Eric met Ann in the Garden City Hotel, Chester Green, Derby on the evening of Christmas Day 1940 whilst he was home on leave and enjoying an evening out with his parents. He described their meeting as follows:
We arrived if I remember rightly at about 7 o'clock and went into the singing room, drinks were ordered and we soon got into a merry mood. How many beers I had I don't remember, I didn't care anyway I was a soldier and a soldiers life in wartime is rough and ready. So I sat there thinking one unhappy thought, the ugly thought of returning to the dreaded discipline of the barracks. I therefore decided to drown my sorrows but the more I drank the clearer this unhappy thought came into my mind. Then suddenly I gazed around the room, I had forgotten that some of my friends might have walked in without seeing me. My gaze stopped and there I was looking at a lovely girl and as I gazed I seemed to sober up, the more I stared the more I sobered up but I could not attract her wanted attention! Then I saw her smile, it was a charming smile and I felt a pang in my heart, I knew then that I was in love with this lovely girl.
What good, I thought, would it be for me falling in love with such an adorable girl. I was a soldier and no girl these days would want anything to do with a soldier, because a soldier's life is dangerous and no girl would want to risk her life happiness with a soldier. But how was I going to speak to you? I could not very well introduce myself, so I thought it over and I took a chance with a little piece of mistletoe. Still a little bit hazy I walked over to your table in the corner, you tried to bury yourself into the seat but you knew what I desired so that you sportingly surrendered and let me kiss you. As I looked into your eyes I knew there and then that I loved you from that very moment and I knew that my love was returned by the look in your lovely eyes.
The two families knew each other so Eric went back with Ann to her relative’s house, which was close by, after the pub had closed to continue the party. They agreed to meet again the following day and Eric described it as:
The rest of the evening passed quickly and as the 26th of December arrived your folks decided that it was time to make a move for home. I remember walking you to the top of Bridge Street where we kissed goodnight, until tomorrow when we would meet again.
Eric had obviously fallen head over heels in love but he was very worried that Ann would not feel the same especially in war time and with the very strong prospects of him having to serve overseas.
I decided to face you and tell you of my unease, when I had told you, you just looked at me and smiled, you didn't speak your smile said it all 'Don't worry, I love you'
In silence we made our way to the station, the train was in and I put my kit into the compartment and came outside again. This was our first taste of parting and you knew that as I was still stationed in England I would be back soon, but I hated it I had only just found you and now I was going away. We kissed and I whispered I love you, as the train pulled away I was left with a feeling of despair and aching in my heart. But I vowed that night that one day, God willing, I would make you mine forever.
Eric and Ann wrote to each other every day and their letters became more loving as their romance blossomed. Eric came home again on weekend leave whenever he could (the Battalion was moved all over the country) and their relationship continued. Eric was stationed in Ireland for a time and they could not get to see each other. In January 1942 the Battalion received orders for service overseas and they were moved to Caterham near London. He had not told Ann about going overseas in his letters as he needed to do it 'face to face'. He was granted embarkation leave and came home to Derby:
That day I caught the train for home with a heavy heart, I was full of emotion and didn't know how I was going to tell you. Would you wait for me or would it be the end of our relationship? As we walked home from the station I told you, it hurt you as much as it hurt me. I waited for you to speak but you just looked at me and smiled, that smile gave me new hope.
I took you into the yard (of the house) and held you in my arms saying 'will you wait till I return' on your answer my whole life depended. Although you were very sad at heart you said ' I will wait for you forever if you want me to'. I thanked the Lord above and prayed that he would keep you safe for me whilst I was away.
The very next day Eric proposed to Ann and she said yes, he very nervously asked permission from Ann's Mum and Dad, they were delighted but on the one condition that they did not get engaged on a Friday as Ann's Mum was superstitious . So on Saturday 19th February they went to Watkins the Jewellers to buy the ring. Before they went out that evening Eric placed the ring on Ann's finger, he recalls:
We had taken our first step on the road to happiness, we knew in our hearts that we both had to suffer before I could return to make you my own.
The following day Eric had to return back to his unit. He recalls that parting as the most bitter of memories.
All the way to the station I began to wonder if I would ever come home again, it worried me that you would have to face the Air Raids alone. It was heartbreaking leaving behind the only girl that I had ever loved. As we parted we never uttered the word goodbye, we said au-revoir because we knew that with God's help we would live through the perils of war. As I sat on that train I never ever wanted to go through such a parting again, I would rather die than face it again. I offered a humble prayer "Please God spare us from another parting such that that was"
With Ann's words ' I will wait for you forever' etched into his memory giving him the courage and determination to face whatever lay before him Eric went off to war. He sailed for Madagascar in March 1942 from Liverpool aboard HMT Duchess of Atholl. He took part in the invasion of Madagascar then moved on to India before going to the Middle East where he saw service in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine and finally Egypt. The constant stream of letters from Ann kept him going, he had come through so far without a scratch but that was about to change but not from enemy action. The battalion was part of the Sicily invasion force and having had some very close shaves during the fighting Eric was laid low by an insect bite of all things which caused him to be shipped back by hospital boat to Tripoli in present day Lebanon. This was a difficult time for him as he explained:
Being in hospital meant that I could not get your loving letters for a long time, but when I rejoined my battalion in Italy there was a stack waiting for me, just in time for the landings at Anzio. But wherever I went I always had you in my heart and in my breast pocket I always carried your photograph which gave me confidence to win through.
The allied landings at Anzio was the worst battle of the war for Eric he was there for over 3 months under almost constant fire.
Night and day we were being shelled and machine gunned, to show ourselves meant instant death, this truly was a battle of life and death but I never lost faith in its outcome or my safety because of you being near and guiding me through. Bombs, shells and machine guns did not frighten me because you were constantly in my thoughts and I often saw your lovely smiling face, without your help I would have been lost.
I lived underground for what seemed weeks on end and I put up your photographs on the wall of my trench, but the bombardment kept knocking you down, I used to say 'try again jerry' and he did and would knock you down again!
The allies finally broke through the German line in June 1944 and Eric found himself lying in a green field just outside Rome looking up into the clear blue Italian sky thinking to himself:
It was you and you alone Ann that had guided me through that terrible battle, you stood near me and kept me out of danger. In the hell of Anzio I knew that you loved me like no one else on earth could and I was determined to survive and come home to marry you.
This was the last major battle for Eric and after rest and recuperation in Palestine the battalion returned to Italy in January 1945 and in March 1945 they landed in the south of France at Marseilles. During the final months of the war Eric moved through Belgium and Holland before entering Germany itself. VE day found them in the town of Travemunde on the Baltic coast. So Eric's war had come to an end but not his days as a soldier, like thousands of others all he wanted to do was to get back home but he had to wait until the end of May before his leave came through, he describes it:
On the 26th May 1945 at long last I started my journey home to you, we had been apart for over 3 years and during the journey I tried to picture you waiting at the station for me wondering if you had changed and also if I had. The journey was long and slow but at last the train pulled into Derby, I heard someone call my name and I could hardly speak as I saw Gerald and Bill (Eric's Brother's)then you ran into my arms you were just the same girl that I had left 3 years ago and I silently thanked the Lord that he had brought both of us through that terrible war and I knew that I would make you mine forever.
Eric and Ann were married on the 2nd June 1945 at St Peters in central Derby whilst he was still home on leave he said:
We came out of the church and it was raining but we didn't mind one bit we were married and our dreams had at last come true, we were as one and had taken a great step to our future happiness.
Private Eric Mayze was finally discharged from the Army in late 1945 having served for 6 years. He and Ann were married for 48 years.
By Geoff Parton