‘It took me 30 years to talk about The Falklands’

  • Penny Legg’s husband fought in the Falklands War
  • He was away when their son was born
  • 30 years on she has written a book about the role of military wives
  • Donating £1 from each book to SSAFA
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Heavily pregnant and with her sailor husband serving thousands of miles away in the Falklands, Penny Legg was leading a lonely life on a rural military base far from her family.

It was the early 1980s and there was no internet or mobile phones to contact Joe, to make sure he was okay and to reassure him that she was coping alone.

Penny Legg

Penny Legg

‘But that was the lot of military wives in those days’, says Penny.

‘It makes you resilient, it makes you flexible.

‘You learn exciting things like how to unblock loos. It means you’re both mother and father to your kids’.

Three days after marrying, in 1983, Joe was sent abroad.

Women have had to put up with a lot over the years

Penny Legg

Now Penny, an author and journalist from Waterlooville, has brought to life stories of other military wives in a new book.

It is a fascinating, and often heart-wrenching, look at the role wives have played in supporting their partners in the 100 years from the First World War until Afghanistan.

In Penny’s case, Joe was frantic with worry about his young wife, and it was not easy to get news of her.

‘I was about seven months pregnant when Joe was sent to the Falklands for the second time. It was horrible.

Joe and Penny Legg

Joe and Penny Legg

‘I was dumped in the middle of a housing estate and it was four miles across fields to the nearest town.

‘The bus was every two hours and stopped at 6pm.

‘I had to walk to antenatal appointments because there was no way we could afford taxis.

‘And we had no way of communicating. I was due on December 12 and Christmas Day came and Thomas still hadn’t arrived.

‘Joe sent word back to the UK saying he was frantic with worry and could someone check if I was all right?

‘A little while later I had a knock at the door and I waddled along to answer it.

‘Standing there was a young Wren who asked “Have you had the baby yet!?”.’

Thomas eventually arrived on Boxing Day and it was an expensive three-minute satellite telephone call that eventually relayed the news to overjoyed Joe.

But, compared to the military wives of the First and Second World War, Penny had it easy.

She recounts the story of Margaret Winter, from Southampton, whose husband William was a private with the 8th Lincolnshire Regiment.

He was sent off to fight on the Western Front during the First World War. Within the space of a year, one of their sons died after falling into the fire, Margaret died of tuberculosis and William was killed.

Penny says: ‘Margaret was coping with the loss of one child and TB. William was in France and he was terribly concerned about her. Sadly she didn’t survive.

‘A telegram reached him on March 23, 1917. He wrote to his sister, who was trying to keep the family going, sorting out the funeral.

‘He wasn’t allowed to go home for it because he had too recently joined his regiment.

‘In the end it was a double funeral because he was killed in April, 1917.’

It would sometimes take months for letters to arrive. Many of those sent to husbands were lost in the appalling conditions of the trenches.

Much of Penny’s information comes from letters sent back to wives in the UK.

The heart-wrenching stories were not easy to write. She says: ‘People relied on and trusted me not to betray their confidence. They told me things they had perhaps not told family, friends or even doctors.

‘In some interviews the pair of us were in tears. For me it was slow-going because I found it very hard to sit and transcribe interviews that were emotional, that brought back a lot of things for me.

‘I could not even talk about the Falklands War until 2011, when I wrote my book The Queen’s Colours. It was very difficult.’

For the first time, families back home knew within hours about events that happened in battle.

Penny says: ‘It was horrible not knowing how long Joe would be away, the uncertainty.

‘The media was wonderful in some ways for letting us know what was happening.

‘But there were some wives who found out their husbands had been killed by watching the television.

‘I spent all of my time watching the news’.

Penny recounts another story about a lady who was in Borneo.

Her husband was in the jungle when she went into premature labour.

‘She had to have a Caesarean but the Muslim doctors would not do the operation until her husband was found, airlifted out of the jungle, dropped his weapons at the base and went to the hospital to sign the consent forms.

‘How she survived, I don’t know. But it shows that women have had to put up with a lot over the years.’

Joe, who works for the Foreign Office, says he is ‘enormously proud’ of Penny.

‘The book gets the message across about the role the spouse plays in supporting the serviceman when they’re abroad’.

Donations to SSAFA

Penny Legg has chosen to donate £1 to SSAFA for every copy sold of Military Wives – From The First World War To Afghanistan.

Support from SSAFA covers both regulars and reserves in the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and their families, including anyone who has completed National Service.

They are all entitled to lifelong support from SSAFA, no matter how long they have served. Every year it supports 50,000 people – 136 every day.

The charity offers welfare and support, health and social care services, support groups for families who have been bereaved, and for the families of the wounded, injured and sick.

Volunteers also give support to families whose children are disabled or sick, and for those going through the adoption process.

There is also a housing service for long-term and short terms.

Jim Morrison, regional fundraising manager at SSAFA, says: ‘We are delighted that Penny has decided to give £1 to SSAFA from every book sold, to help fund our vital work in supporting servicemen and women, veterans and their families.

‘Without such generous donations SSAFA would not be able to offer hands-on support across the country and beyond to armed forces personnel in need.’

To buy Penny’s book go to pennylegg.com or Amazon.

Alternatively order from any main book shop. To donate to SSAFA go to ssafa.org.uk.