WAR ROMANCE: Val Gatenby with her father’s music sheets that were discovered in an attic
WAR ROMANCE: Val Gatenby with her father’s music sheets that were discovered in an attic

THE discovery of three songsheets in a suitcase in an attic has provided a revelation for three Barnard Castle siblings about their parents’ wartime romance.
Val Gatenby and her brothers, Ron and Mike Jones, always knew their parents’ romance blossomed from a pen-pal relationship during the Second World War, but what they didn’t know was that they had collaborated to write a song via letter before they even met.
Furthermore, their father had written two other songs during the war, one of which Mrs Gatenby has been singing all her life, blissfully unaware of its origins.
The story of Norman and Alice Jones began in the deserts of North Africa in 1941 where Mr Jones had been posted. He had volunteered to go to war after spending the previous two years in a reserved occupation as an HGV driver.
Prior to, and after the war, Mr Jones was an active musician and played the euphonium for Barnard Castle Band. Mrs Gatenby said: “He
didn’t think it fair that most of his friends had gone to war and he was still at home.”
In Libya he was partnered with a man called Jack on a lorry delivering supplies.
Mrs Gatenby said: “Jack asked my dad if he had a girlfriend from home writing to him and when my dad said he didn’t, Jack asked his girlfriend, Gladys, if she would ask her friend, Alice, to write to him.”
So began a pen-pal relationship which would blossom into a wartime romance.
The couple met face-to-face for the first time at a train station in Lancashire in 1945.
Mrs Gatenby said: “Dad’s first words to our mam were ‘You will marry me Alice, won’t you?’, which makes us believe that dad proposed in a letter, as one of the songs talks about them having their honeymoon – [which was] before they had ever seen each other.”
Sadly, their mum died in 1986 and their dad died in 1990, before the siblings became aware of the song they had written together, as well as the two tunes composed by their father. It wasn’t until the Covid lockdown that Ron Jones took a closer look at some music notes he had discovered in a suitcase in the loft.
Mrs Gatenby said: “The song entitled You and Me was one that my dad had sung to me as a child. The song stuck with me and I used to sing it to my own children at bedtime and now sing it to the grandchildren.
“Dad never told me it was a song he wrote for mam and I always believed that it was a wartime song that, perhaps, Vera Lynn had sung to the troops about their loved ones at home.
“We always knew the story of them being pen-pals, and mam meeting dad on the station platform, but finding these songs and their meaning brings the whole story to life somehow. I love the song and it has a second verse which I never knew about, but knowing that now it was their song makes it all the more special.”
Her brother, Ron, went further to rope in Barnard Castle musician Rosie Bradford to perform and record the three songs at The Hub, in Barnard Castle. He later presented the CDs of the songs to his brother and sister.
Mrs Gatenby said: “It has brought the whole story together. It is so lovely and Rosie has an amazing voice – she has brought it to life beautifully.”