Comment: South African romance in Newport Pagnell

editorial image

AS previously mentioned in these articles, within the local annals lie a wealth of tales of intrigue and romance, to rival any work of fiction.

And also as previously mentioned many of the most dramatic seem to be from times of war.

Well known is the arrival of American servicemen to Britain during WW2, and their ‘overpaid, over here’ effect upon the indigenous females.

But regarding this district, perhaps not as widely known is the less numerous influx of South African troops during WW1, who, being from sunny, exotic climes, and with physiques at the peak of physical fitness, caused many a heart to flutter among the local crumpet.

Not least for Miss Alice Isabel Virco, the eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Baldwin of 2, Park Road, Stony Stratford, who had made the acquaintance of a smart well set up South African, Corporal Edward A Trehearne.

In peacetime he was an engineer employed in the Crown Mines at Johannesburg, but following the outbreak of war he fought through all the East African campaign and then saw active service in France, winning the Military Medal for his courage.

The couple became engaged but with the marriage arrangements having been made someone in the town then spread a rumour that Edward was already married. When this came to the attention of the registrar the ceremony was abruptly postponed, until his unmarried status could be confirmed. Yet the delay meant the couple had to be married by special licence at the Registrar’s Office, on the day before Edward’s return to military duties.

In fact he had been involved with another sweetheart at Birmingham but apparently the two had not corresponded since his acquaintance with Miss Virco.

However, this lady had apparently travelled to Stony Stratford the weekend before the wedding, and would afterwards write; ‘you state that Edward Trehearne had not corresponded with the Birmingham young lady (meaning me) since he made the acquaintance of Miss Virco. This statement is untrue, as I received letters regularly from him until a few days before he was married.’

And so to a less acrimonious tale. Baptised in 1894, Grace Middleton was the daughter of a Newport Pagnell schoolmaster and following the outbreak of WW1 would sing at many local patriotic concerts, both as a solo and with ‘The Quaints’, a company of local lady vocalists who performed with a company of Royal Engineers.

In fact it would be a Royal Engineer that she began ‘stepping out’ with. He was Lionel Noble, of Reitz, Orange Free State, who, having voluntarily enlisted in the Royal Engineers from Rhodesia in early 1915, saw much subsequent action in France, being stationed for a while with the Signal Section in Newport Pagnell.

Shortly after the war he and Grace were married and aboard the ‘Durham Castle’ sailed for their new home at Salisbury Rhodesia.

Grace’s widowed father would also travel to Rhodesia, where he would teach at Milton School, Bulwayo, before becoming the headmaster there at The Lonely Mine School.

In time, at Umtali, an only son was born to Grace and Lionel but having joined the RAF after the outbreak of WW2 he was tragically lost on a bombing mission to Cologne.

During WW1 the South Africans stationed with the Royal Engineers at Newport Pagnell had been so well treated that they were reluctant to be sent to France. In fact when they were it was their foremost desire to get back as soon as possible, and physical ailments were frequently feigned to achieve this objective.

Indeed, so infamous did this become that it would give rise to a saying in common use at the Defence Headquarters at Roberts Heights, Pretoria.

This was the training camp for non combatants, and if any misdemeanours were committed during drill the instructor would issue the reprimand, “Ons speel geen Newport Pagnell veneeuky hier!” – Africaans for “No Newport Pagnell tricks here!”