It's something I just had to do: find Stella.
I'd thought so much about her over the years I just had to know how she was; how had life been for her; what had happened in 50 years or more? These and other questions needed to be asked and answered. The search was started in 2001 and began with a search of the marriage records from 1953 onwards. I just felt sure she would have got married and I was right. I found her maiden name, a rather unusual surname, quite quickly. She had married Alfred! Yes, the chap who'd so politely asked my permission to walk out with Stella when I'd joined up!
Now I had two names to trace and this was just as easy: www.192.com have all the UK records of the census, and of telephone numbers in many cases. They came up trumps showing the full names and address of Stella and Alfred now living in Wallington, a town close to Croydon. Unlike me, Stella had remained close to her birthplace.
I now had their address and also their wedding date. I decided to send them an anniversary card and a letter. I did not want to risk telephoning Stella out of the blue and perhaps upsetting her, so a card and letter might be the best option - other than no contact at all of course!
Happily for me I received a five-page letter from her almost immediately. It told me of her two children, a girl first then a boy. Both were married with children of their own, so Stella was now a grandma, which although no surprise to me I now felt a little dejected. I still had this picture of her in my mind of when we used to be together. Stupid of course, but then I am quite stupid in many ways!
I then telephoned her. Alfred answered the phone and he too seemed happy enough about my searching them out. After a brief chat he called Stella to the phone. My heart was pounding now. She sounded exactly as I remembered her voice as when we had our daily phone chats all those years ago. It was such an amazing thing to hear her speak my name again and we talked for a good half-hour or more.
We continued to keep in touch, mainly by phone, for the next couple of years. I then asked if it would be possible to meet up once more. And she said yes! I asked my wife what she thought about this and although she was dubious she was also intrigued and she went along with it. We would have to drive from Scotland to just outside Croydon but I didn't care.
The meeting was nice enough, but somehow it was something I should not have suggested. Stella was totally unrecognisable now. Everything about her had changed. Her dark brown hair was now white; her slender figure was now "plump"; she also seemed much shorter than I thought. Still, at last I had met her again. It was a delight to speak to Alfred again; he was one of nature's true gentlemen. I asked him if he recalled his question to me, back in 1951. He said he didn't - but I'm sure he did!
We stayed for about four hours or so and then said our goodbyes and made our way to a B&B we had booked for the night. I never suggested meeting up again although I did make regular phone calls to Stella over the next few years. As we became more comfortable and frank during those phone calls I asked Stella how my letter back in 1952 had affected her. She said she was heart-broken. She told me that when she was called into the director's office to take a letter one day she just started to cry; she made out she had a cold when her boss asked her what the trouble was. I was so much more ashamed of my cowardice when she told me this.
After a while Stella's husband fell ill and was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus; within months he was dead. This shattered poor Stella and she too became ill. Her daughter kept me fully updated on her illness, which started with Parkinson's disease and then tragically into a severe form of Alzheimer's. Stella moved into her daughter's home for a few months but eventually a nursing home had to be found as the stress of looking after her rapidly deteriorating mother became too onerous.
I stilled phoned Stella when she was in the nursing home but by now she had no idea to whom she was speaking. One day I asked her what she'd been doing today. She said: "I've had a lovely day. Just come back from having tea with mum and dad..."
Her parents had died many years earlier of course, but as long as Stella was in a dream world and happy to be living in the past I had no option but to accept a situation that could not be changed.
After four months in this nursing home, where Stella was well looked after according to her daughter, Stella was admitted to hospital with a stomach problem. She was discharged after a couple of days, apparently now quite well. Then two days later I had a phone call from one of her granddaughters; Stella had died suddenly. It was all over. It seems she had a terrible pain whilst having her lunch, collapsed and passed away.
I was shocked and saddened, but next day when I spoke with her daughter, the reality was that it was a blessed relief. She had Parkinsons, Lewy Body disease (for which there is no cure) and a twisted gut problem. Stella was now released from all of these horrendous problems.
Occasionally I still have that dream where I see Stella walking towards me outside Kennards, which, like Stella, no longer exists. The story of Stella ends here.