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Photography by Nastya Sensei | Written by  Jannnica Cuaresma


One day that year, as Frances was on her way to work, a machine gun fired rapidly, relentlessly, and furiously nearby, flooding every inch of her body with reverberating terror.  Though she remained physically unharmed, this event was a major turning point in her life – a clear indication that the life that she had, once quiet and still, was finally tossed into the turbulence of war.

It was in the year 1939 when World War II came over England like a vicious storm cloud, devastating various parts of the country, and quickly approaching the serene seaside town of Eastbourne.  It was in this town that Frances May Elphick, then 16 years old, lived with her family and worked as a private secretary, since graduating from school where she learned the skills of bookkeeping and short-hand typing.  One day that year, as Frances was on her way to work, a machine gun fired rapidly, relentlessly, and furiously nearby, flooding every inch of her body with reverberating terror.  Though she remained physically unharmed, this event was a major turning point in her life – a clear indication that the life that she had, once quiet and still, was finally tossed into the turbulence of war.


A year later, while Frances was at home, a bomber aircraft soared across the sky and dropped a bomb right outside of her house.  Miraculously, the bomb didn’t explode.  But, with danger lurking right above their home, Frances and her family, along with the entire south coast of England, was evacuated.  There was no time to prepare.  Not physically.  Not mentally.  Not emotionally.  The only things they carried were a few articles of clothing and a strong desire to preserve what they valued the most in life – each other.


The bond Frances shared with her family was strong, forged by a happy lifestyle.  As the youngest child, Frances grew up with her mother, her father, her sister, Dorothy, who was seven years older, and her brother, Bob, who was fourteen years older.  It was from them that she learned the importance of maintaining quality relationships with family and friends. Her mother and father always encouraged her to treat and regard others with sincere kindness. Her siblings, Dorothy and Bob, would ride their bicycles with her. They cruised through Eastbourne with innocent and carefree spirits. Along with their friends, they wiggled their toes in the sand and splashed around in the cool salt water of the beach.  They attended local dances, and lamented or laughed at the movie theatres.  Whenever they could, Frances and her family visited relatives who lived nearby.  Every moment of Frances’ childhood was spent connecting with and having fun delighting in the company of the people she cared for the most.


 “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover will be yourself.”

-Alan Alda



Soon, Frances and her family found themselves among relatives far in the countryside, and they were finally at a safe distance from the war.  But, it wasn’t long before Frances was no longer able to suppress her enthusiasm for an active life.  Even though Eastbourne was still suffering from the wrath of war, Frances went back to her hometown.  There, she happened to meet an old friend named Jean, who was beautifully sporting a thoughtfully executed clothing ensemble that remained intact even through the most grueling manual labor:  an olive-green sweater, accented beneath its neckline by a short sleeved, collared pressed shirt; corduroy riding breeches; socks that met at the calves; and a matching hat, pointing frontwards with an implicit pride.  Jean was clad in the uniform of those who joined The Women’s Land Army, an organization that recruited women to work on various farms, temporarily replacing the six million men who were fighting in the war.  It was in the company of her good friend, Jean, that Frances decided to also join The Women’s Land Army.


To her delight, Frances was initially assigned to the same farm as Jean, and it was there that they bonded with a girl named Margie.  In due course, Frances, Jean, and Margie were re-assigned to different farms at different times, as the location and duration of assignments were inconstant.  Determined to maintain their friendship, the three of them kept in touch, and when it was possible, they visited each other. They remained close friends, even after the war. Eventually, Margie married and began a new life in New Zealand. Today, she is still going strong at the age of 92.  Jean also married and later moved near Frances in Florida, but has passed onto endless peace.


“Love isn’t something you find.
Love is something that finds you.”

– Loretta Young

The year 1944 brought with it a complicated brew of rekindled optimism and agony, as different countries involved in World War II progressed towards or regressed from their wartime objectives.  This year also brought with it a new season in Frances’ life.  Not only was she re-assigned to a different farm as a pest controller, she also became a first-hand witness to how the United States Navy strengthened its presence in England, creating an influx of U.S. Armed Forces servicemen, and an array of social occasions that provided a platform for interaction between the English and the Americans.  At the naval bases, dances were organized every Saturday night.  Frances and many other girls from various farms would be picked up by trucks and driven to the naval bases for a night of dancing and mingling.  During one of these dances, she met a young man.


The young man was neatly clad in a blazer that was of the same hue as the deepest part of a midnight sky and was held together by a column of evenly-spaced metal buttons; the ends of its long sleeves trimmed with black; the shoulders lined with a layer of fabric fastened with a metal button and embellished with a row of metal stars; the chest pocket surrounded by various symbols of rank.  Completing this royal and masculine attire was a polished pair of black dress shoes, black dress pants, a tie precisely knotted between the collar of a white dress shirt, and an aviator hat garnished with a magnificent emblem – the mighty eagle of the U.S. Navy.


While the young man’s attire was regal to any beholder, and it was certainly so to Frances, it was his personality, manner, and hypnotizing Italian accent that Frances gravitated towards, and soon she learned that this young man, seemingly splendid both inside and outside, was named Tony.  The rest of that night unfolded with a kind of casual bliss of meeting someone whom one felt comfortable with, as if that person was a close acquaintance – or more – from a past life.


Tony was born in Catania, Sicily, and he grew up on a farm.  When his parents emigrated to the U.S., he stayed behind and lived with his grandmother, who reared him like one of her own children.  Although his grandmother lived in a house without electricity, there were candles Tony could use for light while he was doing his homework at night, and she had many relatives that lived with them. Thus, like Frances, Tony grew up in a close-knit family, where their most valuable possessions were each other.


Eventually, Tony was old enough to attend Naval College in Catania.  But, when his grandmother died, he could not afford the tuition, and his parents, who were by that time already American citizens, sent for him.  So, he moved to the U.S. and while it was difficult to cope with the culture shock, he adjust into a home that had five other boys, and got by day-to-day while his parents had low-paying jobs. Tony worked hard and eventually found his way back to the armed forces.  Driven by his love of planes, Tony became a private pilot, later joined the Navy, and then became a naval pilot for the Navy in Pensacola in 1941.


“Absence diminishes mediocre passions
and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes
candles and fans fires.”

– Francois de La Rouchefoucauld


After that night of the dance, Frances and Tony were separated often, as the tides of World War II continued to change.  But, determined to get to know each other and to strengthen their relationship, they went on dates, though the chances for them were few and sporadic.  Sometimes, their relationship felt like a case of hit and miss.  But, all the toils and the heaviness that comes with waiting for the person that seemed to have brought with them the other side of one’s heart were worth enduring.  As long as it all led to Tony, it was all worth it for Frances.


A year and a half later, as World War II was reaching its conclusion, Tony was sent back to the U.S. with the notion that he might be re-assigned to Japan.  With circumstances then out of their hands, Frances and Tony bid their farewells to one another, deeply wishing to see each other once again, at least one more time later in their lives. Soon, Tony was on the Queen Mary sailing across the Pacific Ocean, en route to America, physically and mentally preparing for what might be the most perilous assignment he ever had.  It might even be his last.  But, on the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This tragic event began the end of World War II, but it also allowed Frances and Tony to finally begin their life together.


1946, in contrast to the years of war, was a sweet year. Frances was one of the few civilian passengers on a plane traveling from England to La Guardia in New York.  It was there that she was finally reunited with Tony, who came all the way from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and where they eventually married.  Within a year, they had a beautiful daughter, they met friends that remained close for many years, and Tony got a job with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). After that, fate gave them the opportunity to live in many places, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where their son was born; Virginia; and Long Island, New York, where Tony retired as an aviator in 1975 and where Frances worked at a post office. Then it was onto Florida where they finally settled and bought a house and a boat.


They came full circle, back to the beginning, and found each other again.  Tony’s tailored uniform was replaced with cotton collared t-shirts, featured with a pocket on the left side where his sunglasses could rest.  His dress shoes were replaced with leather sandals, more fitting for walks, hand-in-hand with Frances.  Frances’ beauty blossomed even more under tropical dresses of flowing skirts and button down shirts. The sweet smell of Italian cooking perfumed their beautiful house, which was graced with gardens, a wrap-around lanai, and a view of the water.  Frances and Tony filled their home with love and happiness, reminiscent of the homes they grew up in, and when their children were grown and lived independent lives, Frances and Tony did what their hearts bid them.  Together, they sailed the canals near their home, and even caught fish sometimes.  They traveled to numerous European countries, including Scotland, Wales, Italy, and Switzerland.  They also explored New Zealand, Australia, and several parts of South America.  They often bowled, and tried many new things by joining a variety of clubs.  They lived their lives like they were dating again.  But, perhaps “again” is an inappropriate term in this case, because Frances’ and Tony’s hearts didn’t age a day.  Every day for fifty five years, Frances and Tony loved each other the best way that they could, as fiercely as when they first met, even when challenges like the war made the road to happiness difficult.  They did not let a moment pass when they did not manifest their love for each other in some way, shape, or form. 


It was a love of a lifetime, first through war and then to the peaceful seaside of the Florida beaches.  It was a life of devotion to the very end, sweet like all of the love letters that began with, “My darling Frances.”  Tony suffered from congenital heart failure and passed in the year 1999 without a single regret, and Frances continues to live her life with Tony in her heart. Never forgetting where they began, and always remembering their unspoken promise that while they were over a decade apart in age, he had, as she wished, lived as long as he could until the age of 92.


“Although no one can go back and make
a brand new start, anyone can start
from now and make a brand new ending.”

– Carl Bard



Frances, even after Tony had passed, never lost sight of seeking happiness in life, and she did so by spending as much time as she could with family.  She delighted whenever her children and grandchildren came home to visit her.  At least once a year, she, herself, would go home and visit her relatives in England. During one of her trips home, she found a link to a part of her life that seemed to have disappeared back during the times of war; she learned that one of her childhood friends was, indeed, alive and living well.


This old friend was named Ray, and he was one of the young boys that would hang out, ride bicycles, have picnics, swim at the beaches, and attend the local dances with Frances and her friends.  At the beginning of World War II, Ray was among the many brave young men who joined the Royal Air Force (RAF).  In 1940, he was sent to Georgia, U.S.A. with his squadron.  They wore civilian clothes to train as pilots incognito, as the U.S. was still making its way to being a key player in the war.  After flight training and earning his Wings, he was deployed back to Great Britain. Some months later, while returning from a mission to Germany, Ray was shot down in the English Channel, where the crew of a Greek fishing boat rescued him. At that moment, reality turned from bad to worse, and to his horror realized the Greek fishing boat was under the command of Germans. Ray then became a prisoner of war (POW) and at the age of 20 found his flying days to be over.


Although many people lost their lives during World War II, Ray survived, and he eventually came back to England. After a long convalescence and suffering from his confinement and starvation as a POW, he built a successful career, married, and had a family.


“Every new beginning comes from
some other beginning’s end.”

– Seneca


During one of her yearly visits to England, Frances was able to reconnect with her childhood friend Ray.  Using a number she received from a mutual friend, she called Ray.  It had been decades since they had last seen or spoken with each other, so there was an excitement fused with anxiety about how the conversation would take place.  Would it begin with a polite “Hello,” or end swiftly after a “Sorry, wrong number?”  Or, much worse for Frances who highly values quality friendships in her life, would the conversation end excruciatingly with, “Frances who?”  Fortunately, the conversation began with an instant recognition of voices of old friends, and for an entire year afterward, it continued through letters, as Frances and Ray tried to catch up with everything that they missed in each other’s lives for the past several decades.


Although Frances still lives in Florida, and Ray lives in England, these two old-time friends continued to strengthen their relationship by visiting one another.  Subsequent summers were spent together in England, with the winter-times together in the U.S.  Recently, they have been communicating by email and phone. 


And now, after going through World War II and a number of life’s war-like occasions, Frances is at peace once again.  Her life is filled with family, friends, and infinite happiness.  Her immediate family members are now fully grown – her lovely daughter, successful son and daughter-in-law, four granddaughters, and four great grandchildren. 


“Everyone has ups and downs in life,

but when you make up your mind

to be happy, you will be happy.”

– Frances Elphick





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