Timeless love

Time doesn’t mean very much when you work in a museum.  But biding your time brings rewards.

Back in April 2017 we told the sad story of Private George Thompson from North Shields. He died on 3 March 1945 and had lain in an unmarked grave in the town of Wittenberg. Thanks to the efforts of many, George now has a headstone to identify his final resting place. You can read about that initial story here.  We needed to wait foor more years for the next chapter to reveal itself.

George was one of hundreds of Prisoners of War (POW) force marched across Poland and Germany, in an effort to keep them from the Soviet Army advancing from the east.

In 2017 we’d been desperate to find relatives who might attend the headstone dedication for George Thompson. We made appeals through local newspapers, radio stations, even getting our call read out during Sunday church services. All sadly, to no avail. But, we never, ever gave up hope.

Elsie Patterson. Image courtesy of Clive Parkin.

In January 2021, Clive Parkin got in touch.

His late aunt Elsie had been engaged to George.

Clive generously shared the couple’s story, adding even more poignancy to the military detail we’d discovered four years earlier.

Like many a relationship in wartime, George and Elsie did their best to hold on to each other.

Perhaps military service helped to distract Elsie from what must have been a life of worrying about George. She did her bit during the war as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) based at RAF Full Sutton near Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

She and George exchanged letters and photographs, some of which speak wistfully of future holidays and years together, hopes that were never realised.

In this POW postcard dated 27 December 1942, George writes,

“Dearest Elsie, Well, once more another Christmas has just passed on its way and I hope you enjoyed yourself very much over the holidays, it’s a pity I couldn’t spend them with you but we’ve got that to come sometime haven’t we.”

We can only imagine what she felt when she received the news that George had died, news made so much harder given that the end of the war, repatriation, and their reunion was so tantalisingly close.

George Thompson, as a POW, 2nd left.

A reflection of how deeply Elsie felt for George is that, not only did she never marry, according to Clive, she never had another romantic attachment. George was her only love. Elsie died, aged 93, in September 2013, never knowing where her George lay. It would be four more years before his grave was marked, and a further four before we were able to link George and Elsie together again.

Clive intends to visit George’s grave to say ‘hello’ from Elsie.

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