On their fifth wedding anniversary, in 1941, my grandmother wrote this to my grandfather:
Very Odd Ode
Said little Stella,
“We’re in a helluva
I’d better marry you,
That’s the Proper Thing to do.”
Which is not quite
Way for a great story to start,
With the girl in the cart.
But you’ll see
If this story you follow
That it has Cleo and Helen and even
Snow White all beaten hollow.
Which just shows that you never can tell.
Pardon this rot
But I don’t need to write a great sonnet
And splash tears upon it
To tell you I love you today
This sums up the love story revealed by the letters they wrote to each other during 1935/36. When 20-year-old trainee reporter Stella Gregson met 28-year-old journalist Arthur Johnson, she tried not to fall in love. Their romance blossomed, despite having to keep it secret from their colleagues on ‘The Bootle Times’ newspaper. But when Stella left her Liverpool home for a job on the ‘Shrewsbury Chronicle’, she discovered she was pregnant. She was torn between her budding career and a growing love for the baby inside her. They decided to keep “Mickey” and to marry, but again resorted to subterfuge, plotting how to marry quickly and quietly without upsetting their families – all the while hiding the pregnancy.
I find their letters full of humour, humanity, tenderness and passion, as well as the fascinating details of day-to-day life before and during the second world war. Sometimes there are letters missing, so the reader has to work a little at piecing together the narrative jigsaw, but I find this very rewarding.
This website contains those first 36 or so letters, which tell the tale outlined above. But there are many more, from 1942 onwards, discussing Arthur’s experiences as a trainee in the Royal Navy Signal Corps and Stella’s life on the home front bringing up two small children. There are even letters to and from their children and other friends and members of the family.
Arthur wrote his first letter as a sailor on 11 February 1942; since 11 February 2017, I have been adding letters to the site exactly 75 years after they were originally written. If you want to receive notification when a letter is posted, then please follow the Arthur & Stella Facebook page or on Twitter (see right) to receive updates.
Paul Johnson, one of Arthur and Stella’s grandchildren