Violet, 100: “If You Can’t Think Bright, Don’t Think Miserable”
To celebrate Service95’s 100th issue, we interviewed a group of very special people – all over 100 years old – inviting them to share their wisdom. Here, 100-year-old Violet shares her story…
Violet radiates warmth and kindness. She’s quick to smile, with rosy cheeks and a sparkle in her eye. She grew up in London and now lives independently in Lancashire in the north of England. A talented mathematician (at 74 she qualified for membership of Mensa), she worked as an engineer during World War II, often working 12-hour shifts. After the war, aged just 21, she took sole care of her 11- and 15-year-old sisters when they returned to London, after being evacuated during the Blitz. She has a lifelong talent for dressmaking, and still regularly knits. She shares her life-changing moments, insights and lessons learned.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in your lifetime?
Going back to the beginning, there were no cars – it was horses and carts. Aeroplanes looked like they’d been tied up with string. Then cars came on the road at 5mph. If I saw one, I’d run in and shout, ‘Mum! I’ve seen a car!’ Life now is too fast. Everybody seems to be in a hurry, which is wrong because I find once you relax, you’re better, you’re calmer.
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
When I got married in 1946. You couldn’t do big weddings then, you had to go with what you’d got. A friend of mine was getting married around the same time, so we both wore the same dress and shared bridesmaid dresses. It really was hard times; everybody was poor, and everybody helped one another.
Have you had a lifelong hobby?
There’s nothing I haven’t knitted or sewn. From [the age of] five I could knit. When the war started, I was put in needlework classes, so I learned tailoring. I’ve made all my own clothes, all my children’s clothes, I’ve made wedding dresses. One lady whose wedding dress I made 56 years ago still keeps in touch.
How did your life change when WWII broke out?
Because I was good at maths, I got a nice job as an engineer, making the mid-upper turrets for the Lancaster bombers [planes]. It was an important job. We were doing 12-hour shifts, and one night one of the girls asked me to swap shifts, so I said, ‘You do my earlies, I’ll do your lates.’ That was the night the bomb dropped on our house. All I had was what I was stood up in. Why was I spared? I was spared for my sisters if you think about it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
Bringing my sisters up when they came back from evacuation. We were in northwest London, so they went to Penzance [in Cornwall, 280 miles from London] – you couldn’t take them any further. Mum and Dad were lost in the war, and I had to fight to keep those kids. You had to be 21, and I was still a junior by a week. That week nearly stopped me looking after them. One was 11 and one was 15 when they came home, and when the woman rang, I said, ‘I’ll ring you back next week,’ because I’d be 21 then.
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If you could go back, would you change anything?
I’ve had a good life, apart from the bombs. I was 16 when the war broke out – I was out on my bike and a fella was waving at me, shouting, ‘Get home! The war’s on!’ People say to me now, ‘You don’t bother about anything,’ and I say, ‘I’m not going to.’ If you can’t think bright, don’t think miserable.
What’s the reality of ageing?
It’s just a case of slowing down, really. It sort of creeps up on you. You get slower, you can’t push yourself. But I don’t think it’s good to push yourself, because your body’s telling you to slow down. How many things go 100 years without an MOT?
How would you describe yourself in three words?
A happy, caring person.
What brings you joy every day?
The fact that I’m still here!
Why do you think you’ve reached 100?
I’ve been lucky health-wise, and I’ve always been able to pick myself up and do something worthwhile. You don’t just sit back and do nothing – even now I do what I can, while I can.
A Few Of My Favourite Things…
- Favourite Place It’s between Whitby [in Yorkshire] and the Cotswolds [in southwest England].
- Favourite Music Brass bands take me to another world. I used to ride my bike up to Kensington Gardens in London and listen to the military bands night after night. It all started with the Salvation Army; every Sunday they played on the corners of the streets.
- Favourite Book I’m mostly busy knitting at the moment, but I read a very good book not long since on cricket.
- Favourite Film A Brief Encounter. My daughter at one point lived at Warton, near Carnforth [in Lancashire] where it was made.
- Favourite Drink I’ll have a birthday drink and it’s nearly always a Baileys.
Each year Violet knits hundreds of poppies to raise money for military charity the Royal British Legion. You can donate to the charity here.
Laura Potter is a freelance editor, writer and interviewer whose work has appeared in The Observer Magazine, The Guardian’s Saturday magazine, The Times Magazine, Women’s Health and Men’s Health