Continuing the fascinating story of Betty’s War as husband Harry returns safely from being lost behind enemy lines during WW2

Despite the relief at Harry having returned safely from being lost in the jungle, or perhaps because of it, Betty fell sick with a bad cold throughout June 1944.

She mentioned her illness regularly in her diary entries, and on Friday, June 23, wrote: “Felt hopeless. Still carrying on though. Very busy in shop”. She had no option but to “soldier on”.

Then the next day relief came as she rather graphically told her diary that the “gathering burst. Felt loads better”. Whatever had been blocking up her entire head had finally succumbed to her efforts to see it off.



Bettys War diary DDay 6 June

But it wasn’t just Betty’s illness which improved that month, so did the course of the war.

Son Chris recalls: “On June 5 as I walked to school, I saw hundreds of lorries parked all along the A34 through Newcastle.

“The Yankee soldiers in them were part of the enormous line stretching all the way down to the south coast in readiness for Operation Overlord.

“They asked us schoolkids if we would like some chewing gum (which we had never had in our lives) and even if our mothers would like nylon stockings! The next morning they had all gone. Bound for Normandy.”

By the end of Tuesday, June 6 – D-Day – Betty was able to tell her diary that “the second front opened” as news was broadcast on the radio of Allied successes.

She kept track of what was going on via the radio broadcasts which informed an expectant nation of the progress being made, turning the initial Normandy bridgehead into a secure foothold in north west France that would eventually turn into a sweeping and victorious thrust towards Berlin.

Betty was aware of the momentous events that were happening, but recognised instinctively that her role was to look after home, family and neighbours.

Bringing up ‘her nibs’ was a priority, as was ensuring the shop could provide food for the community.

That was the unsung contribution to winning the war of the civilians of all ages and professions who remained at home. There would be no medals for them, only joy and relief when it was all over.

So, the news was good, and Betty could now breathe a sigh of relief that Harry wasn’t involved in the struggle to gain a foothold in Europe and the ferocious fighting in Normandy.

On the other hand, nor did she have any idea when she might see him again.

At least he was alive. As the armies fought their way across Europe into Germany during late 1944, things began to ease up in England.

Food became more available, partly because that summer produced a good harvest, but also because the war in the Atlantic had been won and supplies were now reaching the UK, especially from America.

Betty recalls: “We were so privileged living in a grocer’s shop having dry goods, bacon, fruit and veg; potatoes, carrots, beetroot, cabbage, swede, apples, oranges and pears.



Corporal Harry Lowe on the right on rest and recuperation in Burma 1943

“There were many things even we couldn’t have, though. I was about six or seven-years-old before I saw a banana, and we only ever had tinned peas or dried ones which had to be soaked overnight before eating.

“There were no cereals for breakfast, and cakes were made with dried egg, not fresh ones.

“Tea would be sandwiches of crab or meat paste, followed by tinned fruit and custard, jelly if lucky. Rice and tapioca puddings were popular in our house.

“I am not sure if my friends were ever able to have those. Welsh Rarebit was a regular teatime dish, also toasted cheese, but that took more cheese, which was rationed.

“The dripping from roasted meat was always saved in a dripping jar so we could have dripping on toast for supper before we went to bed.”

Chris remembers: “When the oatcake shops – normally the front rooms of terrace houses – could get the ingredients, we could also occasionally buy the traditional North Staffordshire oatcakes, somewhat meagre versions of the post-war great breakfast dish, but a welcome addition to our diet.

“There would be a hot plate on which oatcakes and the sweeter version, pikelets, would sizzle, and the oatcake man would either serve you through his window or through the front door; gorgeous fresh sizzling ones straight from the griddle. We collected ours at 7.30am on a Sunday morning for our ‘Potter’s Breakfast’.”

Then, on Thursday, June 8, Betty was able to record that her mother, Gertrude, was able to leave hospital after her final treatment for cancer. Life had just got a whole lot better. But in these uncertain times could it last?



Bettys War diary 9 July 1944

To cheer herself up over the summer, Betty would visit her mother in Stone regularly on a Sunday, keeping track of every visit in her diary. But the trips also allowed her to catch up with her younger sister Nancy, known as ‘Nan’, with whom she got on famously.

Nan would also often pop over to Newcastle on the train and bus to see her older sister, nephew and niece.

Betty greatly appreciated the help and wrote in her diary: “Nan came over. Great kid”.

She recalls: “My mother’s younger sister was in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service, based in Bicester) and when on leave she came to see us.

“She was often tired and one time, whilst asleep, I saw the start of a ladder in her uniform khaki tights and I crept over to her and enjoyed fiddling and watching the ladder slowly get bigger.

“She didn’t stir at all, but wasn’t she furious when she woke up?!”



Harry Lowe (on left) on board a troopship heading for Bombay on the way to Burma in late 1942.

Chris recalls: “I can remember that she [Nan] took her turn bathing Elizabeth and myself in the tin bath in front of the living room fire, and occasionally in the big bath in the back kitchen, which was under a table top which fitted over it, making it a triple purpose bath/table/work-surface.

“Nan, Molly and Flo were the very best of aunts, and Uncle Bill Haynes, a twin brother of Molly, the best of uncles.

“He lived near his sisters with his wife Doris (a primary school deputy headmistress), and would often take me off to see him at work as a carpenter in the Haynes family business – a wheelwright and undertaker’s.

“He also made small items for me. His greatest present to me was a small replica of a farm cart, skilfully made and beautifully painted in green, with red handles and gold lines. I loved it.”

Letters between Harry and Betty were now flowing freely, but all that meant was that Betty had something new to worry about.

Harry had become so thin and weak during his escapade in the jungle that he was hospitalised behind British lines, deep in the Himalayas, shortly after his return.



Harry left poses with a colleague whilst rebuilding a Mosquito in Burma

It then became apparent that he had become infected with some unknown bug or virus, quite likely malaria or yellow fever, possibly even both.

Although his life wasn’t immediately threatened, Harry became very ill. Unbeknownst to Betty, he had also been wounded by schrapnel in the arm, but he didn’t bother her with that information.

Indeed, Harry never clarified exactly how that happened, even after returning home. As with so many veterans, he didn’t talk about his experiences of war.

The news of Harry’s hospitalisation was another low point in the rollercoaster that was becoming 1944 for Betty.

She wrote in her diary on Monday, July 31: “Feeling very tired and lonely.”

The two years apart from her beloved husband, waiting for letters to arrive, had taken its toll.

  • NEXT WEEK: Harry returns, but is it to home or into action?

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