A Not So Brief Encounter

A new correspondent, Mrs Hilary Wren, with fond recollections of the village (Article first appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of the Rollestonian).

Back in the winter of 1941 a shy young WAAF waits at Burton on Trent station hoping for a train home. Delighted to have a weekend pass from RAF Eggington, ahead of her a long journey home. Trains at that time were often infrequent and always overcrowded so the WAAF found herself a seat in the waiting room and prepared for a lengthy wait.

During the course of the evening she began to talk to a local woman in her early 40s, explaining that she had received her first weekend pass home, and was so looking forward to visiting her family in Durham, and that she being a village girl had never been away from home before joining the RAF.

In the course of conversation and having taken a liking to the young girl the lady said “You can’t possibly travel home every time you have leave. Would you like to visit myself and my family on your days off? We live in a village not far from Eggington named Rolleston. If you are unhappy coming on your own why don’t you bring a friend?”

Accepting the kind invitation the young WAAF arranged to take her friend to visit the family on her next 24 hour pass. Travelling on foot the girls set out for their visit but a fog quickly fell and they became lost. Fortunately they came across a railway line, this they followed until they came to a signal box. Taking directions from the signalman (they still had them in those days) they found their way to Rolleston.

And so began a story that would shape all their lives.

The kind Samaritan was Gladys Bentley (who became Auntie Glad) and her family quickly became true friends to the young WAAF. Although her friend quickly tired of the days in Rolleston, the young WAAF looked forward to her visits. Never allowed to walk home alone over the dark fields she was always escorted, then an old bicycle was bought to make her journeys easier (again with an escort). Later she would spend the nights at Rolleston (when the RAF pass allowed it) there being a spare room. The family’s eldest son Donald was away serving in the Royal Navy, their younger son Dennis a youth of about 14. Gladys’s husband was Douglas (Uncle Doug) whose family roots were in the village. They lived on Beacon Road in “Gladwyn” a house they had built themselves before the war. Prior to building Gladwyn they lived in the superbly named “The Castle”. This was and I understand still is a cottage on Beacon Road, later becoming the home of the Cheetham family who opened a shop on the site.

Douglas had been badly injured in WW1 and Gladys had struggled to bring up their two boys alone due to her husband’s many visits to hospitals and convalescent homes. Douglas had worked for the Mosley estate as a groom before WW1 and later as gamekeeper/warden for the by now closed estate. During WW2 and up until his retirement Douglas worked at RAF Fauld.

The rest as they say is history. The WAAF became my mother Ellen and the young sailor my father Donald (Don). They married in 1945 and lived happily until my mother’s death. I lived in the village as a small child, but due to my father’s work we later settled in another part of the country. However, every holiday was spent visiting my grandparents in Rolleston and when I met my future husband he too became part of our Rolleston family, our love of the village goes on.

August Bank holiday weekend 2010 my brother and myself along with our partners visited Rolleston, our ties no longer so strong as our grandparents are no longer there, to visit (only their graves in St Mary’s churchyard) but our affection for the village of our childhood still goes on.

Recently I had the privilege to speak to Tom Martin, a member of the Rolleston history group. Tom kindly sent me some copies of the Rollestonian. Thank you Tom I have enjoyed reading these older copies.

Closing, I would just like to add that, for those of us who have memories of an older Rolleston, it is too easy to say “the village is not what it was when I was a child”. Well it’s not, but nor should it be. Good on you Rolleston, may you ever prosper.

(Hilary had read about our recent history day on the web but apologised, she thought that a day trip from Durham was a bit too much – Ed.)

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Last updated: 3 April 2011