About this blog

As the author of this blog, Karen L Garner Martin Messick, I am the daughter of an American soldier, Wilbur (Bill) C. Garner, Sr. and Women's Royal English Navy service woman (British Wren) Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins, who met and married during World War II. They lived and loved for over 50 years before Mother passed in 2000. When she did I helped Dad with every day chores when I could. One day I was helping him clear things out and I lifted a plastic bag out of the seat of Mom's piano stool, asking Dad, "Whats in this bag?" to which he replied, "Just some of Mary's old letters." Mary, his older sister, was still alive at the time, residing in an assisted living facility, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I put the letters back in the piano seat thinking he did not want me to open the letters.
When Dad passed two years later, I inherited Mary's letters.
When I began to read them, I found they were mostly letters from Dad to Mary while he was in World War II ("The War"). I could not put them down. I wished I had opened them the day I first saw them so that Dad and I could have had conversations about them, but that was not to be...so as I read through these "Letters to Mary" I began to get a glimpse into Dad's young years when he met Mom and his time as a soldier. I have researched events during World War II to enhance my understanding of what was happening in the war as each letter came to broaden my understanding of what he might have been experiencing. I knew he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day plus 1 as he recounted his memory of that day to me when he was dying from Leukemia. It was horrifying. There were also letters from a companion Mary had met while in Minneapolis, he had been deployed overseas. I have entwined them chronologically with Dad's letters as it gives a greater dimension to the war itself. I intend to editorialize as necessary to explain personal relationships and situations as the story unfolds through the "Letters to Mary." I welcome any questions, comments and feedback. As the "Greatest Generation" fades away, I felt compelled to share these letters and story in hopes of continuing the legacy they left for the world. Let us never forget the untold years and lives that were sacrificed for freedom!
If you have stumbled upon this blog I have added a blog archive at the bottom of the blog page. Continue to scroll down to access the Blog Archive. The posts are chronologically listed and to follow the story it is best to start with the first post in December 2013.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Letter #10 from Wilbur C. Garner 9 March 1944

This is Bill's first "Letter to Mary" after arriving in Europe in late December of 1943.
S/Sgt. Wilbur C. Garner, 33377578
Hq XIX Corps, APO 270
c/o Postmaster, N.Y., N.Y.

Mary W. Garner, SK3c
U.S. Naval Air Station
Minneapolis, 6, Minnesota

9 March 1944

Dear Mary,
Well ole kid, what's new? How did you make out with your SK2c rating? If you don't get that, I'll be stepping out ahead of you. Let's go kid.

I suppose you are now wanting to hear some news about me. Well here it is. I am now going around with a WRN (Woman's Royal Navy). Well the Navy isn't so bad anyhow. I met her last Friday night and I have seen her about four times since then. Not bad I'd say. She is a very nice girl and not too bad looking. The name is Gwen (for Gwendolin) R. Wilkins. She has invited me to spend a week-end at her home in Cardiff, if I can get time off. I'm surely going to take her up on that invitation. 

I may be able to get a picture of her to send you.
Last night at a dance in one of the neighboring town, I met a boy from back home. He used to go around with a crowd from Register Avenue. He came over with our home-town unit and since then has been transferred. We had a nice long chat together until our ATS girlfriends decided that it was time to go home. They were not far wrong either because we almost missed our truck.
Will you please send me some chewing gum and some good face soap? There is not much news that the censors will let go through, so I guess I'll sign off for now. 

Lots of luck on your exams and write soon.
Lots of Love

Gwendoline R Wilkins Roath Park, Cardiff Wales March 1944
Wilbur C Garner Roath Park, Cardiff, Wales March 1944
Straying from just sharing the letter text here, I feel compelled to add a few notes on this blog entry and share text that comes directly from my mother's (Gwendoline's memoir) as well as a verbal recount of their meeting, by Bill.

Notes on the "meeting" ~  

Written by Gwen regarding their first meeting ~ 

Gwen wrote in her memoir on their chance meeting....

"As a Wren, Specialised, Shorthand-Typist, I was designated Administrative Assistant to the First Officer in charge of the W.R.N.S. unit stationed at Royal School, Bath -- which was known in naval records as H.M.S. "Bristol". Just the First Officer and I were responsible for the quartering and victualling of some 60 Wrens who acted as couriers to take the secret plans and orders from the Navy Department responsible for undersea operations to the coastal bases along the southern coast of England.One day toward the end of January 1944, our unit received an invitation from a United States Army unit in nearby Warminster, Wiltshire, to a Red Cross dance on a Saturday night. Now I was never very much interested in dancing -- kinda enjoyed watching other people tread on one another's toes, but when this particular invitation was received and posted on the bulletin board, I decided to put my name on the list of personnel wishing to go. For you see, I had heard of the scrumptious doughnuts and apple pies with cheddar cheese, and other goodies prepared by the U.S. Army for these events --- and I wanted to sample them as a pleasant change from a wartime diet. On the day that the First Officer reviewed the names, she noted that no-one above the rating of Ordinary Wren was listed. (very unusual!) However, since my name was on the list, First Officer put me in charge of the group! And so, that Friday, somewhere along the wartime blackout enshrouded country roads between Warminster and Bath, unbeknown to him, a certain very handsome U.S. Army Staff Sergeant was traveling toward his appointed destiny with fate!For Staff Sergeant Wilbur C. Garner happened to be in charge of the truck convoy that night sent to pick up our group of Wrens."

Bill recounted their fist meeting~
As told to me (Karen Garner Martin Messick) by Bill

"I, as a Sergeant, was charged with the responsibility of transporting the WRN's from their station in Bath to a Red Cross dance on  a Saturday night. I was driving a deuce and a half truck. Gwen was in charge of overseeing the transport of the women. The women, except for Gwen were transported in the back of the truck. Gwen sat up front between me, the driver and another G.I. As Gwen jumped into the front seat, I  raised my arm and rested it on the back of the bench seat to give Gwen more room to sit. Gwen thought I was being a fresh "Yank" until I explained myself."

From Gwen's memoirs ~ she wrote ~

"The following memory goes back to the days when I lived on Habershon Street. One day, when I was probably 12 or 13 years old, my school pal, Edna Hopgood, persuaded me to go to a lady's house on the street where Edna lived as this lady supposedly read your fortune and future from cards which you chose and placed face down in front of her. Well, this was, to me, just a prank as I never placed any faith in fortune telling. However, what she predicted that day, which I never thought about until years later when I had met Bill, certainly seemed to come true. She read from the cards that I would "meet a handsome young man who would come from over the water" but she was a little disturbed because he was "surrounded by white flowers." I dismissed this "reading" from my thoughts, but after 8 years had passed and World War II was in progress, I met an American Soldier, Wilbur C. Garner. One day while sitting on a bench with Bill in Victoria Park, Bath, England with snowflakes falling lightly on us and glistening in the light of the park lamps, my thoughts suddenly flashed back and I recalled the words of that fortune teller! For my American soldier had "come from over the water" and the "white flowers" to me represented Bill's first wife who had died suddenly---which he told me about while we were sitting on that park bench."

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