28/01/2014 § 6 Comments
28 January 2010 marked the end of a dear life
Bertha was my mother’s cousin. During the late 1970’s she and her sister visited us almost every summer. Although well in her 60’s at the time, they would set out on the intrepid journey, in her tiny Fiat car, to travel from the south of England to the far west coast of Wales. They came to my wedding (30 years ago) and loved us to visit, seeing our family grow up and set out in the world. Most especially, I treasured my lone visits, when we sometimes took a trip out and about in Southsea, or in later years, stayed indoors and enjoyed tea and cakes. I always took her flowers – deep pink carnations were her favourite – she said the deep coloured ones lasted longer!
Bertha’s father was killed in France in WWI during a battle in 1916 – the year of her birth. Her mother was expecting Bertha, her second child, when she heard news of his death. Bertha kept photos of him with her, always.
I did an interview with her for my thesis, when I learned so much about her life. She’d left home to work in London when she left school, much against her mother’s wishes. She worked at a large department store, in the haberdashery department and as an excellent needlewoman and knitter, she used to earn extra money by knitting up twin sets and cardigans for rich ladies. I have some of her needlework – tapestries mainly, and I kept one of her hand-knitted cardigans that she had been wearing for probably 30 years. I’ve never seen such beautiful knitting.
During WWII she’d met a bomber pilot. She described him as ‘the man I’d hoped to marry and spend my life with’. He was shot down and killed as his plane crashed, over Germany. His name was John. She’d worked in the Fire Headquarters and became responsible for a huge district – organising rotas and emergency responses. She was capable and unflappable – stoic and sensible – absolutely nothing shocked her. After the war she married a much older man but in the most subtle language, she let me know that he’d never earned her love.
She worked throughout her life and her last job was as a Matron at an exclusive school in Berkshire, where she was in charge of the girl boarders. I have the quilt, embroidered with the names of her charges – including royalty – that was given to her on her retirement.
In late 2009 she toppled over as she was taking her jumper off, over her head, as she undressed at night. There was an emergency cord in her flat, but she’d tucked it up off the ground – she couldn’t reach it. Fortunately she managed to crawl (with a fractured hip) and use her walking stick to knock the phone off and dial 999. The police and warden broke in and she was taken to hospital. An operation and miraculous recovery followed. She walked again and was gaining strength every day.
We all decided that it would be best if she came to live close to us in Winchester and when she was discharged from hospital, I’d arranged for her to stay in a wonderful convalescent home in a village just 5 minutes away, while we sorted out a permanent home. It was here that she unexpectedly passed away on 28 January 2010, aged 94.
I really loved her. I miss her and remember her every day. We regularly exchanged cards and letters, over a number of years. Her letters always began “My dear girl …” She was forthright and strong, independent and refined. I had Elgar’s Nimrod played at her funeral – she was the epitome of an English lady.
Stargazer is my reminder of Bertha. I didn’t want a memorial in a lonely crematorium. I want her with me, where I can take pleasure in her memorial.
Today, I thank you, Bertha, for all that you have given me and most especially for your love and respect. Your words, that I repeated at your funeral …
“There’s nothing more important in the world, than your family”.