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A Wartime Romance – Eddie and Rosa Lebens

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This is a story of Eddie Lebens, a newly qualified dentist, and Rosa Lightstone,
a cockney girl in the WAAF, and the way in which the vagaries of war brought them together.

Jonah Lebensbaum and his family. The young Bernard is at his father’s knee.

Bernard Lebensbaum, later to change his name to Lebens, was born in Poland. He and his brother, Edward, trained in Belgium as diamond polishers but when they came to England in 1914, they set up and ran a shirt business. Bernard married Edith and they eventually settled in Leicester. They both took on leading roles in the Jewish Community and Bernard became President of the Synagogue. Eddie was the eldest of their three sons. He studied at Alderman Newton’s and then went to Birmingham University Dentistry School. He qualified in 1940 and was commissioned into the Army Dental Corps.

Rosa’s father, Shem Lightstone, had been a trombonist in the Imperial Russian Army.

Edith and Bernard Lebens with Eddie their firstborn.

To avoid being drafted into the Russo-Japanese war, he decided to move to America, stopping en route in London to visit his uncle. His uncle’s sister-in-law, Janie, had recently been widowed. The family decided that Shem ‘would do for Janie’. They married and settled in London’s Hackney Fields. Shem became a handbag manufacturer and Rosa, the only girl of seven children, worked for her father after she left school.

When war broke out Rosa joined the WAAF. Whenever she spoke of this period of her life, she would enthusiastically recount how her job had involved maintaining radio contact with the pilots during such daring raids as Arnhem and D-Day, and how she would guide them back to safety from across enemy lines.

It was Grace Henig’s father who was responsible for introducing Eddie and Rosa, although the act of ‘stepping out’ together became a problem. Eddie was a commissioned officer. Rosa was not. Such liaisons were forbidden by their superiors, so they were never able to be seen out together in uniform. This obstacle did not deter them and soon they were engaged and seeking permission to marry.

Leicester experienced only one major bombing raid during the war and the bombing in November 1940 hit the Lebens’ house. Edith was so badly injured that she was not well enough to travel, and so it was that Eddie and Rosa were married in the Leicester Synagogue on VE day 1945.

Sadly Edith never fully recovered from her injuries and died later that year. In time, Bernard took a second wife, Marjorie Samuels. Marjorie became an active member of the community, both with her passion for bridge and her committee work, which included her becoming Life President of WIZO.

After the war, Eddie and Rosa settled in Leicester. Eddie took over a dental practice in Coalville, and Rosa became housewife and mother to five children. They were both active members of many LHC committees, and are well remembered for their enthusiastic contribution to the Annual Blue and White Ball. Their voluntary work embraced the wider community, including the Rotary Club. Eddie was instrumental in arranging one of the first town twinnings in the country and was also chairman of the Leicestershire Local Dental Committee.

After Eddie died, Rosa continued her committee work and was a founder member of the League of Jewish Women in Leicester. Rosa is remembered fondly as a woman with a ready smile and endless joie de vivre. At the age of 78, her solo rendition of ‘Broadway Baby’, complete with high kicks, for a charity show is legendary.