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Jeanne Preston, nee Sarah Jane Keyte, was born in Gloucestershire in 1884 at Upper Coscomb Farm near the hamlets of Stanway, Cutsdean and Didbrook in the Winchcomb area of the Cotswolds. Her sister, Elizabeth, was four years older. Along with parents, Sarah Mary (nee Hanks) and Edward Keyte, they appear in the 1891 census living in Stumps Cross Cottage, a former toll cottage on what is now the B4077 road between Stow-on-the-Wold and Stanway. As far as we can tell, Jeanne's family had no Herefordshire origins although some relations did go to live there. The family story says that, as a young girl, Jeanne went to stay with a lonely cousin in Herefordshire, and that she stayed at 'Ballingham Manor' and went skating on the frozen River Wye. The relationship must have been maintained because, later, the Ballingham family are said to have disapproved of Jeanne's marrying Frank Preston in Gloucestershire. They apparently had it in mind she should marry their son Harry, but Jeanne wasn't keen. Jeanne married Frank Preston back home in Gloucestershire in 1905. There is no Ballingham Manor, and there are no 'lonely cousins'. The root of this family anecdote remains unsolved.
Frank's work as a farm foreman took him to various jobs in the locality and eventually to Sarsden in Oxfordshire. The Preston children grew up here and attended the nearby school in Churchill. Jeanne transcribed Anne Hughes' old manuscript whilst in Sarsden, and she also wrote plays for village performances by the Women's Institute using local village incidents and occurrences to fuel the humorous storylines. One such was an altercation between two local women still remembered by locals in the village today!
Then, as the war progressed, the Prestons moved to a new home in Sarsden and suddenly found themselves in close company with a succession of military neighbours. One after another, as one contingent left for a theatre of war and were replaced by the next, both British and American soldiers were billeted in the Prestons' yard. The officers lived in Sarsden House, while the House outbuildings provided space for the different functions required of a Headquarters unit. In the case of the second wave of Americans, this was for the HQ of the '6th Armored Division's' 'Combat Command B'.
It was the expectation of the British government that the residents of areas hosting American troops should befriend their guests and Jeanne seems to have been pleased to be able to do this. Many young GIs found themselves thousands of miles from home in a strange country with a different culture and facing a decidedly uncertain future. Older women like Jeanne often seem to have treated these young men, many just out of school, like their own sons. The Americans, for their part, often brought with them items such as some of the foodstuffs not easily obtainable under rationing. One or two became firm friends with the Preston family and sent photographs after they'd left, some of which can now at last be seen on this website. One even sent the family food parcels during the hard times following the war. Some seem to have visited along with a friend, and one of two such US soldiers, we think they were called Lee, possibly from Alabama, and Jerry (spelling uncertain), was particularly interested in Jeanne's old country stories and in Anne Hughes' old diary. Whether she gave the manuscript to Lee on a generous whim, or just loaned it to him, is not certain. But it seems that all of a sudden the order came for them to depart without much or any notice at all. 'Lee' disappeared with the diary, never to be heard of or seen again.