1914 - 1918

Ypres - Mons

A Tangible Memory
1939 - 1945
Great Britain
A Short Conversation with Moyra Cousins
     

Moyra Cousins in 1939...

 

...and with her sister Alisa (at right) in uniform.

 

 

 


Rudolf:
Moyra, this year, 2008, it is 90 years ago that World War I ended.

Moyra: Yes, it ended at the 11th hour, 11th of November, 1918.

Rudolf: Although you were not yet born, all your life you were sort of reminded of that war because your father had fought in it and later, when World War II broke out, you yourself enlisted, in the "Women's Auxiliary Air Force". Was this move inspired by your father?

Moyra: Yes, it was.

Rudolf: In what way?

Moyra: My father encouraged all four children from a very young age to do something for one's country. My mother and her brother, who was of course our uncle and a doctor, enlisted in 1939. So did my brother and elder sister. As her third child I thought "me too"! This I did in secret, being under age at the time. Had my father known, who was an Air Ministry Official, all he would have to do was raise a finger, and I was out! This also was the reason that I secretly enlisted. When five months later he was informed of my action, he said "I know you! If I get you out now you will do something else, for example volunteering to work in an ammunition factory or the Women's Land Army. So, Moyra Cousins, remember who you are, never forget your name, nor do anything incorrect. I want to be proud of you, is that plain?"

Rudolf: You were sweet sixteen and they let you in?

Moyra: Yes, at the time you did not need to show your birth certificate. It was a chaotic time, especially in the beginning of the war.

Rudolf: What was your task there?

Moyra: There were only a few trades like cooking, driving, cleaning and administration. Having shorthand and typewriting I started off with general office work and eventually found my 'forte' which was Intelligence work.
   
 

The most famous Lp from the 1950s with the original music as played by the Glenn Miller Band: His Master's Voice DLP 1024 released at the occasion of the Universal International movie from 1954
"The Glenn Miller Story" starring James Stewart and June Allyson.

 

   
   

Rudolf:
You were one of the last persons who talked to famous bandleader Glenn Miller before he entered the aircraft which should take him to France, in 1944.

Moyra: This is correct. His orchestra went in a troop aircraft, and he in a separate plane. This was normal in such cases and still is today.

Rudolf: Being one of the last persons to speak to him before he died, were you aware of the significance at the time?

Moyra: Yes, I was aware of the loss to the world of music.

Rudolf: For that you have been invited several times to attend a concert of the Glenn Miller Orchestra as it exists today. You also have been invited several times to attend gatherings at SHAPE, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, located near Brussels, to commemorate the ending of World War II. And also World War One in which your father fought. Is that how he got his position in the Air Ministry?

Moyra: I do not know that the War as such was behind this, though it is possible. In the beginning he was a volunteer reserve officer and called up. He later fought at Ypre (Ieper) and Mons in Belgium. He became an Air Force Ministry official two and a half years later, after the war, in 1920, and keeping his post until he finally retired in 1967.


IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yopurs to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

William Henry Cousins, Moyra's father, fought in The Trench War in the 3rd Regiment "Queens Own" Royal West Kent Regiment (5th Army), 3rd Batt. 7th Batt. No. 6 Platoon.

 

 

 

 

 

Every soldier was given a tube and a small blue tin box the size of a cigarette case with
Ointment Anti-Gas No. 5.
On the box is printed:
"For decontamination swab off free liquid from skin and apply ointment freely to the affected area as soon as possible, rub in vigorously for at least 30 seconds. If applied to the skin before exposure to an atmosphere contaning musterd gas vapour only, the ointment will prevent or lessen the severety of a burn. Keep away from eyes. To obtain ointment from tube see directions on back of box."


Rudolf:
Your father fought in the trenches against the Germans.

Moyra: History tells that the trench war was the worst. He should have been killed and then I would not have been born. Moreover, it is remarkable that no official document which I possess mentions his service number and the service numbers of his troops.

Rudolf: Yet you know exactly what happened then and there.

Moyra: My father of course told us. He and his comrades received a direct hit from a German shell which exploded. The fragments killed his 16 soldiers.

Rudolf: But your father stayed alive.

Moyra: He was also hit by a number of fragments and one of these hit his rucksack, going straight through the contents of it and came out in the front of his body and then regrettably killed the soldier in front of him.


The Army Instruction Book
A tin with The Greys (Silk Cut Virginia Cigarettes)
One caki hand towel
A land cart of Belgium Trenches corrected to 1. 4. 1917, sheet 28 N.W.
The rucksack,
An enameled white drinking cup
The Field Message Book for the use of Dismounted Regimental Officers of Cavalry and Infantery

The cricket team after the game on a Sunday afternoon. Standing, 4th from right, William Henry Cousins.


"Is My Team Plowing" from 'On Wenlock Edge', composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams had a special meaning for soldiers in the trench war.

You may want to view and listen to Ian Bostridge and Bernard Haitink filmed during the recording.

Is My Team Plowing


Rudolf: It is a miracle that your father did not bleed to death.

Moyra: It’s a miracle and it is quite unique. I suppose that the medical team found him alive, surrounded by his 16 dead soldiers. They took him to the field hospital and was later returned to a hospital in England.

Rudolf: You possess his rucksack and the complete contents with it.

Moyra: Yes, it shows that the shrapnel went through the canvas and hit his officer’s papers, his enameled mug, a tin tobacco box, a caki towel, and so on. It was really a miracle. My father was for two years in a spinal carriage and after he had recovered he went to the Air Ministry. Because of his injuries he had to wear a special corset for the rest of his entire life. But somehow he managed to do even some sport in the form of cricket. He was good at it too! This I well recall as a child, but I did not at the time realize how truly amazing it was! He is my hero and I am proud to have had such a courageous man as my father.

Amsterdam, November 2008

Moyra Cousins in her early 80s, standing in her booth with silverware and silver objects at Looier Antique Market in Amsterdam in 2008.

Is My Team Plowing