20 FEB 2019: Turn back the clock, brew a pot of tea, and hunker down in your favourite chair on this cold winter day to read A Wessex Girl Remembers –Memories of a War-Time Childhood. Canadian travel writer Tess Bridgwater has written her memoirs using a 12 mile radius in the southernmost corner of Wessex she frequented as a 12 year-old growing up in southern England to unravel intriguing historic footnotes of epic proportions.

A quick read, the paperback is only 149 pages but packs in a treasure chest of lore and memories laced in bygone world events that stretch to the modern day, with events as recent as the sailing of the new Queen Mary II into Southampton's huge ocean terminal.

Between Southampton and Winchester we learn how this ancient terra firma has witnessed the triumphant Roman battle marches, Crusaders of the Middle Ages, lonely Pilgrims seeking life in a new world, Battle marches to Agincourt, Waterloo, the Crimea, and the Allied Armies of World War I. There's even the departure of the Titanic, and the swooning romantic notions as only Jane Austen could pen as some historical teasers.

Then there are those poignant personal accounts, the childhood recollections about living through one of the darkest days in modern history: World War II and D-Day.

As client inquiries and bookings for the 75th D-Day anniversary are filtering in, having this first-hand account of the Great Wartime Blitz in your wheelhouse is sure to add more reasons for an extended visit to this part of England.

In A Wessex Girl Remembers we learn how walking through familiar streetscapes decades later could lend itself to remarkable possibilities. It was a schoolgirl reunion forty years later in Winchester, England that spawned the personal memoir. Do we still remember the smell of the grass when we were kids? Or for some, the streets filled with tanks and lorries that stood in formation prior to D-Day. Tess remembers.

We are the by-product, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the Second World War. There are fewer of those like Tess who was a child during the Blitz having grown up in jolly old England where food rationing went on until the fifties.

During the Great Wartime Blitz from September 1940 to May 1941 Bridgwater has a vivid memory of her grandmother, a stubborn strong-willed lady who “never seemed to sleep but prowled the house all night like a watchman.” Tess recounts how, “With her usual presence of mind Grandma pulled my mother and I from our bed just in time before a large piece of ceiling fell on the pillows. She probably saved our lives.”

When Tess's 91 year-old mother visited her in Canada, she shared an account of the night of the D Day invasion to the local newspaper which one can read in its entirety.

The Spitfire airplane, an aeronautical marvel that became the pride and symbol of the Allied victory in WWII was designed and built in a facility near Southampton in Woolfston.  Southwick House in Hampshire became the headquarters of the main Allied commanders led by General Eisenhower who devised Operation Overlord that lead up to D-Day. It was masterminded in an unassuming white house familiar to the author who used to walk past the secret command post.

You see the precursor – in the days that led up to the D-Day mobilization through the fresh innocent wonderment of a child's perspective.

Tess watches the tanks on the roadsides, sees the American soldiers playing cards and blowing off steam kicking a ball. She ambles to another vehicle where black American G. I's played their swing music during the age of American Jazz.

We visualize those lazy afternoons of make-believe ghosts in white sheets and we feel the ice cold shivers when she falls through a frozen pond one day as a friend of hers recollects. Tess fell again into the frozen pond the next day. “I guess I am a stupid person,” she confessed in that deadpan wit she's known for. Raw, candid, brutally honest yet full of whimsical humour.

In A Wessex Girl Remembers Tess confesses of a good friend in a bad marriage who she meets in what was to be their final reunion. They both walk through the field of the Farley Mount. “Face up to things and get on with it,” were her young friend's words of advice.

“We paused, wrapped in silence of the magnificent panoramic view, stretching as far as the eye can see into the unknown. It paralleled our own unknown future and marked an emotional end to an important connection of my early life,” she frankly admits.

Tess scoured every inch of where she grew up. Think there's a land with ties to Alice in Wonderland, Ian Fleming and Nevil Shute, the Titanic, gnomes and Stonehenge? Yes, there is. It's all revealed in A Wessex Girl Remembers.

In our era of digital distractions, it's a tonic to read about memories that don't disappear at the next key stroke. A Wessex Girl Remembers is a refreshing personal tale to warm your heart on a cold winter's day.

A Wessex Girl Remembers -- Memories of a War-time Childhood is available online or direct via the author tessb@rogers.com.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

Read more from Ilona Kauremszky

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