Torn apart by war as the world was riven by conflict, only words on a page kept their young love alive.
Trevor Smith and Margaret Gibb had only been together a few short months before the RAF spitfire pilot went off to war in 1943.
But a moving cache of handwritten letters reveal how the couple kept the flickering flame of their love alive before they could reunite three years later.
Often spanning more than eight pages and always filled with declarations of devotion, their handwritten notes helped build a relationship that led to marriage and four happy decades together.
Now, after Trevor’s death, the letters he tied in yellow ribbon have been rediscovered and helped inspire granddaughter Rebecca Devine to create a jewellery collection documenting her grandparents’ transatlantic love story.
She named her jewellery company Smith & Gibb after them, and believes keeping their story alive has helped her to feel closer to her family’s past.
Rebecca, 28, said around 300 letters written by her grandfather from Canada, where he was stationed between 1943 and 1946, have survived and his love and affection for his wife-to-be are evident on every page.
After Trevor returned from Canada, the couple married in Aberdeen in 1948. They then relocated to Callander, Perthshire, where they settled down to have their children, Margaret, Valerie, and David. Later eight grandchildren followed.
The family ultimately moved to Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, where they designed and built a home together. So strong was their love, the couple even worked at the same school, Trevor serving as headmaster and Margaret working as the receptionist.
After 45 years together, Margaret passed away in 1994 and Trevor followed 10 years later. Without darling Margaret, the family say Trevor was “heartbroken living his life without her”.
Rebecca said: “His letters mostly starting with, ‘To my darling Margaret’ or ‘Dearest Margaret’ and he poured his heart into them.
“Although it has been quite a few years since my first collection, I still use their story as inspiration for my work. After Dearest Margaret, I created a set of jewellery called Stamp Collection, which used the colours from the stamps of the time – strong blue, yellow, green and orange – and simplified shapes of envelopes. I tried to really create a mix of vintage and modern.
“I think about my grandparents a lot when I’m making and designing jewellery. I’ve got their wedding photograph tacked up in my studio, alongside a bundle of letters in a drawer. They had a romantic life from beginning to end.”
Rebecca explained how her grandparents’ love inspired her work. “It all really started when I was in my third year of studying for an undergraduate degree in jewellery and metal design at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee,” explained Rebecca, who lives in Glasgow.
“We were working on a project loosely based on a Valentine’s theme, finding inspiration, designing and making pieces of jewellery. I explained the project to my parents and family, and that prompted my aunt Maggie to tell me about my papa’s love letters.
“After moving into my grandparents’ house, she discovered the letters mixed together in plastic bags, uncared for and amongst photographs of my papa in the RAF. We counted more than 300 letters just from my grandad. He had been sent to Canada at the age of 18 to train with the RAF in preparation for the Second World War, flying spitfire planes, while my gran stayed in Aberdeen. They really didn’t know each other well before he left, and only began getting to know each other via the letters.”
As part of her graduate degree show in 2014, Rebecca used the letters to create 14 bespoke pieces of jewellery, with each of the Darling Margaret brooches, necklaces and earrings featuring her grandad’s handwritten notes.
Alongside the jewellery, the designer played Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune – the song which reminded Trevor of their love – and set up a writing bureau where visitors could pen their own letters. She then posted each of the 100 letters around the world, using stamps featuring her grandparents’ wedding photo. Rebecca said: “Initially I really wanted to create pieces that got people talking and thinking about love letters during the war.
“Each piece hinted at the love letters, some with bits of writing, and all were really personal. I sold a couple of the original 14 pieces but I felt a bit funny selling them – I felt they were mine in a way.
“But it was nice to pass on a piece of my grandparents’ story. The people I met loved them so much, so I felt comfortable letting them have them.”
Now, having just married her partner of nine years, Scott, 30, Rebecca is embarking on her own love story. And on her wedding day in September last year, she made sure her grandparents were there in spirit.
She said: “I wore a pair of the oval tassel earrings that originated from the Darling Margaret collection, which were enamelled copper with gold and silk thread.”
She added: “I would love to continue to use elements of my grandparents in future projects. I felt a deeper connection to them even though they have both passed away. We’re just so lucky to have the letters.”
Passion on a page… the best love letters ever sent
Johnny Cash to June Carter, 1994
Cash often said June “stole his heart”, and the pair spent more than 30 years together before her passing in 2003. Cash penned this letter on his love’s 65th birthday. “Maybe sometimes we take each other for granted. But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realise how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met.”
Beethoven to his Immortal Beloved, 1812
The composer’s lover remains a mystery to this day, but his thoughts were always clear. “What longing in tears for you – You – my Life – my All – farewell. Oh, go on loving me – never doubt the faithfullest heart of your beloved L. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.”
Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor, 1964
Married and divorced twice, the Hollywood It couple are proof love is never easy. But during their first marriage, things were a lot simpler for Burton. “My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you. You don’t realize of course, E.B., how fascinatingly beautiful you have always been, and how strangely you have acquired an added and special and dangerous loveliness.”
Kathleen Kelly to Joe Fox, 1998
Considered to be one of the greatest rom-coms of all time, the characters in You’ve Got Mail (played by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks) develop their love over email. Reflecting on their correspondence, Kathleen writes: “I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings.”
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