An Arranged Marriage


Joan Millard and Brian Freyburg’s Wedding 1944. L to R Bishop Paget, Rosemary Paget, Brian, Joan, Gervas Hughes, Front Angela and Tim Hughes.

An Arranged Marriage

Joan waited and waited for Brian’s arrival after the phone call confirming he was still alive, hospitalized in Cairo.

“You must be married immediately,”  Bishop Paget said.

“Wait!” said Joan.  “We may not want to marry.”

He was adamant.

An Arranged Marriage

Finally, one very early morning the children came running into Joan’s room shouting, “Brian’s here!  Brian’s here!”  Joan was horrified.  A  bad cold lingered and she’d had a nose bleed in the night.  Her hair was in curlers. She leapt out of bed: removed the curlers, washed her face.

The door opened.  In he walked, painfully thin, yellow from jaundice,  head shaven.  His eyes were haunted. With the children hugging too it was overwhelming.

“Could you just have a lie down, my darling, while I feed the kids and get them away to school.” Grateful he obliged.

The children gone, peace reigned. They sat quietly.  He explained, the South African army would not release him but had given him three months sick leave.  He could not eat or sleep.

His arrival confirmed that Joan wasn’t at all sure that immediate marriage was right for them.  They really needed time to get to know one another after four long years apart.  Rosemary was horrified when she suggested he share the flat and sleep on a stretcher bed in the sitting room.  “It’s just not done,” she said firmly.  She bustled about organizing their lives.  “Of course you must marry him.  Look after him. The sooner the better.  The Bishop will marry you in the Cathedral.”  Joan shook her head, but she rattled on, “We are going away for some weeks so the wedding has to take place a week from today.”

So soon!”

“And neither of you has a home or parents.”

‘Or money,’ mouthed Brian.

“I really would like the service to be in the little chapel here.”


“Really I’ve no one to invite.”

“Now what will you wear?”

“My blue dress.”

“You’ve got to have a proper wedding dress.”

Joan despaired.  “What about the children? I made endless enquiries before.  There is nowhere suitable.”

“It is mostly a matter of who you know,” she asserted. “Leave it to me.”

Joan took a deep breath and set to work.  There were school uniforms to buy and mark, the flat to clear and pack up, an overnight trip to make to Greenham farm to tell her brother-in-law Gervas about the plans and ask him to be best man.  At Rosemary’s continued insistence she found a cheap secondhand wedding dress advertised in the paper for five pounds.  She could just manage that, but without coupons a trousseau was out of the question.  She borrowed a veil and wore Rosemary’s mother’s shoes, two sizes too big: toes stuffed with paper.

Copper-top Angela was thrilled to be flower girl in a borrowed, pale yellow, long dress.  She wore a Dutch ‘kappie’ Joan made after she cut up an old yellow velvet curtain to make a pair of long pants, waist coat and a pill box hat to hide Tim’s still shaven head.

Joan explained to the children why she was deserting them.  She promised lots of holidays would be in store as soon as she and Brian had made a home for themselves. Angela took it better than Tim who said, I’d be ever so good if you took me with you.”

Excerpts taken  from Rain on the Roof, by Joan (nee Millard) Freyburg (1999) ISBN 0 646 38477 5 with  family permission.   Tim Hughes has electronic copies of this wonderful book that may be available on request via the comments section of this blog.