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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Wilbur C Garner and Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins Garner life after "The War"

After their  reunion in February 1946, when Gwen arrived in the United States for the first time on the Queen Mary, Bill and Gwen lived on with Bill's parents at 2425 Calverton Heights Avenue, Baltimore, for one more year, until their second child, Wilbur C. Garner, Jr, was born in February 1947.
Gwen on the steps 2425 Calverton Heights Avenue
Bill on the steps
2425 Calverton Heights Avenue

Shortly after Wilbur C Garner Jr's birth Bill and Gwen purchased a small row home in Hampden, Baltimore, City, Md. They moved their growing family to 1418 Berry Street.
Gwen and Carol Betterton Beach, Maryland 1946
Gwen on the steps 2425 Calverton Heights Avenue circa 1947
with Carol and Wilbur Jr.
Gwen became a naturalized citizen in 1951. The years passed and it wasn't long before Gwen and Bill were welcoming their third child Karen L Garner into the world in August of 1952. They stayed on at 1418 Berry Street until they could afford a larger home for the family and in 1956 they moved to 3800 Elmcroft Road in Randallstown, Md where they spent the rest of their lives.
Wilbur Jr, Gwen holding Karen and Carol looking on
1418 Berry Street circa 1952

Wilbur Jr, Karen, Gwen and Carol on the lawn in front of 1418 Berry Street
Gwen wanted a white picket fence and Bill made one for their small front lawn.

3800 Elmcroft Road, 1956
Life in the new Randallstown ranch house was good. Gwen and Bill enjoyed gardening and caring for their family. Bill went on to earn his Bachelors degree under the GI Bill from Johns Hopkins University in Business Administration and in 1956 Gwen went to work at The Hecht/May Company in downtown Baltimore, as a secretary in the Corporate offices to the General Merchandise Manager Harold Crone.
Bill and Gwen carpooled into the city with neighbors as Bill continued his employment at The Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. 
Standing back row: Wilbur C Garner, Jr.,
Carol Ann Garner, Karen L Garner
Seated: Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins Garner,
William Ewart Wilkins and Kate Hudman Wilkins

Gwen was very happy to have her parents visit in 1959.
Bill loved baseball and enjoyed attending games at Memorial Stadium with friends Bob and Dot Foote.
This picture was taken because the section in which they were sitting
was also the Section Bill was assigned to during WWII G-1.

Bill loved to drive and take day trips in the car with the family. Harper's Ferry West Virginia Circa 1956
Life continued on raising a family... and to quote Gwen, from a profile she wrote in 1974.... 
"Life became a busy round of getting the children off to school - getting ready to go to work- working hard- coming home to fixing supper for a hungry group of people- and the inevitable, never-ending job of housework! And so the years rolled on. Many happy hours were spent working in the garden- a sad return to England in 1964 when my father died - the children's graduation from school and their subsequent marriages... " 

When Gwen's father passed away unexpectedly in July of 1964, Gwen made the trip home to console her mother and tend to her fathers affairs. Gwen and Bill became grandparents in 1968 with the birth of their first grand daughter Christy Jane Clements.
Gwen retired from the Hecht/May Company in 1971. In 1973 at the age of 50, prodded on by her sister-in-law Mary, Gwen learned how to drive and got her driver's license. Bill and Gwen made several trips back to England on vacation. 

At the end of Gwen's personal genealogical profile she wrote:
And so, dear descendants, I say "Goodnight" to you and God Bless you always. These last lines of my life to date are being written on the last day of the year 1974. Soon it will be another New Year--- and we will raise our glasses in a toast to the year 1975. It seems appropriate to end with these few lines from a poem sent to me by my father many, many years ago.......
   "So live each day with gratitude, be thankful for the power
    To live, and love, and to enjoy each good and perfect hour
     And make the best of every day, and take what it can give
     Tomorrow is God's Secret- but Today is Yours to Live."

Gwen's mother passed away in 1979 and Gwen returned to England once again with sadness in her heart to dissolve her mothers estate. I remember Gwen saying upon the passing of her mother that all of her ties to England had now been severed. Bill retired from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company in October 1981, he retired after 43 years of faithful service. Bill and Gwen enjoyed traveling in their retirement years, visiting with their children, 5 grandchildren and long lost relatives as they pursued answers, to questions they had, while completing research of their family trees.

Gwen became ill in 1999 and was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma at the age of 76. She passed away in June 1, 2000. Bill was heartbroken again, losing his life long love of 56 years. Upon her passing Bill found in her notebook a card with a photograph of a single rose on the front and inside she had written:

"If my life on this earth should end today and there was something that I had left unsaid to the most dearest people in my life, these words would be:

To the most important man in my life, my dearest husband, besides my forever thanks for all the considerate things you have done for me and continue to do, the love with which you have surrounded me, your comforting words when I needed them most, your shoulder to cry on, your wise and thoughtful advice you gave our three contributions to the continuation of life on this planet---- Carol, Will and Karen----and for you caring for them in the early stages of their development ----especially Will----no words can express how much that meant to me."
The card was unsigned..........and unfinished...... He shared it with me saying, "Look what your mother had written."

Bill designed their headstone engraved with wedding rings entwined and their wedding date inscribed on the stone which was in the shape of two hearts.

While in the cemetery he also wanted to visit the place where he stood on June 28, 1943, fifty-seven years ago when he buried Elizabeth Sutton Garner, his first wife and high school sweetheart. I could feel his grief as we stood there while listening to him tell the story of her passing, as a young soldier, only 23 years old, preparing to go to war a widower.

In August of 2000 Bill (Dad) and I took a trip to Seattle, where my daughter, Rachael made her home. She married that summer in Jamaica and invited family and friends to celebrate upon returning home to Seattle. Bill had never seen the west coast as the travel time he had was spent returning to England visiting Gwen's homeland. I asked Dad if he wanted to go, and he said yes. So Bill and I headed west.

Benny Henderson, who Bill wrote about in his "Letters to Mary" was Bill's buddy from WWII who also lost his first wife before "The War." Benny had settled in Seattle after "The War." Bill and Benny had maintained correspondence, sent Christmas cards and made occasional phone calls to each other over the years since "The War." So Bill called Benny and said he was coming to Seattle. Benny agreed to meet him and so it was after 55 years the two of them sat at a diner table over lunch and chatted about their wartime experiences and life as it was. Benny Henderson, settled in Seattle after "The War" and married again. He raised a family and was married happily until his wife passed away. Benny passed away one year later in the summer of 2001.

After Gwen's passing Bill went on caring for Mary in her assisted living facility, watching over the care she received, taking in supplies, arranging for her nails to be painted, her hair to be cut and her bills and affairs managed until he became ill in 2002.

Bill was diagnosed with Leukemia in January of 2002 and passed away August 23, 2002. He was laid to rest with full military honors along side his beloved Gwen under the Ginko trees, and across the lane from the Garner Family burial plot in Druid Hill Cemetery.
They will forever be "An American Soldier Boy and his Lovely English Bride."
Wilbur C Garner and Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins Garner October 1995

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