Winifred Thomas

"My name is Winifred Thomas; when I was a young girl, living here in Halifax, I suffered with asthma. So, I was sent down South to live in the country with my Auntie Lizzie and Uncle George. The idea was that it might help me with my health. Uncle George's full name was George Stratton and he was a groom and riding master at Sandringham's royal stables. Auntie Lizzie and Uncle George didn't have any children of their own so they treated me like their daughter. Even though I was very young I knew that my Uncle worked for the Royal family and there were always posh folk milling around the place. I didn't know at the time that Queen Mary had broken the rules of the Royal family by allowing local children to play with her own children but that is exactly what happened. She was very nice to me and I became friends to one of her sons, John. Now over the years there have been many stories told about John, who of course was the son of the King of England then, George V and his Queen, Mary.

Imagine a girl from Halifax becoming best friend to a Prince. It sounds just like a fairy tale. However, the thing was that John wasn't very well and very often wasn't allowed to be seen by people in public. Because of that he spent most of his time at a place called Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate. It must have been hard for him not to be included in the things that his family was doing, especially being a Royal family. You see John had epilepsy but luckily for John he was at least saved from the fate of others less fortunate who found themselves locked away in Asylums at that time. No, John was loved by his family but sadly they had rules that they had to obey and at times they may have wished that they weren't always in the public eye so that they could be more of a family to John. During the First World War I visited John nearly every day and we went on walks and took care of the garden. I remember in 1916 when the War was on John got so excited watching German Zeppelins passing over Sandringham. Father came to visit me that year and John was really happy when he met who he called 'a real, live soldier', Sergeant Frederick Thomas, my Dad. Queen Mary was always finding time to be with John and his Grandmother, Queen Alexandra also took time to visit him.

After that summer John hardly left the estate at Sandring­ham and his Nanny, Charlotte Bill, took care of him. When John wasn't well I would sit by his bedside to comfort him. Sadly, in 1918 I left John and Sandringham forever to return home to Halifax. Then on the 18th of January the following year news came to me that brought a sadness that never, ever left. My Prince had had a severe seizure during the night and couldn't be awakened. What upset me the most was that John would have been alone when he left us. Neither King George V nor Queen Mary were at Wood Farm, Nanny Bill rang Sandringham House at about 5.30 in the morning and told the Queen. The King and Queen drove immediately to Wood Farm and found her broken hearted.

After returning to Halifax I resumed my studies, particularly French and English before meeting my future husband, Leslie Sharpe. Leslie was to travel to India to become a tea planter, sending for me when he was settled. I was just 18 when he left and quite nervous about seeing him again after three years. We were married on Boxing Day, 1927 in the old cathedral in Calcutta and moved around various tea estates. Then this year, 1935, our daughter, Anne was born in Shillong.

War in Europe is now being talked about and it takes my mind back to the Great War, the war to end all wars . More important to me though is that it takes me back to the time I spent with John. Queen Mary gave me a number of his books in which she had had inscribed,

"In memory of our dear little Prince."

As for me, I will never forget my dear little Prince, John."

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