Claire Willetts takes up this story
A week before our World War Two exhibition was due to open I received a phone call from Hong Kong. The lady at the end of the phone wanted to know if we would be interested in her late mother’s parachute silk wedding dress. My reaction was yes absolutely, as she began to tell me the wonderful story of her parents and how they met I start to consider the practicalities. Could it be posted in time? Could I construct the large case so it could be suitably displayed? My concerns were unwarranted on both accounts.
Joan ‘Freda’ King married Thomas George Mouser at Wethersfield Church on October 20 1945. Freda had lived in the Council Houses in Wethersfield for 16 years, attending Finchingfield Primary School and Braintree Secondary College.
Tom was an Australian airman, serving with the 299th Squadron which was based in Wethersfield from October 1944 to January 1945. Tom was a navigator with the crew nicknamed “Bitter Sweet”, containing a Canadian, a New Zealander, another Australian and two Englishmen. Their job was to tow gliders, drop paratroops and drop supplies to resistances forces across the English Channel. It was during this time, on the 8 Nov 1944, that Tom and Freda met at the Wethersfield Dance and it was love at first sight.
During the war years Freda worked in the laboratory at Courtaulds testing parachute material and so her dream of a beautiful wedding dress was made possible by the creation of a dress from ‘unsuitable’ parachute material scraps. After the war Freda sailed to Australia to live with Tom where they lived happily with their three children.
The dress arrived in time (the day before our private view!). The case was put together and I hope has done the family’s story justice. The family were ‘over the moon’ that a suitable home had been found for their mother’s wedding dress. The wonderful staff at Barnardo’s charity shop on the High Street very kindly steamed some of the creases out of the dress just before we opened. Carrying the mannequin and dress through Braintree on a Friday afternoon certainly got noticed, as well as one or two interesting comments!
World War Two: The People’s Story is open until Saturday 12 September. Come and see the beautiful wedding dress and many more local memories. Braintree District Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm. Admission charge applies