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PEN PALS: How long-lost childhood WWII friends from Chalfont St Peter reunited

 Published on: 7th April 2024   |   By: Annabel Stock   |   Category: Uncategorized

In 2012, a Belgian woman named Alice Martin, often called Lily, was staying at the Greyhound Inn in Chalfont St Peter with her daughter Nathalie. During their stay, Alice made an enquiry with the landlord of the pub: “Do you know the Tripp family?”

So, what had brought a Belgian woman to Chalfont St Peter to celebrate her 72nd birthday? And who were the Tripp family?

In fact, this was not Alice’s first time in Chalfont St Peter; she was making a pilgrimage to the village where she had lived as a refugee 70 years previously.

Alice was born on April 21, 1940, just a few weeks before Germany invaded Belgium. Alice and her parents, Jeanne and Theo, were one of many families who acted upon the government’s recommendations to flee the country, where Nazi persecution was imminent, and seek refuge in France. They left their home with only a bottle of wine and a kilo of oranges – they did not even have nappies for their newborn daughter.

After journeying through France, they reached Cherbourg, where the Red Cross sent them to England. They settled in London for a year before the constant bombardment of the Blitz forced them to evacuate to Gloucester. Theo found a job in High Wycombe in an arms factory and lived alone until March 1942, when his wife and daughter joined him in a house on Eleanor Road in Chalfont St Peter.

They moved in next door to Hilda and Ted Tripp and their seven-year-old twin daughters Shirley and Edwina. Jeanne, a dressmaker by trade, made clothes for the twins, while Theo made brooches from wire and nylon in his spare time. Shirley says she remembers a particularly lovely pink dress made by Jeanne. Both sisters remember Hilda and Ted getting on very well with Jeanne and Theo.

After the war, the Martin family returned to Belgium, but the two families continued to exchange letters and family photographs for several years.

Shirley and Edwina went on to work together at International Stores and then a bakery in Gerrards Cross, before marrying and having children. Shirley’s son Nicholas even lives in the house in which the twins were born.

Years later, Alice decided to retrace her steps back to Chalfont St Peter. She was even able to see the bungalow where she had spent her earliest years. Following a happy reunion and much reminiscing, Alice, Shirley and Edwina became pen pals, sending dozens of letters and cards until Alice’s death in 2017.

Shirley and Edwina, now 89, still live next door to one another in Chalfont St Peter. As Shirley says: “We have never lived apart in life.”

Do you have memories of The Chalfonts and Gerrards Cross in years gone by which you would like to share? Please email newshub@mynewsmag.co.uk

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