Chance meeting during war led to romance and marriage

Name: Peter Horan
Date: 1916-1918
Unit: 15th Field Ambulance
Location: France and Germany

When a young Australian Private, Peter Horan of the 15th Field Ambulance, met a young English WAAC while strolling by the sea at Boulogne, France, in 1917, he had no idea that they would be together for the rest of their lives.

Private Horan had been serving as an ambulance officer in France for more than a year when he was sent to Boulogne to run a prophylactic room for a week.

Writing in his diary on 19 December 1917, he recorded the eventful meeting.

"Yesterday afternoon I strolled along by the sea," he wrote. "The wind was blowing a hurricane, and quite by accident I made the acquaintance of a remarkably fine young lady of the WAACs - refined, bright and a nice disposition."

"She invited me to come to their evening on Boxing night; unfortunately I was unable to accept, knowing that I had to go back to camp on the morrow. I could not think of disappointing her, so arranged an appointment on Saturday next when we will dine together."

And so began a romance that was to last for many years. For despite being parted by the war, Peter Horan and Blanche Davis kept in touch and were eventually married in Australia after the war ended.

But back in Boulogne, Private Horan and Blanche went for a short stroll before dinner. Afterwards they spent a most enjoyable time on the end of the pier before returning at 8pm.

Peter wrote in his diary:

"She is a superior type of girl, well educated and speaks French fluently. We made a further appointment for next Friday."

But when Friday came there had been a mix up and his leave pass had not come through. Despite this problem, Private Horan was not about to miss out on his date and told his officer he was going anyway - and he did.

After afternoon tea at the YWCA, they walked to Wimmeraux and returned by tram in time for dinner. When he returned her to her hostel, Blanche gave him a photograph and a piece of her mother's pudding.

Private Horan continued to meet Blanche as often as possible, all the time knowing that his unit must soon return to the war after their rest period.

On 25 January, he had "the most enjoyable day I have ever spent in France." He met Blanche on her way home from work [as a telegraphist with the WAACs] at 7am and they set off on a long walk. He wrote in his diary

"Oh what a day we made of it, strolling arm in arm, light of heart; it was a tonic to the system."

"We passed streams, hills, fields, and everywhere seemed as if to bear us on - on - on. Arrived at a little café at the end of our journey, had a dainty little tea of omlette, chipped potatoes and peas, followed by coffee and honey.

"Started off from here at 6pm and took our time along the road. The large moon looked down on us, the four star of evening was ever before us as we took our way homeward.

"At Wimmeraux our luck was out. We had missed the last tram. It was now 8 o'clock and the dear kid had to be in by nine. We set off at a smart pace and kept to the path by the sea, meeting the road again half way to Boulogne."

Then their luck changed and they were given a lift which enabled Blanche to be back at her hostel right on 9pm.

Two days later he met Blanche again, knowing that he was about to return to the war.

"She and I walked slowly up the road, away into the quiet countryside, and there we pledged ourselves to be good friends to each other. A lump rose in my throat as I said goodbye to her. She has had an elevating influence on my life."

"We parted at the hostel at 4.30pm. Will we ever meet again? I sincerely hope so; she is both good and pure, refined and well educated, and I think likes me very much. We have been exceptionally good pals, Blanche and I. God bless her!"

Within a few days, Private Horan was back in the thick of it treating wounded soldiers during fighting on the Somme. His diary contained heavy criticism of the British troops.

"Tommies are said to have squibbed and our men put them to shame repelling attacks against overwhelming odds," he wrote. "The English Tommy as a soldier has lost his name. It is said they made no attempt to hold the Hun, but just retreated every night.

"When our 2/4th Div came up they passed the Tommies coming out in disorder. It is said that a few of our officers ordered Tommies back to the line at the muzzle of a revolver. Guns were left without even the sights being removed or destroyed in any way. It is a bad day for England."

Private Horan became Lance Corporal in April and continued to tend the wounded. He managed a few days leave in Paris and later a week in England before returning to the war as it was drawing to a close.

His diary entry for 11 November 1918 read:

"Armistice signed at 5am ce matin. Firing ceases at 11am ce matin. The boys take it very quietly. It seems incredible. This night there was rum and beer issued to the troops and there was hardly a sober man in the village. I believe there was great revelry in Abbeville."

Two weeks later he had a brief meeting with Blanche.

"She was coming out to see me. We had a couple of hours together. She was staying at the hostel over night and going to Dieppe the next day so I met her again next morning and saw her off."

Lance Corporal Horan was promoted to Sergeant and returned to Australia after the war resuming his work as a tailor. But he stayed in touch with Blanche and sent her an engagement ring through the post. She eventually migrated to Australia, travelling on the Beltana.

They were married at Sandringham in Melbourne on 30 July 1921, soon after she arrived from England and later produced two children, Frank and Joy.

The material for this article was supplied by Mrs E.J. Armstrong of Victoria


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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