Far away, in a second hand bookshop in Cornwall a volunteer was sorting through donations when she came upon a dedication in a more unusual book. “To Our Dearest Daughter Daphne”. As has become more common in recent years, someone had taken the trouble to write out a family story for future generations.
But this was not just any family story. It was beautifully bound with a special cover. This was a love story and a tragedy of a war time romance.
The volunteer felt compelled to find out more.
As you do, she got on to the internet and did some searches. She had a subscription to Ancestry.com so began there. That lead her to a member of the family who lives in Australia and who in turn started her own research. Amazingly she found the missing connection through none other than Sunbury Matters. In 2015 I had written an article on the 75th anniversary of the mass rescue from the Dunkirk beaches by the so called ‘Little Ships’.
I had become aware of a very personal interest from a local, whose father was one of the lucky ones rescued. The article I wrote referenced that personal story. It was about Captain Leonard Gordon McDowell of the Middlesex Regiment and the reader is local artist Daphne Clement… “our dearest daughter Daphne”.
The Cornish volunteer had been taken by the book and had found herself drawn into its narrative, reading it from cover to cover in a matter of days. Armed with the new contact information, she sent an email to Daphne:
“My name is Christine and I am a volunteer at the second hand bookshop of a National Trust property called Trelissick in Feock Cornwall. Recently we came across your mother’s book ‘Beyond Our Stars’. It was obviously donated, but unfortunately we have no idea by whom or indeed when…Now the thing is that we would like to return the book to you, if indeed you would wish us to do so.”
Daphne was flabbergasted and called me straight away. What a story!
Although we have not yet discovered who donated this treasured heirloom, it has brought together several branches of the family. But the book itself is also an unequivocal story of the effect the second world war had at a very personal level as it is based on letters between two sweethearts. Daphne’s mother Joan met Leonard McDowell in 1939. During the turmoil of the war years they married and baby Daphne arrived in 1943. Captain McDowell was killed in June 1944, unaware that his wife was expecting a second baby.
I am honoured to have read the book ‘Beyond Our Stars’ which was written by Joan in 1989. She had never been able to speak about her husband to her children. It was too painful and it took great courage to finally put pen to paper and write the tragic story. It is a story of deep love set against the backdrop of war time worries and army training in the build up to the D Day landings.
Remembrance Day this year held special significance as I thought about Joan and Len and their immense dedication to each other and excitement about their future which was so cruelly cut short.