizabeth, or ‘Bet’ as he calls her, as he was when they first met, close to 70 years ago at the Criterion Ballroom (The ‘Crit’) in the city centre.

Cuipd’s arrows struck him hard - he knew instantly that Bet was the girl for him and within three days had asked her to marry him.

However, he had to wait just a little bit longer than that (about half a year) before he could slip a ring on his beloved Bet’s finger.

Arthur Beales with his wife Elizabeth. INLS 2413-501MT.

There was no great fanfare, no big white wedding and not huge expense: It was post war in Northern Ireland and there wasn’t much money around.

Bet wore a blue two-piece suit and Arthur wore his uniform.

The first year or so of married life the couple spent in London, but the London man returned to ‘Derry’ with his wife before the birth of their first child.

“I met the wife in the Criterion Dance Hall down on Foyle Street.

“This was a Friday that I met her in the dance hall...I took her out Saturday and Sunday I took her out to Brooke Park and I asked her to marry me, on the third day.

“She said ‘No, you can’t marry me because you are a Protestant and you have to change’.

“So I did. I got permission off the Captain to do the course and learn the main parts of it and about three months afterwards I was accepted,” he said.

Asked what attracted him to Elizabeth he said it was her “nice kind nature”.

“And her understanding. She was very loving and I knew she liked me.

“There were plenty of girls when I was in the Navy and over in America and Norway and different places like that, all different girls, as the saying goes ‘one in every port’, you know?

“But I took her as she was and liked her because she was a decent girl and everything she spoke was the truth, and she annoyed nobody and tried to keep friendly with everybody, you know?

“I did ask her to marry me and she kind of accepted me, half and half, but she would not accept me until I changed.

“In those days religion was very strong. It is not now.

“So, when I went over to London and back home on leave, I went to borrow money to get married.

“I wanted to come out of the Navy and you don’t get much wages in the Navy at the time, and I had to borrow about £20 from an aunt.

“They thought it was one of those ‘gunshot’ weddings, you know? I had to explain to them, so none of them was at the wedding.

“None of my family was there,” he said.

A small handful of Elizabeth’s family attended the couple’s marriage in Long Tower...

Asked if he felt lonely without his family, Arthur said: “No, not really, because I felt that I was indulging her. It did not really worry me...

“My wedding day was on a Sunday and it was in the Long Tower that we got married.

“There was what I would term a women’s confraternity in, you know?

“So there was all women there... and the best part about it was they were up in the balcony of this church smiling down on us.

“There was girls up there that used to go to The Crit looking down at me,” he said, smiling at the memory.

The reception was held at the house and the guests included Arthur’s mother- and father-in-law, two uncles, two brother-in-laws, two sisters-in-laws and three or four neighbours.

“We had no wedding photographs and there was no wedding frocks either, no white gown.

“This was 1946 and just after the war, so clothing coupons were scarce.

“Bet did not get married in white, she got married in a two-piece. It was blue and the bridesmaid was her sister, Minnie, and my bestman was the brother-in-law, Charlie.

“I wore my uniform because I was still in the Navy you see,” he said.

The day after their marriage the couple moved to London because Arthur was still in the Navy and had to report to barracks the following week.

“So we had another party over there with my family.

“They were excited and just took to her.

“She did Irish dancing and they got her to do Irish dancing and had her doing it by herself,” but the return to London did not last long: “She said to me one day sitting in my mother’s house ‘I want to go back home to my family and have my baby there’,” he said.

At that time the houses in London weren’t very plentiful, space was at a premium and privacy for a newly married couple was in his parent’s home, so to cut a long story short, Arthur and Elizabeth packed their bags and came ‘home’.

Their first home was on Ferguson Street and then Linsfort Drive, before moving to Rathlin Drive 56 years ago.

The conversations ebbs and flows about the house moves before Arthur declared: “She was the love of my life and she always will be. Nobody will ever take her place, and she feels the same way,” he said, adding: “I have loved her all my life.”

It is a twist of fate how Arthur, a painter and decorator by trade, came to be in Derry/Londonderry to meet his future wife...

“We had been in Norwegian waters at the time, near the Russian borders and all that...

“It was near the end of the war and the British troops were in Norway then.

“When we arrived in Norway we only spent two or three days in each port, did patrols and went on to the next port.”

The ship was sent to England then, and after Harwich the ship (HMS Torrington), was sent to Scotland: “The ship was getting paid off, you know?

“When we were working round the fjords we ran aground and damaged the bottom of the ship and it was kind of leaking, but it wasn’t a bad leak, we could pump it out all the time.

“But Scotland could not take us so they sent us round to Belfast and there was no dry dock there so they could not take us, so they sent us to Derry, ‘cos Derry had a dry dock at Pennyburn.

“So we came down to Derry and we tied up at where Sainsbury’s is now. We tied up there.

“It was a couple of days after that, that I went ashore and I met the wife, you know?

“I remember Long’s Shop, the gatehouse, the dockyard gate was opposite there and I remember the shirt factory.

“Bet wasn’t really a girl who worked, because she was the youngest in the family and she was doted on.

“I think she told me she had two weeks in the shirt factory in Waterloo Street, but I forget the name of it.

“She was the youngest in the family and her father adored her, so she did not really work.

“I was the oldest. I had another brother and two sisters and I was the eldest grandson as well, we had a big family,” he said, before getting back to his favourite subject - Bet.

“The first time I saw Bet was in The Crit. She was dancing with another girl.

“I could tell you this just like I was telling her...

“Me and me mate were sitting at the back and she came dancing round in front of us, and I can still remember her dress, it had a green, pleated bottom and it swung out, you know?

“They wore underslips then at the time and I remember she was a well made girl, and I said to her and her friend ‘You call that dancing? I could show you a few steps if you want me to.’

“So the next dance came up and I walked over and she was sitting with her friend, and they was all for Jitterbug and Jive,” he said, contintuing: “We even won cups and medals for it later over in London. Even in the present day if I could get the wind I’d do it: When I hear music like that I want to get up and dance.

“So that’s how I met her and that night I walked her home,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

Recalling how Elizabeth’s mother was very strict, he related how he left ‘Bet’ in the street near her Bishop Street home before walking the whole way back to the ship, and stopped along the way at Hunter’s Bread Shop to get a bread bun to have with a cuppa.

“There was more Yanks in Derry then than British. There was Yanks, and Polish and Canadians, and it kinda hit me when I was laying in the bunk that night that I’d met ‘her’. She was a nice girl and I was just dying to meet her again.

“Even in the present day, if she was sitting there I’d tell you in front of her.

“I would say ‘Bet in the next life or if I ever came back to life again and had to marry someone, I’d marry you again.

“I’d still marry her and she more or less says the same thing.

“We are just made for each other,” he said smiling.

He mists up as he relates how, with reduced mobility, his wife recently lamented no longer being able to dance: “It was only a couple of weeks ago and it was some woman’s birthday and we were at a do, with a band in and we were sitting listening to the music and it was quick music and old time music and it kind of brought back memories and me and her were sitting together and she had a blank face, but she was thinking all the time and when the band was about to stop she leant over and held my hand and she said ‘Arthur, do you think I’ll ever be able to dance again?’”

He apologises for his ‘moment’ before going on to actually talk about his war years and produces his war medals for admiration. And then the chat again turned to the woman who kept him happy - and kept him here....

Were you a wartime bride?

The Sentinel would love to hear from you if you have a story to tell about falling in love during the war years or met your spouse in one of the city’s many glittering ballrooms... telephone 028 7134 1175 and ask for Olga Bradshaw - or email your contact details to [email protected]