SALVATORE VALENTI, 508 SQUADRON. WOLLATON PARK
A personal memoir of Betty (Smith) Claridge - Part I
Betty and Sal (photo undated)
I met my Sal when I was twenty and he was twenty-five. He was stationed at Wollaton Park as part of the 508 Squadron (under canvas). After we became friends I left my home and Mum in Daybrook to move in with my older sister Hilda and her family as they lived in Aspley. This was very near Strelley which itself wasn't too far from Wollaton Park, although it still meant four buses a day for me to get there from work - two from Daybrook to Nottingham and two to Aspley This was very tiring as I worked shifts in an engineering company that was twenty minutes walk away from my home in Daybrook! I worked shifts from 6am-2pm, or 2pm-!0pm, or 10pm-6am and in between times I danced, danced, danced! War work was demanding and we had to put up with blackouts and air raids too, as well as walking even where when the buses weren't running, but we were young and had plenty of energy
I spent my 21sl birthday with Sal and my sister Hilda and her husband Jack. Sal brought me a corsage of orchids, how lovely! Then Sal, myself, Hilda and Jack went to The Ritz. This was a cinema with a small dance floor where we had a lovely meal We had to leave early as the last bus left Nottingham at 9pm due to petrol rationing. Such a very special birthday that was for me.
In time Hilda and Jack gave Sal a key to let himself into their home whenever he was off duty - and later on they loaned him a bicycle, which helped him a lot and yes, we did get the bike back! The comfort of a family home was a bonus for him and sometimes he brought along his pal, a medic called Jimmy, another nice boy. Hilda and Jack made them so welcome and we became a family for Sal. In fact, he always referred to us as his "English family" until the day he died. My Mum always wrote to "my American son" and signed her letters "from your English mother' Hilda and Jack had four children who also loved this charming American G.I.
After a while we even helped Sal with a little business venture he had! Sal always had an eye for a money-making scheme and we all sat around making identity bracelets for the G.I.'s. Jack had the disks and chains silvered at the factory where he worked and we sat around the kitchen table and made them into bracelets which Sal then sold. Well, this little venture was very successful and each time he was allowed out of camp he would turn up with a list of identity bracelets wanted and we set to work. It did occur to me that I could have been out dancing all this time, not making identity bracelets and Sal must have picked up that I was getting restless and suggested we get engaged1
Hilda (left) and Betty in WAAF Uniforms
Sal had a beautiful engagement ring made for me to his own design and I wear it still. When Sal died after his second heart attack his niece found a photo of my sister and me in our WAAF uniforms still in his wallet. He had kept that photo close to his heart for almost 60 years for by that time he was 83 and I was 78 How romantic is that?
Betty (let) and Hilda pose with Sal and friend Don in Wollaton park ca. 1978 or 1979. On the back of the photo Betty wrote "Our lovely American boys"
I didn't marry Sal because I didn't want to leave my family and widowed mother who needed me and go to live in America. Sal said he would never marry if I didn't marry him and he never did. He kept his word to the end of his life and we staved friends, vesting each other from time to time. I married an RAF Flight Sergeant and had a daughter, but Sal and I remained in love with each other for nigh on 60 years!
(To be continued)
(NOTE: These recollections of Betty (Smith) Claridge were submitted with her consent. The reference to the "508th Squadron" is as she wrote it and probably a mistake made due to her marriage to an RAF Flight Sergeant.)