Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A marriage proposal by Royal Navy telegram

What we are mainly interested in are the snippets of information relevant to the Palmer family history. He refers for instance to a visit before the war to his brother Peter’s home, Bush Cottage in Hillingdon with his parents and there are similar reflective insights into the family life of the Palmers, such as this diary entry made on 9 February 1940:  

" I have passed the time on watch lately dreaming of our days at Minsmere and on the Broads. The pre-breakfast bathe, breakfast. Then the peaceful visit to Dunwich, eagerly visiting the Post Office to call for letters; another bathe and lunch, followed by an afternoon reading and asleep; then – and this I remember particularly vividly for some reason – tea of bread and jam and excellent cake in rather a hurry, whilst Rip (the dog) stood by miserably, knowing that   we were going to play golf and not take him for a walk. I remember the golf so vividly too – every hole and so many incidents. It was a perfect holiday. How I would love to do it all over again. How I would love too to go on the Broads again. I wonder if we ever shall?"

Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002
John also recalls the first time he saw his wife-to-be, Mary Ellyat:

" I well remember joining Clematis, having completed the course at King Alfred. I was told to report to Swansea where she was building. I set off to Paddington Station where my parents also came to see me off. Inevitably it must have been a distinctly sad occasion for them. By extraordinary chance we met on the platform one of the Cambridge contingent – John Ellyatt – who was there also with his parents and his sister, Mary, then at school at Sherborne with special leave. We met again later when she was a boating Wren in Plymouth. Her brother and I duly reported to the Naval authorities at Swansea only to be told that no such ship was there. Finally, after some research, it was established that she was in Bristol. "

Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002
In October 1941 John was to meet up with Mary again and their relationship began:

" We went into Plymouth for a boiler clean when John Ellyatt’s sister was a boating Wren there. I had met her on Paddington Station as a schoolgirl from Sherborne. It was too good a chance to miss. I asked John Ellyatt if I might take his sister out for the evening. ‘I wish you would,’ he said, and so it   started. "
John Palmer

Throughout the rest of his diary Sir John Palmer gives no further detail about the wartime romance between himself and Mary Ellyatt, perhaps he felt it was too personal to share in a published book primarily about Naval experiences during WW2.  
However, he does finally tell the tale of their wedding in February 1945 and how he apparently proposed the wedding date via a Naval telegram:

" It was while I was in Amethyst when we used to come into Plymouth periodically that I felt I just could not wait any longer to propose to John Ellyatt’s sister, Mary, the boating Wren, then a Petty Officer, whom I had first met when in Clematis but had had very little chance to see thereafter. It was inevitable that when I had the chance to see her more I would want to persuade her to marry me. And so indeed it was. As soon as I got back to Amethyst again one evening just before we were due to sail with another convoy across the Atlantic, I managed to get the message to her on her boat (which follows and which I found she had kept).
" The following morning when we were just beginning to leave the dock, Mary appeared on the dockside, waved to me and held her thumbs up. Amethyst left Plymouth with me a happy man.

Mary Ellyatt

" We then agreed, miraculously, by correspondence which we managed to exchange that we should aim at a wedding when we came into Liverpool for our next boiler clean. Mary knew that it usually took four or five weeks to take a convoy out and to bring one back and had managed to alert her parents to the probability of a decision to fix the actual date as soon as we got back to Liverpool. It was indeed when we next came in that I sent her the telegram which follows. Somehow her parents had managed to be prepared for it, guessing at the sort of date. It was enormously kind that so many officers and ship’s company, including Scott-Elliot and the Captain of Hart, should have managed to come to Shaldon that Monday in February.

" The banns had been read while I was away. We were married in St. Peter’s   Church at Shaldon. We had three days’ honeymoon, the last a night in Birkenhead. We sailed in the morning. I was wearing some fur-lined boots which Mary had given me. As we passed the Royal Liver Buildings, Ninian Scott-Elliot spotted them as we stood on the bridge and said, ‘I suppose that is what marriage does for you’. All I can say is that they were mighty useful in the cold of the North Atlantic. Mary had by then returned to her Wren duties in Plymouth as coxswain of a boat based in the dockyard at Devonport. There then followed further convoys across the Atlantic. It did not occur to Mary or to me that we might in Amethyst be overcome by some disaster, and that I would not return. The European war ended. It was then that I was appointed to the staff at Dryad, finally being demobilized in March   1946. They had been remarkable years. "
Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002

John Palmer’s proposal to Mary Ellyatt via a Naval telegram

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