Sons See Mother's WWII-Era Parachute Silk Wedding Dress at UVA

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Two brothers from central Virginia are helping solve the mystery of a World War II wedding dress discovered in the collection at the University of Virginia’s Health Sciences Library.

First Lieutenant Hilda Franklin and Captain Richard Bell married in Italy just weeks after WWII ended. They were serving in the 8th Evacuation Hospital run by UVA. An anonymous donor sent the dress and their sons, Dick and Fraizer Bell, saw it for the first time Tuesday.

“I'm sure mom had it in a box in the back of a closet somewhere,” Dick Bell said.

In the decades after they exchanged vows, no one's quite sure how the dress ended up in Charlottesville. The dress' pieces are made of World War II hand-sewn parachute silk.

“What better thing to do than make a wedding dress out of silk? White silk of course,” Dick said.

Hilda Franklin was a nurse and Richard Bell was a doctor at UVA's 8th Evacuation Hospital. They married at the tent hospital in Italy days after World War II ended. A telegram delivered the news home to Staunton.

“The 8th Evac was a big, big part of their life. Needless to say, they got married while they were there,” Dick said.

Photos printed in a history of the war hospital document the wedding day.

“Mrs. Bell stated she was so excited that she had a 'real wedding dress,'” said Joan Klein, Health Sciences Library Historical Collections Curator.

An anonymous donor left the dress to the library, and the date of the donation is also unknown. The Bell brothers never found the dress in their late mother's belongings. They believe she sent the dress to the university she loved, and where she found love.

“That's the wonderful thing - to know that it will always be here and properly taken care of,” Dick said.

The dress is part of a collection of scrapbooks, uniforms, and medical papers maintained by the library about the 8th Evacuation Hospital. For more information on the collection, click here.
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