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Finding love on the tennis courts: Windsor woman recalls growing up in Europe during the Second World War

Barbara Hughes reflects on a happy life in Windsor following the Second World War.
Barbara Hughes reflects on a happy life in Windsor following the Second World War. - Carole Morris-Underhill

WINDSOR, N.S. — Spending afternoons creating Molotov cocktails with her father, Barbara Hughes had experiences that many young people today couldn’t begin to fathom.

But for Hughes, those experiences were simply day-to-day occurrences as families endured the harsh realities of the Second World War.

“Every night we would go down in the cellar to sleep. The place could be levelled upstairs — you had a better chance of surviving down there,” recalled Hughes. “It seems so unreal now.”

Hughes, the lone child of William and Dorothy Margaret Pope, grew up in Bournemouth, England. The Germans never attacked the seaside community, which was located on the southern coast of England, by ground strike, however, there were incendiary bomb raids. The community members carried gas masks with them, and received instructions on what to do if there was an attack. Her father was a member of the Home Guard, which largely consisted of men who had previous military experience. He had fought in the First World War.

“At the beginning of the war, everybody wanted to wear a uniform and do our bit,” said Hughes.

“My mother, she volunteered to work in a gas cleansing station because we expected the Germans to gas us. We all ran around with gas masks,” she said.

At the gas cleansing station, Hughes said her mother had to wear multiple layers — something that was too taxing on her physically.

“At the gas cleansing station, she put all this clothing on so that she could operate all the stuff and wash everybody off. Well, she’d pass out,” said Hughes. “She never once put it on when she didn’t pass out so they decided that a career for her in that was not very promising.”

From clothing and food, to luxuries like batteries and toys, everyday items were rationed or restricted throughout the war. Residents learned to make do and live as frugally as possible. The threat of being gassed or struck by a bomb was never far from their minds.

Barbara and Gordon Hughes first met on a tennis court in Bournemouth, England during the Second World War. The pair married in 1950.
Barbara and Gordon Hughes first met on a tennis court in Bournemouth, England during the Second World War. The pair married in 1950.

A chance meeting

In 1942, the West Cliff Lawn Tennis Club, where her family had a membership, was bombed. The neighbouring houses suffered minor damage but the tennis courts were destroyed. With the family being avid players, they began attending the tennis courts located downtown. That’s where Hughes met her future husband, Gordon.

Hailing from Windsor, N.S., Gordon Hughes made his way overseas as a pilot and wireless airgunner with the RCAF. His father had served in the 112th Regiment during the First World War, so enlisting came naturally. Shortly after Gordon Hughes arrived in Bournemouth, he went looking for a game of tennis.

“Well, I think he was down there looking for a game with the groundsman. I knew the groundsman so when I came down, the groundsman suggested we hit balls together because we were the only two people there,” recalled Hughes with a chuckle.

Rubber was in scarce supply due to the war effort, but when he arrived at the courts, he had tennis balls with him. Hughes said her school had already switched to playing cricket due to the tennis ball shortage.

“We were just hitting balls together at the behest of the groundsman. I wasn’t thinking anything at the time,” said Hughes, when asked how the courtship began.

He was stationed in Bournemouth for several months, before being deployed to various posts in Birmingham, Scarborough, and northern England. The pair stayed in contact. As their affection grew, Hughes said she was determined to finish her schooling before getting married.

“I wanted to finish university and also complete my training as a lawyer and things like that,” said Hughes, adding that she managed to “stretch out” the timeline to be married.

She attended the University of London and then joined Gray’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court.

In 1948, while attending university, she spent her summer vacationing in Nova Scotia with Hughes, visiting the various tourist sites and playing tennis.

On June 10, 1950, they wed overseas and spent their honeymoon in Wales.

While Gordon Hughes was living in Windsor waiting for her to arrive, “he formed the Lancaster Sports Club, which is where Walkers Restaurant is (now),” said Hughes. The society consisted of a clubhouse, canteen, tennis courts and a swimming pool.

“All these things were rather philanthropic,” said Hughes.

“Gordon opened it for the Red Cross so children could learn to swim and he formed the Windsor Tennis Club and had almost 100 juniors when I arrived here,” she continued.

“His business acumen was considerably less than his desire to do all of these things. The result was, after three years, he closed it.”

Gordon F. Hughes went on to found the Evangeline Savings and Mortgage Company in June 1964 and over the years, the pair once again gave back to the community.

They donated the land that the Gordon Hughes Tennis Club, located on College Road, was built on, as well as helped financially to see the tennis courts constructed. Throughout their years in Windsor, they remained active tennis players, winning countless trophies, titles and silver platters.

Gordon Hughes died in 2001. They were married for 51 years. They had one child, Trevor, who is the chief executive officer of Evangeline Wealth Management — an offshoot of Hughes’ original company, and they have one granddaughter.

Reflecting on the war and the positive life they built in Canada, the soft-spoken 90-year-old Windsor resident said it’s important for people to never forget what can happen.

She mentioned current atrocities occurring around the world, and said people must stand against such undue suffering and violence.

“History is everything. It’s terribly important that people today know what happened and also the great sacrifice that some people paid,” said Hughes.

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