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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 June, 2004, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
War memories to a sweetheart
Bob and Joan Hughes on their wedding day

As her sweetheart Bob Hughes took part in one of the most daring raids of World War II, Joan Emery Coles was unaware of the dangers he faced.

Living in London with her mother and sister, Joan's only hint about what was going on across the channel that day in June 1944 was the amount of planes in the sky.

"We heard something about it on the radio, but it didn't mean much to me at the time," she said.

"We just didn't understand what was going on."

Joan, was just 20 years old when the Normandy landings took place.

The hundreds of aircraft which flew over the city that day told her that something big was going on but she had no idea that her then boyfriend was going to be caught up in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

"There was so much going on that we didn't know about," said Joan who moved to Machen near Caerphilly, south Wales after getting married to Bob, from nearby Trethomas.

"When we heard that D-Day was happening, I just didn't think a lot about it.

Robert and Joan Hughes
Every single thing sent from Robert was kept by Joan

"It was just another day for us. I couldn't exactly pin point what happened that day. It probably affected my mother more but my sister and I just didn't realise."

But for Bob, the situation was very different. He had already taken part in battles in Sicily and Africa.

"I'd been in Africa and Sicily and when they called me home from Sicily, there was no blaze of glory," he recalls.

"There were about 4,000 of us sent to Cambridge and we weren't allowed to speak to anyone about what we were doing there.

"All we had to do was eat and sleep and wait. We didn't know what was going on because no-one told us, but we knew something was about to happen.

"And when it did, it was horrible. Its something you never get used to."

Joan met Bob in Devon where she had been sent as an evacuee at the age of 16 with her sister.

He was stationed nearby at the beginning of the war and the pair became close friends.

"I was 16 when I met him and I waited seven years for him," said Joan.

"We only knew each other for six months or so before he was sent off and suddenly he was a D-Day veteran."

After he was posted abroad, Joan returned to London following the death of her father and began to correspond with the young soldier who was in the 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division.

The air grams took six weeks to arrive and Joan treasured every item, building up a vivid portfolio of his war experiences.

I always knew where he was because every so often he would send me money from the country he was in as a clue
Joan Hughes

"He wasn't able to tell me where he was exactly because they weren't allowed to reveal that," she said.

"But I always knew where he was because every so often he would send me money from the country he was in as a clue."

He sent German propaganda leaflets dropped over British soldiers in an attempt to get them to lay down their weapons as well as photographs, foreign money and even a Nazi flag which he took from a German tank in Africa.

"I didn't realise she was going to keep it all," said Bob who took part some of the major battles of the war including the Normandy D-Day landings and the 1st and 2nd battles of El Alamein in Africa.

"A lot of it was rubbish, things that we thought were worthless. But I used to send them home just for Joan to see.

"I was amazed when I realised that she had kept everything.


"She even kept the telegrams that I sent her the day of we were supposed to have been getting married," he said.

Bob explained that he waited a long time before proposing to Joan because he did not know if he was going to make it home.

But when he did propose, wedding plans were cancelled three times because of the war until they finally they set a date for 13 October 1945.

Because of rations, Joan had to borrow her wedding outfit and struggled to get the sugar for a cake.

But even on the morning of their wedding day, there were doubts that Bob was going to get home in time and she received telegrams from him warning her about the delays.

"I spent four days travelling on a train in my uniform to get home," said Bob.

"Finally we arrived at Calais on the Friday and there was hundreds of others trying to get home, but there was a mist and they wouldn't sail because there was mines in the sea.

"The next day it was still misty so I thought I was going to miss another wedding but thankfully we did sail and I got back to London at midday - an hour before the wedding.

"So I made it but only just in time and I didn't even have a chance to change my uniform," he laughed.

Even though it was a struggle during those times, they are my clearest memories
Joan Hughes

The book of mementos sent to Joan from Bob has been inspected by experts from the Imperial War Museum among others.

They were asked to donate the book to the museums, but decided it holds too many memories to give away.

"Even though it was a struggle during those times, they are my clearest memories," said Joan.

"There were always the sounds of aircraft and bombs and even our house was destroyed after a bomb landed nearby.

"We had to try and save as much stuff as we could from the house before it burned down and then went to stay in my mother's brother's house.

"But it was just a case of getting on with things and we did have fun.

"The letters are so precious that we feel we want those memories to stay in our family."



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