A love story
Jack and Phyll Newberry
In the dark days towards the end of the Second World War, a young girl, Phyll Surringer had made her way to the Celtic Ballroom in Newport Road in Cardiff. She was with her friend Winnie Northway, both were young and both were sitting waiting to be asked to dance. As they waited, in walked a handsome young soldier who was home on leave. He was looking for a good evening as he enjoyed precious time at home, away from his barracks in Bulford, Salisbury. He was there doing his duty preparing to serve king and country in Europe pushing the German army back through Europe.
As Phyll saw him she pointed him out to Winnie and said that if she were ever to marry it would be to him. She could never have possibly known how prophetic those words were and how many other lives would be impacted in the years that lay ahead.
Before long the handsome soldier had spotted Phyll across the crowded dance hall. He crossed the floor and asked her to dance and her head was in a whirl as they glided across the dance floor in each other’s arms. Maybe it was her gentle good looks or the striking blue dress she wore or maybe it was guiding hand of someone they did not yet know, but one thing was certain, even at this early stage, they were rapidly falling in love.
Her soldier asked if she would allow him to walk her home, but in some Cinderella like parody, Phyll refused saying she had to leave early. She was on duty at the First Aid post in Grangetown and she hurriedly scribbled the phone number of the Post and handed it to the young man who had so suddenly brought this ray of sunshine into her dark life, pleading with him to ring her that evening to arrange a time when they could meet again. Jack, as her young soldier friend was called, gripped the paper tightly as she left. It was his only link with this young lady he was desperate to get to know a little better.
Phyll rushed through the dark night, tonight of all nights cursing her luck that the call of duty should so cruelly tear her away from her soldier. Worse news was to come. When she got to the First Aid Post she was told that due to lack of action from the German bombers, the Post was to be closed and she would not be needed. She was sent home and would not be there when Jack rang. When he made the call some time later, he was devastated when he was told Phyll was not there and no contact number or address was known. Two sad hearts in different parts of the city longed for each other but neither knew where the other one was but both dreaded that contact was lost forever.
The following Tuesday Phyll and Winnie hatched a plan. The authorities had decreed that any female worker whose boyfriend was home on leave should be allowed time off to see him. Despite not having young men serving the country, Phyll and Winnie applied for and were granted time off and decided to go dancing, Phyll hoping against hope that she would again meet Jack, but what chance? Where was her handsome soldier? Maybe he was back at his base in Salisbury, maybe somewhere in Europe. Phyll and Winnie discussed where they should go; there were many possibilities, The Connaught Rooms and The City Hall were their favourites but the lure of the Celtic was too strong, maybe just maybe….
When they entered Phyll’s eyes noted who was there or maybe more importantly who was not. The room was full of soldiers, but there was no sign of Jack. She felt so low. As time wore on she was asked to dance and was in the arms of another, when it was as if the sun had forced its way through the dark clouds and Jack her handsome soldier appeared. He too had been hoping against hope that the beauty in the blue dress would be there. When he saw her he lost no time in tapping the soldier who held her and he took her into his arms in an embrace that was to linger for the next sixty three years. At the end of the evening Jack walked her to her home in Grangetown before walking back to his home in Ely.
He called early the next day and they walked the Mile Road together, both wishing in their hearts it was called the Twenty Mile Road and they shared precious hours together, they knew times like this would be so limited in the future, as the dark clouds of war still hung menacingly overhead. Many dangers and long weeks of separation lie ahead. Both knew that whatever the future held, the new love they had found was now permanently fixed into their hearts. They thought about not only the immediate future but also about the long term. Would they have a family, would they grow old together? What would they be like in their eighties?
They met several more times before Jack was called away to serve his country, liberating Europe from the stranglehold of the Germans. They wrote to each other whenever they could and wherever they were and Phyll would sneak away quietly to read Jack’s letters as they arrived at her home back in Wales. One poem that Jack sent Phyll has always remained their own special secret.
Written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning…
‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….
The letters Jack received, he kept with him wherever he went. Knowing he was loved him gave him untold strength as he faced the horrors of war.
As the year changed Jack and Phyll knew in their hearts that they would be together forever and on 3rd February 1945, while Jack was fighting in Belgium, they got engaged and Fanny, Jack’s mum went into Cardiff with Phyll to buy the ring. Later the same year as the war in Europe ended the young couple looked forward to being together but their hopes were dashed as Jack was posted to Palestine for nine months. More letters followed each one bringing closer the day they could be together forever.
In early 1946 Jack was de-mobbed and preparations for their wedding began. They were married at 12 noon on Saturday 29th June 1946 in St John’s Church, Cardiff.
The bride looked stunning and was given away by her dad, William. Glenys and Barbara, Jack’s two younger sisters, accompanied her. Jack had asked his friend Sid Dukes to be his best man. I was a beautiful service and finally the two young people promised their future to each other come what may and knew that they would be together forever. After the ceremony the wedding party travelled the short distance to The Philharmonic in St Mary Street where all enjoyed a wonderful reception ~ as wonderful as early post-war time rationing would allow.
At 11.00 pm the same day, the happy couple caught an overnight train to Cornwall where they honeymooned near St Mawes in Cornwall staying in Feock near the Punchbowl and Ladle Hotel. During the train ride they had to sit opposite each other in a cramped compartment but their exchanged glances spoke volumes about the plans they had for their future. What would it hold? Had they been able to write the script themselves they would not have dared write such happiness into their story. After some tough, very tough early days God saw fit to smile on this special young couple. He had great plans for them.
After a week in Cornwall Jack and Phyll returned to their new home. They had turned down offers of accommodation from both sets of parents, so determined were they to make a home for themselves.
Their first home was an attic flat in 11, Fitzhamon Embankment, their landlady was a prostitute and made life very difficult for Jack and Phyll. Within a year their first child arrived, born at 201, Penarth Road, Phyll’s old home. The arrival of John brought its own difficulties but the unique bond of love between Jack and Phyll was being strengthened day by day.
In 1949 something happened which was to have a huge impact on their marriage and future lives together. Jack was working for a firm of building contractors in Cardiff and found himself working alongside a cheerful electrician by the name of Bill Dobbs. Bill was a Christian and during their work Bill invited Jack to attend a Big Tent Gospel Campaign being run by an ex heavyweight boxing champion called Stan Ford. Jack refused saying it was not really his scene, but a few days later after spotting an advert for the same event, Jack decided to go along. The tent was situated on the land where the Millennium Stadium stands today. Incredibly, he responded to the appeals of the evangelist and became a Christian. As he walked forward to receive counselling, who should walk towards him but the electrician Bill Dobbs.
Bill’s face lit up and he questioned, “You’ve done it haven’t you?”
They embraced and a life long friendship ~ friends, united in Jesus Christ, was born. Jack wondered what implications his new found faith would have on his life. The following night he took Phyll to the Big Tent and incredibly, as the hymn ‘Just as I am’ was finishing Phyll stood up and committed her life to Christ.
In 1949 they were able to move to a new place near Phyll’s mum at 205, Penarth Road in Grangetown and the new lower rent meant they could just about afford to buy a new bedroom suite on hire purchase.
A change of landlord brought about some more very difficult times, especially when their second child, a boy called Roger William was born in October 1950. Conditions became almost unbearable and only the strength of their love for each other and their young family enabled Jack and Phyll to cope.
They applied for a council house and when a council inspector called to the flat to see a bedroom containing a double bed, a single bed and a cot, as well as all Jack’s tools and equipment, a move seemed imminent. A large post war building programme out in the suburbs was under way and one glorious day Jack and Phyll received a letter from the council telling them they had been given a council house at 5, St Dogmaels Avenue in Llanishen.
God was continuing His work in their lives. They moved in within minutes of the builders moving out! The sense of freedom was marvellous. Incredibly the cheerful electrician Bill Dobbs and his wife Ruby joined them within a few short weeks. They too had been moved to a council house in Llanishen, just around the corner in Fishguard Road. Within weeks a third child was born, a girl Joy Elaine. The sense of ‘joy’ in the little family was almost tangible. God was good.
Up until then Jack and Phyll had been attending Ebenezer Gospel Hall in Grangetown with Bill, but since the move, a new place of worship was required and the choice lay between Mackintosh Gospel Hall or a small house based church run by Mr and Mrs Thrower at their home in 97, Fidlas Road. Jack and Phyll chose Mackintosh but always felt a little uneasy as they passed The Thrower’s. Before too long they joined The Throwers and a great adventure would soon begin which would lead to them establishing a place of worship at the very centre of the Estate where they lived.
A piece of ground had been set aside as a place of worship and some Christians in Cardiff, including Jack and Phyll and Bill and Ruby and the Throwers set about establishing a church. A tent campaign led by that heavyweight boxer Stan Ford was set up. The work had started!
Following the tent a more permanent building was needed. A green corrugated hut was found in Bedlinog in the South Wales Valleys and Jack, Bill, Jim Orr and a few others set about dismantling the building and transporting it back to Llanishen. The vision, hard work and determination of these young men knew no bounds. Friendships forged in those exciting days would stand the test of time.
The new church, Llanishen Gospel Hall, began to grow and Jack was asked would he look after the door, he accepted and so began a humble line of service that is still continuing faithfully after fifty three years.
Jack and Phyll found new friends, Charles and Eileen Hallet, Captain Tom and Mrs Dorothy Morgan, Aubrey and Lillian Roberts and Herbert and Eileen Dalling. Girls and boys’ youth clubs were set up and Jack and Phyll became involved winning the confidence of young and old alike. A new building, a permanent brick building was built in 1956. With the new building came a new name, Emmaus Chapel. Jim Orr, a builder, took overall responsibility but young and old alike, pitched in and the new building was built by and belonged to everybody. New friends came along, Arthur and Dorothy Berry, Eddie and Haulwen Hunt, Mike and Sheila Burr and John Lord among others.
During this time the young people of the Emmaus were attracted to Jack and Phyll’s home and very often their house would be full to bursting with young people singing and enjoying spending time together. Many lifelong friendships were formed in those happy days. People like Lindsay and Jackie Morgan, John and Mary Patterson, Marilyn Powell, Gaynor Britton, David Jones, Mavis Adney and many others were all influenced by Jack and Phyll’s hospitality.
As their children grew up through the fifties and sixties, their life was simple but idyllic. Home in St Dogmaels Avenue was always open for friends to join them. Paul Pace was just one example of friends who became a part of this unique family. They enjoyed holidays every year, visiting places like Fontygary, St Ives, Blue Anchor, Broadhaven and many places in between. God looked after the family and Jack and Phyll’s love shone out and touched the lives of all who knew them.
The first child to fly the nest was John who married Christine Cummings on 5th September 1969. Emmaus Chapel was the venue and Herbert Dalling conducted the service. It was such a good day and a milestone for The Newberry family.
Jack and Phyll celebrated their twenty fifth Wedding Anniversary on 29th June 1971.
Joy, the only girl in the family, married Douglas Reed on September 22nd 1973. Eddie Hunt conducted the service and the reception was held at Cardiff Castle. Roger married Jean Musgrove on 11th October 1975. Charles Hallet conducted the service and again Cardiff Castle was the venue for the reception.
The family home was now empty and Jack and Phyll discovered a new freedom. They adapted by opening a flower shop in Grangetown. It meant Phyll leaving her job in the Inland Revenue. In due course Jack left his job in the Department of the Environment and soon both were working in the business. They enjoyed each others company and their love continued to blossom and proved an inspiration to their children as they started to build homes and new families of their own. They were still committed to the work of Emmaus and over the years new friends joined, Norman and Ann Curtis, Roy Shears, Muriel Lampert and in recent years, Peter and Olive Shin and their girls, Lisa Stavsky and Michael and Joy Dibua.
They celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary on 29th June 1996 with a family celebration at The Farmer’s Daughter Restaurant.
As time went on, advancing years brought with them time for reflection and appreciation of how God had dealt with them. His hand was leading and guiding them even before they knew Him. Many lives had been touched. As they celebrated sixty years of happiness family and friends gathered to show their love and affection and to pay tribute to a remarkable love, a love that has impacted the lives of so many people.
As Jack and Phyll themselves look back on a remarkable journey of love, the words of their poem will swirl around in their minds…
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… and they will both decide that is an impossible thing to do. It is impossible to count the ways they love each other, impossible to measure how much they think of each other and impossible to put a value on something so very precious.
Their future was in the hands of God who sixty years ago brought those two young people together, the same God who had guided, protected, cared for and loved them and allowed His love to shine out touching the lives of all who knew them.
Post script to A Love Story
The future turned out to be a time of calm quiet reflection for them both. During the few years that followed God gave them three more years together. Advancing years slowed them down but they remained able to look after themselves. Mum loved her garden and as each Spring came around the seeds would be planted and new life would begin again. All our homes bore testimony to her skills. Dad loved the Spring when the daffodils appeared, he would say that the daffodils looked like they were trumpeting in the warmer weather.
Each Saturday, we were drawn to the family home and each Saturday mum would have food ready for us all, as usual nothing was too much trouble for her. She set us a wonderful example of the importance of hard work and how to love and care for the family she loved so much.
More great-grandchildren came along…they loved Jack Noah, Rueben, Ben and Zak and loved it whenever they came to visit. We were never quite sure how they did it but as the family grew so did their love. They never loved us less as there became more people to love they just drew on their deep reserves and each from oldest to youngest knew how special they were and how much they were loved. In March 2009 they rejoiced with Gareth and Keri with the news that a new great-grandchild was coming.
Despite having attended the 60th Anniversary of the D.Day landings in 2004, by 2009 declining health meant dad was unable to travel to Normandy for the D-day 65th Anniversary celebrations. Roger and Gareth represented him at ceremonies in Ranville and Caen. They proudly accepted another badge of honour on his behalf and wore caps saying ‘Veteran’s Family’
We all knew one awful day the family chain would be broken and on 22nd August 2009 our dear father was called home.
The end came very quickly after short illness. John, Joy and mum were with him when he went but Roger, Jean and Bethany were in Canada on holiday and needed to arrange emergency flights home to be with the family. We were all devastated but needed to be strong for mum. A wonderful and moving service of thanksgiving for his wonderful life was held at Llanishen EvangelicalChurch on Thursday September 1st 2009. Dad was buried at Thornhill Cemetery. The parting was devastating!
We all feared for mum but she remained amazingly strong…maybe she did it for us! There were times when our grief almost overwhelmed us, but our hope as Believers that one day we will see him kept us going through those dark days.
In October 2009 Roger and Jean had arranged for mum to have a holiday in West Wales and as John was taking her down, she suffered a massive stroke near her spinal cord. She was admitted to The University Hospital of Wales for emergency treatment. Sadly our dear mum never returned to the family home. She grew a little weaker each day but shortly after Christmas was delighted to hold baby Mia, daughter of Gareth and Keri and her sixth great-grandchild and first great-granddaughter. It was almost as if she were waiting for Mia to arrive as shortly afterwards on Monday 4th January 2010 mum left us to be with dad. Amazingly Roger and Jean were with her as she went, it was as if God meant it to be as they were so far away when dad died.
We thanked God for her wonderful life in another special service at Emmaus Chapel on Monday 18th January and she was laid to rest with dad at Thornhill.
Two crosses stood on the spot side by side in the ground mirroring the way these two great people stood side by side in life. They were inseparable in life and they will be inseparable in death.
The love story, which had begun so many years before continues both in heaven and in the hearts of all of us who loved them. Our lives have been moulded by their unique love and a huge responsibility is now ours to continue their remarkable love story in our own lives… to work as they worked, to devote our lives to God as they devoted their lives to him and love as they loved.