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Memories of childhood days with future Queen

Dudley | News | Published:

She was friends with a young princess and was one of only a select few to call her Lilibet.

A Black Country widower has recalled his wife's childhood days spent with the future Queen of England. Andrew Turton?reports

She was friends with a young princess and was one of only a select few to call her Lilibet.

While many evacuees escaped the south east and the London blitz, Irene Middleton was moved to Windsor – and spent her childhood during wartime playing with the future Queen of England.

Now, her widower Francis Thomas Middleton, aged 81, recalls her tales of growing up with Queen Elizabeth as the country prepares to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee year.

"She was always proud of her time growing up with the princesses and she'd always liked sharing her memories of that time," says Mr Middleton, of Gornal Wood.

The Queen was among those who paid her respects to the Middleton family when Irene died almost three years ago.

They had written to Buckingham Palace to tell Her Majesty how fondly Irene remembered her time in Windsor.

And her lady-in-waiting wrote back to the family passing on the Queens' condolences and echoing Irene's sentiments about the time.

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Mrs Middleton was born Irene Charlotte Edmead to parents Lillian and John in Stepney in London's East End in 1931.

Her family was soon to be split up as the Government began plans to evacuate children from London in anticipation of the Nazi bombardment in 1939.

Mr Middleton said his bride-to-be had been heartbroken to leave her parents and other siblings behind as part of the mass evacuation aged just eight.

But little did she know, she and her sisters were moving into the regal surroundings of Windsor Great Park.

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Irene and her three sisters Ivy, Rose and Vera were sent to stay with different families living within the park in a row of cottages.

All the families were members of the Royal household working as servants and parks keepers and were given homes within the impressive park.

"She had been very sad to leave her parents but luckily she stayed with a good family who were nice to her," says Mr Middleton.

"The sisters would see each other a lot but they all lived with different families in this row of cottages which must have been strange for them coming from a big family."

It was during their stay that they grew to know the Royal sisters, Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth. They had been living at the Royal Lodge within the grounds of Windsor before moving into the castle itself for the remainder of the war.

To make their stay more enjoyable, both joined the Windsor Park Brownie group where the sisters were members.

The young princesses were encouraged to mix with the other children including the four Edmead sisters.

One of the highlights of their time at Windsor was starring with the princesses in the pantomime Cinderella for Christmas 1941.

They were all given parts in the show with Margaret and Elizabeth, who was in her early teens, in starring roles.

"Irene always said Margaret had been a type of tomboy but Elizabeth seemed more sophisticated even then," Mr Middleton explained.

"But they did not look down on anybody, they were just nice people. They had a picture taken of the cast but Irene wasn't in it – I think she was one of those children they couldn't get to sit down for long enough.

"Irene said that often the King and Queen would arrive at Windsor to see the princesses. They would come and see all the children and would stay to speak to them."

While the sisters were living in idyllic surroundings, her parents suffered in the Blitz as their home in Stepney was destroyed.

The family took the decision to move up to the Midlands and settled in Sedgley taking the four sisters with them in around 1942.

Irene attended Red Hall School before going to work at a bandage material manufacturers known as The Scrim.

Born and bred Black Countryman Francis, known to everyone as Tom, was born in Summer Lane, Gornal, before moving to a new home in Boundary Hill.

He attended nearby Roberts Street School before getting to know Irene though mutual friends who used to meet up in the centre of Gornal near the Red Lion pub and market place.

The pair soon got together and wrote to each other while Tom joined the infantry on his National Service in the Far East.

They married in March 1951 at St James's Church, in Lower Gornal, and soon moved into a new home, in Stickley Lane

Mr Middleton worked as a motor mechanic at his uncle's Fred Corbett Garage in Netherton and a series of other factories.

The coupley settled in the Gornal area, and had sons Brian, Michael and Keith.

Mr Middleton said they couple loved to travel and visited a host of destinations including Australia, Spain, and Cyprus.

They also had three grandchildren and now have two great grand children.

Mrs Middleton died in March 2009 aged 77. He paid tribute to the Queen for her kind words, adding: "It was a nice thing for her to do and I feel very proud. She has been a lovely Queen and to think she remembers back to those days of the pantomime is just wonderful."

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