"I got married in King George VI's bedroom"
If you're looking for a memorable wedding day, Mabel Large's story is hard to beat!
Here's Mabel a few weeks before the wedding, when she was still Mabel Redwood:
The photo was taken Stanley Civilian Internment Camp, not long after liberation in August 1945.
Mabel and over three thousand others had been interned there by the Japanese since 1942. During those lean years, very few photos had been taken. So when the British fleet arrived to liberate Hong Kong, the Navy's photographers made up for lost time. The press were hungry for news and photos of the former captives, and not just in Britain - this photo went to America, see the note on the back marked "New York Bureau":
The note reads:
OB 773163. . . . NEW YORK BUREAU
SUBSTITUTE RING FOR HONG KONG INTERNEE
The note is a bit misleading, as the ring in the photo wasn't Mabel's, and she wasn't married yet. She was engaged though, to fellow internee Clifton Large. They'd met in Stanley Camp, and when they got engaged in 1944 a special celebration was called for:
"Clifton sold a broken watch to a Japanese Guard. the gold case being worth a few Yen. With this he bought a piece of fatty bacon, 2 eggs and 6 spring onions. I cooked these in an IXL jam tin over a fire ... using a few pieces of parquet flooring from the floor in the room I shared with my Mother, two sisters and two other women."
The end of the war in 1945 had put away worries about food and survival, but brought new uncertainties for Mabel and Clifton. POWs and internees from Hong Kong were to be sent 'home' to recuperate, threatening a long separation for the couple. Mabel explains:
"Several hundred of us – including my Mother and me – boarded the Canadian Pacific liner, the Empress of Australia, on September 10th. We were bound for England.
My two sisters expected to follow on another ship while Clifton, being Canadian, was expecting to be repatriated to Canada with his parents.
The Empress sailed the next morning, arriving in Singapore a few days later. We sat in the harbour for 10 days while those in charge decided where we would go. Eventually off we went to the Phillipines – and there we sat for several days. All around us in Manila Bay were the wrecks of sunken ships, and The Empress was tied up to the mast of one of these.
Finally we set off for Colombo, Ceylon. We arrived there on October 2nd."
Mabel's sister Barbara had to wait almost two weeks before her turn came, leaving Hong Kong on HMS Smiter. Barbara's diary shows that Clifton had ended up on the same ship, not heading straight to Canada as expected:
"22 Sep: As we sailed about 7pm I really thought 'This is the last of Hong Kong.' As we passed the 'Duke of York' she bugle-called us, the men on board stood to attention, and then everybody cheered everybody else.
23 Sep: To picture show last evening, on hangar deck. It was 'In Old Oklahama' with John Wayne and Martha Scott. Clifton and I sat on a ladder at the side and told each other how ludicrous it was to be sitting on an aircraft carrier, watching a film.
27 Sep: Clifton anxious that Mabel 'won't wait for him'. We prayed that she would.
1 Oct: Out on deck early to see hazy coastline of Ceylon. Clifton got one of officers to signal Block House re 'Empress of Australia', to find it is due here tonight or tomorrow - but whether or not the original passengers from HK (including Mum and Mabel) have been dumped elsewhere we don't know.
Back to Mabel:
"When I awoke on my Wedding Day in 1945, I was on board the Empress of Australia, in Colombo Harbour, and thought my fiance was miles away, in Hong Kong.
I was sitting on the deck when someone tapped my shoulder...and there was Clifton.
He had arrived in Colombo on an Aircraft Carrier the previous day and was billeted nearby to await a ship going to Canada. Clifton’s Mother and Father, and my two sisters also came on the Aircraft Carrier.
Having been separated once we decided to see if we could get married on the ship, and Clifton went off to see what he could do.
I found my Mother and told her what we planned to do. She was in the cabin we shared with 8 other women. The Steward in charge had told us that we were in King George VI's cabin, used by him when he and Queen Elizabeth travelled to Canada shortly before the war started. It was quite a nice cabin, but I’m sure it didn’t have 10 bunks in it when the King used it. When I wallowed in the bathtub I used to think of the King doing the same thing.
I should describe my Wedding Clothes here: I wore a blouse made from my Mother’s petticoat....a pair of blue shorts made from a piece of curtain given to me by a friend on my 21st birthday...a bra I made from Clifton’s Scout Scarf, one half blue and one half yellow, and a pair of underpants made from a mosquito net...and no shoes.
Clifton wore shorts and shirt, and a pair of sandals I made him, using rubber from an old car tyre for the soles.
A woman in the cabin fetched her husband and they were witnesses. The ring we used was made by Clifton...a Hong Kong 10 cent piece with the centre drilled out and filed.
After the short ceremony the Priest wrote out a Certificate on a scrap of paper. We said goodbye to my Mother and left the Ship.
And that is how we came to be married in King George VI’s bedroom on board the Empress of Australia in 1945, with a 10c Wedding Ring!"
That evening, Barbara wrote in her diary "Mabel and Clifton are married! I'm terribly happy for them, I'm sure they were made for each other ", and today, almost 71 years later, she adds "They had over 60 years together. Clifton died in 2006, Mabel is now 93."
Thanks to Mabel for sharing her memorable day with us, and to Barbara for her all help preparing this. Thanks also to regular contributor "Moddsey" for alerting me when he saw the Stanley Camp photo of Mabel appear for sale on eBay.
- Mabel remembers Hong Kong in December 1941, and becoming a wartime nurse at the Bowen Road military hospital: http://gwulo.com/node/9569
- Mabel's scrapbook of items from the war years: http://gwulo.com/taxonomy/term/8385/photos-gallery
Finally, if you lived in Hong Kong in the 1960s, you might remember Mabel's husband, Clifton Large. He was a fluent Cantonese speaker, and presented the "Rediffusion Television Jigsaw" program on TV.
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