Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quemado Woman Earns British Military Award

By John Severance

QUEMADO – It was back in 1940.
And Elsie Candelaria of Quemado, who recently received a long awaited medal of honor from the British military for her service as a member of the Women’s Land Army in World War II.
She remembers like it was yesterday.
She was just 15 at the time but she was a land girl for the British military and her job entailed that she be in charge of field workers, who picked crops in the Worcester area of England.
Regulations stipulated that those who entered the military be 18 years of age, but Candelaria, who was born in Wales, enrolled anyway.

“I put my age up at 15 and my brother his age up at 15. He was in Africa and when he was 16 he was with (General Bernard Law) Montgomery’s troops,” Candelaria, who turns 85 in April, recalled at the Quemado Senior Center this week. “I needed to be home. My father was dying. He was gassed in World War I and my mom was a fragile woman and I needed to be there.”
It was a normal summer day and she made the one and one-half mile walk to work. “The Battle of Britain was going on and all everybody knew about was the bombing of London. But the Germans also made regular bombing runs over Birmingham, which was 60 miles away in Coventry.”
The Germans had not made their way to Worcester.
At least not yet.
On this particular day, Candelaria and the other workers were picking green beans at Tooby’s Farm in Powick, about three miles from Worcester, which happens to be the birthplace of Worcestershire sauce.
About midway through the day, Candelaria remembered hearing the sound of a plane.
“It would get louder and quieter,” Candelaria said. “The field was wide and about three acres long. I remember looking over my shoulder and I could see the plane hedgehopping. It was getting really close. I yelled that it was a Gerry, that’s what we called the Germans.
“I told everybody to hit the deck and we all dove into the beans. But I looked up and the barrel of a machine gun was pointing right toward us and I could see the swastika on the leather helmet of the gunner. The plane passed over and I was sure he was going to come back and finish us off.”
But the plane banked and headed toward a school.
The Nazi plane’s gunner unloaded his machine gun on a playground, injuring or killing 19 children. Then the plane headed to Worcester and the gunner took out all the storefronts on the main street.
“Worcester was a defenseless city,” Candelaria said. “Nobody had any guns.”
The Germans never made any more bombing runs at Worcester, but occasionally when they made their runs to Birmingham or Coventry, they had an extra bomb in their bomb rack so they would drop it on their way back.
On two occasions, the bombs fell by the Candelaria house and it took out their windows.
Candelaria served as a land girl in the military until 1941 when she contracted pneumonia.
Candelaria eventually recovered and she worked at Rotol Air Screws factory in a variety of jobs until 1945.
But it was in 1944 when she made her New Mexico connection.
Near the end of February 1944, Candelaria and her sister decided to go to a dance in Worcester.
“The good thing about the dance was that no Americans were allowed,” Candelaria laughed. “When they were on leave, they were quite obnoxious and we really didn’t want anything to do with them. I also was engaged.
“So we went to the dance and I was with my sister. My sister went to the other side of the room and this American showed up and he should stood there. He went over to my sister and started talking to her and she didn’t tell him that she was my sister.
Then he started walking over to me and I said ‘Oh no.’
“I remember I was really not very nice because I was already engaged. So I asked him are you from New York and do you own a skyscraper?
“No ma’am,” Roger replied.
“Are you from Texas and do you own a big ranch?,” Elsie countered.
“No ma’am,” Roger said.
“Are you from Hollywood and you think you can get me in the movies?” Elsie asked.
“He said no ma’am I’m from New Mexico and I don’t own a doggone thing,” Roger said.
That American turned out to be Roger Candelaria, who was from Quemado.
Roger Candelaria stayed for a day.
“My mother really liked him,” Elsie said.
And apparently so did Elsie, who broke off her engagement.
The dance was in February and he proposed on leave in May and “we were married Sept. 25, 1944.”
A month later, Roger was ordered off to France with his company. On June 6 was the D-Day invasion at Normandy and Roger was on the scene two days later in a tank.
The Candelarias saw each just two more times until 1946.
“In 1946, I was one of 2,500 British brides that came over to New York on the Queen Mary. I knew nothing about New Mexico.
“The plan was for Roger to meet me in New York and we would take a long honeymoon train ride from New York to New Mexico. That was the plan anyway. We were in Tidworth, England and that’s where the authorities checked us out and checked our papers and vaccination records. There were German POWs there to make the bed and I told them not to touch my bed and I would make my own bed.
“We sailed to New York and we got there on the Sunday the 21st.”
When the ship landed in New York, Elsie waited and waited and waited for Roger.
But there was no Roger.
Because of a cable mixup, Roger had been told that his bride would not be in New York until Wednesday.
So Elsie started west on a train with a lot of other war brides.
Before leaving, the brides were given a tour of New York. They headed down Broadway and everybody gawked at the skyscrapers.
“We left from Grand Central Station, went to Canada, went to Chicago and I eventually got off in Albuquerque,” Elsie said. “The porter was Mr. Jackson and he was the nicest man. He helped all the women with their babies getting them milk and whatever else they might want.
“He asked me where I was going and I said Quemado, New Mexico, Box 65. He came back with a sackful of guest soap that they had in hotels. He told me you are going to need this because where you are going all they have is lye soap.”
The train arrived in Albuquerque and there was still no Roger.
“Everybody was gone but I saw two Red Cross ladies and I told them I was a British bride and that I was looking for husband. They looked at me like that I probably had been dumped. But they took me to lunch at the Alvarado hotel.
“This man kept looking at me after lunch. I was really nervous and I kept hiding my face.
He came up to me and asked me if I was Junior’s wife? I had never heard that Roger had been referred to as Junior and I said no.
“He walked away but he came back and asked me if I was Roger Candelaria’s wife. And I said yes, where is he? Well he is in New York looking for you. His name was Mr. Saiz and he was a very nice man.”
Saiz took Elsie down to Socorro and took her to the old Park Hotel where the Socorro post office stands near the Plaza.
Roger, after hearing that Elsie was in New Mexico, hopped on a transcontinental flight from New York to Albuquerque.
“He told me to close the door and not let anybody in because Socorro was one wild place,” Elsie said. “I finally was able to take a bath after spending four and a half days on the train. It was impossible to get any privacy on that train because I was helping the other brides with their babies.”
At 3 a.m. Friday, there was a knock on the door.
But Elsie was not about to open the door.
“But then I heard Roger’s voice, I was so relieved.”
The newlyweds were reunited, “but one of the first things he told me was that we had to be in Albuquerque Friday night because on Saturday we had to see Roger’s younger brother Billy star in a track meet and his sister perform in a piano recital.”
The Candelarias’ cross-country adventure was chronicled in a 1946 edition of the Albuquerque Journal and apparently the newspaper is coming to Quemado next week to talk with Elsie.
Roger and Elsie did not leave each others’ side. Roger worked in Albuquerque for a while. They lived in Michigan for about three years.
But in 1955, they moved to Quemado for good.
They had three children. Steve is a pastor at the Pie Town Baptist Church, Rhys owns his own truck and drives for Walmart and Tricia works at the prison in Grants.
They own a small cattle ranch in Quemado and Roger, through the help of the GI Bill, became a gas plumber and he was in charge of a propane gas company.
“He put in almost all the systems around here,” Elsie said.
Roger died of a stroke in 1992.
“He had some other health problems, but one day, he walked through the garage and he just dropped dead,” Elsie said
Elsie still is in fine health, although she is blind. The opthamologist told her that she had a stroke in her eyes.
Her blindness does not stop her.
She keeps busy around her home and makes some occasional stops at the Quemado Senior Center.
For years, Elsie was the organist at the First Baptist Church in Quemado and she taught adult bible study for more than 40 years. She also helped Roger with his business as well.
“I have a computer and through the commission of the blind, I have a program that speaks.”
Last year with the help of one of her nieces, Elsie found out that the British government was recognizing those who served as Land Girls in the military.
Elsie’s niece sent in her information and three weeks ago, Elsie received a medal of honor from the British government with a commendation from Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“I wish I could see it but people have told me that it is a very nice medal,” Elsie said.
It is indeed.

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