Meeting at Hilden cricket led to a lifetime match
by STACEY HEANEY
Reg, Edie and family in Battersea funfair 1949
Reg and Edie pictured just a few months ago on another family occasion
Reg in 1939
A COUPLE who met at a wartime cricket match in Lisburn have recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Reg Willsher, 92, a Dunkirk veteran, was posted to Lisburn in July 1940 where he met local girl Edie Dowling by chance whilst watching a game of cricket in Hilden in April 1941.
Reg had been injured as he escaped the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. The brave soldier, under heavy fire from German fighter planes, was hit by shrapnel after clambering onto a naval destroyer at the end of May 1940.
Reg and Edie on their 70th Wedding Anniversary.
Following around five weeks recuperation Reg was posted to Lisburn with the Royal Signals Army Corps, where he was to meet his future wife.
Edie Dowling, now 86, worked at Barbour Mill and was just 16-years-old when she married Reg in Lisburn Cathedral on January 5 1942. The entire Dowling family, who lived in Grand Street, had been baptised in the Cathedral and the ceremony was conducted by Canon Taylor, who is said to have been more like a family friend.
The wedding was attended by Edie's mum, as her father had passed away by then, her sister Annie and five brothers.
The couple now have three sons, Reg, Patrick and Peter, as well as five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Speaking about their recent celebration, attended by their three children and their wives, as well as Reg 's brother and sister-in-law, Peter, the couple's youngest son, said: "They really didn't want any fuss, they are such a quiet couple, but we as a family wanted to help them celebrate, so from there it was all hands to the pump to get everything organised."
Edie's sister Annie, who has now sadly passed away, and niece Valerie with Edie in 2003. Included from left to right are Annie, Edie and Valerie.
Getting everything organised also included Peter making excuses as to why he needed his parents' wedding certificate in older to arrange for a card of congratulation from the Queen for the couple, who now live m Sutton, Surrey.
Talking about their lives in Lisburn, Peter said: "My dad was barracked in the former Forthill House School which had been evacuated at the outbreak of war and commandeered by the Army. The schoolhouse was used by the officers as their living accommodation and HQ whilst the men were billeted in Nissen Huts in the grounds.
"The army arrived on 9 July 1940 and were confined to barracks till after 12 July for fear of causing trouble during the Orange Day celebrations."
He added: "My mum used to work at Barbour Mill on the Lagan, along with her mum, dad and sister.
"My Uncle Billy (also now deceased) used to play for the cricket team until he volunteered for the RAF after the outbreak of war in 1939. While Billy was still playing for the team my nan and mum used to help with doing the team teas.
"My dad was watching a match with army pals in April 1941 when a group of local girls appeared and started chatting. My mum appeared some while later and was introduced to the group."
From there, the couple's relationship began. Peter said his parents' story is "extraordinary".
"They've been through a lot, they didn't see each other for the first three and a half years of their marriage. Mum lived with her in-laws in London. They were married on the 5th January and on the 6th January they went to London, three months later my father was posted to India and Burma to install and maintain telegraphy equipment and repair phone lines for the rest of the war.
"Mum was 16 when she married and 17 by then, and it was a huge wrench in her life."
Edie's niece Valerie and nephew Ivan still live in Lisburn and each have families of their own.
Whilst the couple no longer travel back to Northern Ireland, Peter has fond memories of visiting Lisburn as a child. He said: "We used to come over often until my nan died, taking a couple of weeks at Easter. I used to have a group of friends and remember walking into Lisburn. One of the most impressive things I remember is the Orange day, I remember seeing all the bands and the flags and the colours were incredible. At seven or eight it made quite an impression"