Seventy years ago today, Hannah and Jack were half way up a mountain in Scotland. They were married two days earlier, on 14 February. The date was chosen for practical reasons. Both were serving in the armed forces, Hannah with the Women’s Air Force reading radar signals and updating charts to predict the paths of fighter planes, Jack with the Royal Electrical and Mechanics converting his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer into connections between circuits which kept signals flowing from antennae to screens.
In two week’s time Jack would be in Europe, moving with the Allies up from Southern Italy and across to Trieste. Hannah would be back in her cabin with 5 other women, focussing through the noise of the North Sea winds to read and translate the signals she was picking up, only occasionally allowing herself to wonder whether any of the aircraft she was tracking had passed over Jack’s head.
So on Valentine’s Day 1944 they took leave, met 10 of their family and friends in St John’s Church, Edinburgh, and were married. Their courtship had been shorter than the time most couples spend just planning their wedding nowadays, weddings which cost more than Jack and Hannah’s first house would.
Their marriage was not a declaration of defiance in the face of existential threat, although this still applied. In January 1944 V1 ‘doodlebug’ flying bombs began buzzing over Southern England and Jack’s electronics helped to coordinate what still sound like extraordinarily advanced automated systems for tracking them and shooting them down. Their marriage was made from love, but created in tough times by people who had learned to be tough.
Today they told me the story again, on the seventieth anniversary of the day they climbed a mountain on the South side of Loch Lomond. They never reached the top, where they’d been hoping to catch a glimpse of the Clyde estuary but, in Hannah’s words, “we got as far as that one tree”.
The metaphors are easy to reach for, but I can’t help thinking about that tree. Long gone, I assume. I’ve been married for 7 years, and I couldn’t with confidence tell you a single thing I did on the second day of my honeymoon. Perhaps for Hannah and Jack those moments had to be held tight, those memories pressed away against an unknown future. And perhaps as a result they made themselves strong enough to fill the next seventy years with memories just as precious.