Pat Smith, 86, holds a photo of her late husband, Byron, from his days in the military. (Amy Vogelsang Photo)
It was 1943. England’s WWII had been going on for nearly f our years, and although it impacted the country as a whole, there were some who took the less-than-ideal circumstances and found a silver lining within the chaos.
Pat Smith was one such person.
Being only 12 when the war broke out, Smith was not as distraught as her older sister. But when 1943 rolled around, her world —unbeknownst to her at the time — was forever changed.
Her family owned a small pub, The Seven Stars, and although women weren’t typically allowed to run them (“When men get tipsy they don’t just get tipsy, Smith explained) her mother was allowed to carry on with the business in her father’s absence so long as no problems arose.
This little pub with its round tables ended up attracting five American officers – one of whom was named Byron “Smitty” Smith.
They walked in, sat down and asked Smith’s mother what there was to drink. After hearing the list, one man swiftly replied:
“Well, I’ll tell you what: Everybody has decided they’d like a beer. I’m going to pay, but I’m going to let you explain the money to us, and let you handle the money. I know you won’t diddle us.”
After that The Seven Stars became their local haunt. Even after 10 p.m. when beer could no longer be served, they would drop by just for the camaraderie and atmosphere of the pub.
“They would come around closing time,” Smith explained. “Mother would say, ‘Come in and make yourselves comfortable, but I can’t sell you any beer.’ And they said, ‘That’s OK. We just want to get to know our British family.’”
Smith wasn’t even supposed to be in the bar as she was not yet 16, but because her mother needed the help, Smith would often find herself behind the counter, towel in hand, cleaning glasses.
One night when she walked to the back in the serving area, she saw a captain watching her.
“I saw this guy standing there and kind of smiling, you know,” she said. “And I said, ‘Sir, I hear you are a Texan where it takes them forever to yes or no.’ And he said that was the opening, and that’s what did it in.”
From then on, Smitty followed Smith around, completely smitten as it were. But Smith was not one to let things happen easily and she would keep telling him she was not yet 16, to which he always replied: “I don’t care.”
Smitty’s “partner in crime,” Maj. Earl Carral, however, did care. He pulled Smith aside one night and told her to leave Smitty alone as he was practically engaged to his sister-in-law.
“I’m to leave Smitty alone?” she had asked in shock. “Don’t you see the shoe is on the other foot? Smitty better leave me alone because you don’t know my temper yet.”
And indeed, Smith was not one to let things go: She set out to get even.
That incident was on a Thursday, and on the following Saturday, they had a party at the pub for the gents, a common occurrence at The Seven Stars. Smith had recently learned to make mince pies, and so decided to make exactly 11 for the gentlemen.
All the pies were delicious, except for one. She reserved a special pie for Maj. Carral, one filled with wool instead of sweetness. And when he bit into it he spat and sputtered and tried to chase Smith. His colonel, however, held Carral back saying he had better apologize or leave. Turns out everyone learned of the little discussion he had with Smith, and no one had taken the major’s side.
But in the end all the men had to leave, as Smith knew would eventually be the case.
“(Smitty) kissed me goodbye and left,” she said, the remorse in her voice making it clear the memories were still sharp. “That was the last time I saw him for (about) 16 months.”
In the time he was away, she moved to a different village, into a small cottage. Nevertheless, one afternoon there was a knock at the door.
“I opened the door, and I said, ‘Smitty I thought you were dead!’ There he stood. And he said, ‘Yeah, can I come in?’ I said ‘Yeah.’” Meanwhile, the taxi driver, having been one of multiple drivers taking Smitty on his scavenger hunt to find Smith, was grinning ear to ear.
Turns out Smitty had given himself his own furlough just to seek out Smith and see her again. They went on walks and talked, about nothing in particular. They enjoyed their time together. Of course, like all great romances, this one was cut short when Smitty had to return to his post nine days later.
“Towards the end of his furlough, he looked down at me,” Smith recalled. “He stopped, and my hand was in his. He said, ‘I don’t know what… How is this… Well, I’m so much older than you.’”
He was 11 going on 12 years older.
“He was getting very amorous, and I said behave. We’re going to behave. Of course, I was 17 by this point … he said, ‘Well you’re still that pretty girl I fell in love with.’ That was the closest he ever came to asking me to marry him. He never said he loved me. I mean he kissed me, but a lot of guys did.”
Yet, somehow it was different with Smitty. But their nine days together ended, and she waved him off at the train station.
Nine days later, there was a knock at the door.
“Smitty!,” Smith had exclaimed. There he was, once again standing at her door. He had given himself another furlough, and the men all said, “There must be a woman in the picture.” He said, “No, there’s a nice young lady.”
“Who you talking about?” Smith had asked, to which Smitty replied, “I don’t know what to think of you.”
Smith had fallen in love. And saying goodbye to him on the train was as painful as ever. For both of them. Smitty wrote later:
“It was horrible looking back and seeing your mournful little face watching as the train moved out with me on it.”
“You don’t know how bad it was,” Smith had replied.
But being apart did not stop them from falling in love, and although few and far in between, the occasional letter solidified their decision to get married.
After the war, Smitty went back to the States, and on Oct. 19, 1947, Smith joined him in Texas.
“Come on let’s get married,” Smitty had said.
“Wait a minute; let me catch my breath,” Smith responded.
They waited 10 days for her to “catch her breath,” and on Oct. 29, they were married. They remained so for 57 years until Smitty passed away in August of 2005.
“So it was a long courtship,” Smith concluded. “A long waiting time. But it worked out.”