Around seventy-five years ago this hand-embroidered silk dress was made for me in China, and rather surprisingly managed to make its way to England in the early years of World War 2. I was born just after the outbreak of war, and have vivid memories of my clothes when I was a young child. I remember the textures as much as anything, for I grew up in a time when clothes were scarce and everything was passed on, passed down, recycled, remade. But this dress, with its matching embroidered knickers was made especially for me, and sent right across the world for me. Sensational stuff, and a source of considerable pride to my mother.
I hated this dress. I hated the matching knickers even more. I had to wear the whole slippery outfit for any occasion when I might be on show, when my mother's visitors were coming, or when members of the family needed to be impressed. My mother would instruct me to flash the matching knickers. I was probably no more than four years old, but I felt terrible.
I used to hide this dress, but it was always found again ('However did it get there?') I also collected any scrap of string that I could try to use as a belt. I loathed the way the dress drooped and sagged, and tying a belt round it helped a bit. However, that was counter-productive, as was the hiding. Being silk the dress had to be meticulously laundered and ironed, and tying string round its middle did not help at all. It holds some uncomfortable memories, this little dress, but I kept it all the same, or rather my mother did, for I found it again after her death. It evoked such a storm of memories for me that I kept it, too. Looking at it now I can't believe how young I must have been when it generated such powerful emotion.
At the time of the 70th anniversary of VJ Day I have been thinking a lot about my uncle and aunt, who sent the dress for me, and who suffered terribly at the fall of Singapore, where they were living at the time of the Japanese invasion. My uncle spent the years of Japanese Occupation in Changi Prison, and was never able to speak about his experiences. My aunt and infant cousin managed to get on to a boat without even knowing where it was going. They ended up in Hobart, on Tasmania.
The dress and knickers came to England, and look who was wearing them yesterday:
Granddaughter, knowing nothing of wars and conflict and uncomfortable clothes and shortages, liked the seventy-five year old dress and even the matching knickers. She would have kept them on all day, but was persuaded into something more robust and also made in China. Some day she may be interested to know the history of the little dress, but not for many years.
A long walk down memory lane for me, and a sadness that my uncle and aunt could not see another generation in hand-embroidered silk, nor get a quick flash of the embroidered knickers.
I know they would have loved that.