I once rambled to Manchester, England on a pilgrimage of love and a mission of nostalgia. There I communed with both living spirits and the shades of yesteryear. But since obscurity will not tell the tale, let me explain.
When my great uncle Ellied (“Ellie D” or just “Dee”) Douglas died childless in 2001, my maternal aunts and uncles became his sole heirs. Each niece and nephew inherited something belonging to Uncle Dee, and my mother happened to receive an old trunk full of many of his precious memories. The most interesting of the items in this trunk had to do with World War II, in which he served as a Warrant Officer in the U. S. Army. The saddest of these were the personal effects belonging to his brother Paul, who died in the reinvasion of the Philippines in early 1945. Uncle Dee had kept Paul’s civilian clothes, glasses, other mementos, and even some special Japanese paper money and coins that American soldiers, marines, and sailors used as they island-hopped across the Pacific. But the most fascinating things left behind by my great uncle were the series of letters to him from an English girl by the name of Rosemary Higginbottom of Manchester, England.
Dee was a farm boy from rural south Georgia who had been working in a cotton mill when he joined the army on August 6, 1942 at Fort McPherson, Atlanta at the age of 25. He could have had no idea how far the war would take him or of the lifelong attachments he would make when he set out on his journey. Although I am still trying to work out many of his whereabouts during that conflagration, the family has long known of his lost love in Manchester, and how he was sent into France with the army in September 1944 and presumably never saw her again. It appears that he was sent to Manchester for training as a Warrant Officer in the spring of 1944, and it was there that he met and fell in love with Rosemary and she with him.
Dee and many other American soldiers were billeted in houses with English host families who were paid for this by the U. S. Government. This was badly needed money, since it was a time of unbelievable hardship across Britain, much worse than the situation in the United States. The Blitz had even hit Manchester and other northern English cities, and life on the home front was exceedingly tough for families just trying to exist until the hoped-for victory would occur and their boys could come home. At any rate, somehow and somewhere Dee and Rosemary met and fell in love, and although we do not have his letters to her, we know a little of their life together in the southern Manchester area called Withington from her beautiful letters to him.
On this pilgrimage d’amour to friendly Manchester, I was fortunate enough to meet some lovely people who were fascinated by the story of Dee and Rosemary. Two of these were Phil the retired merchant seaman and Sarah the barmaid at the Victoria Pub in relaxed Withington, whither I had wandered down from the busy city centre. Perhaps Dee and Rosemary once visited this very pub together, since it had been established in Victorian days! I may never know. At any rate, today the Victoria is full of local characters and friendly faces, who listened to the tale and gave me some directions that helped me find the house where I believe Rosemary, her sister Barbara, and her mother Beatrice lived with her father during the war years.
Based on the address on her letters to Dee, the topography in the back garden (as the Brits call the back yard) as shown in the 1944 photos above, and confirmed by my expeditionary pedestrian survey as assisted by Google Maps, I do believe I actually found and visited the former Higginbottom home at 49 Ashdale Drive, Withington, Manchester 20, England! This confirmation is primarily based on the berm running behind the house in the photos, which is still behind the house at that address today, and holds the elevated track of the Manchester Tram running to Withington.
It was a very fulfilling experience, and I am so glad I was able to honor the memories of my Uncle Dee and his Rosemary by making this pilgrimage. As I said before, they evidently never met again after Dee was shipped off to France, although they wrote letters to each other for a number of years after Dee came home to Georgia after the war. It appears that Rosemary eventually married Charles E. Heaton in Manchester in 1951, although I do not know if they had children or not. Much later in life Uncle Dee married the woman who became my Aunt May. They never had any children.
But in an odd way there is a living link between Rosemary and her Dougie. When he returned home to Georgia in 1945 at the close of the war, evidently all he could talk about was his Rosemary. It just so happened that his brother Chester’s wife Eva was great with child then, so when a daughter was born to them on September 14, 1945 – a year after the last meeting of the lovers in our tale – they decided to name her Rosemary, after Rosemary Higginbottom of Manchester, England. And that second Rosemary happens to be my mother.
My Darling Sweetheart
I shall be able to give you this letter in person this morning. I am glad that I am coming down to see you for I have still to hear you do some more talking.
I must just make one reference to last night. Dearest I am sorry but really I should have known only the trouble was explaining to the family over a film. When you kissed me before going last night the hurt the evening had caused died right out and if you hadn’t been very near to going I should have felt on top of the world.
I have very many happy hours to thank you for. And here’s the Big Thank You – when you leave me today I am hoping with all my heart that it won’t be good bye forever. You sure are the grandest & best pal a girl could ever wish for & I could never wish for a better one ever. I love you very much Dougie and when you are away I want to think all on my own. I should like to know one day if I needed you if you would come to me. Dear you have shown me far more than Joe ever did how much you love me and I am not
the kind of girl to forget my friends & never my best ones.
I should have asked you about the coins* for my arm or neck & please oh let me have them for that is something I should like more than anything else. I would always keep it to. I must close now & wherever you are or go I shall always be thinking of you.
All my love & very best wishes my Darling
Your English girl
Rosemary Higginbottom to Ellied Douglas, Letter from September 1944
*Note: the obscure reference to coins for her arm or neck indicate that Rosemary wanted to make a necklace or bracelet out of coins given to her by Dougie. This was a common gift to the girls, wives, and mothers back home, and called Sweetheart Jewelry.