Last year I wrote about my paternal Grandmother and all the things she had achieved, despite the difficulties she faced (Please click here to read the story). This year I am writing about my other Grandmother – my mother’s mother, who was born a decade later and had an equally interesting life, much of which was defined by circumstance. Her fortitude in the face of what fate threw at her is something which we can all aspire to I believe.
Joyce was born in 1926 and had a lonely childhood as an only child in Silverdale, Lancashire. A bright student she attended the local primary school before winning a scholarship to Lancaster Girls Grammar School when she was eleven. At twelve years old she lost her father.
Unfortunately, with World War 2 being declared in 1939 Joy’s education was thrown into chaos. She remembers (along with other children in the countryside) having to collect spagnum moss to send to the hospitals to be used as an antiseptic, as well as being placed on ‘Fire Duty’ with her friend Joan which entailed keeping watch as the German planes flew overhead on their way to the shipbuilding city of Barrow. As a member of the girl guides she spent time standing at crossroads directing army lorries as all the signposts had been removed in case of invasion.
All the students from Manchester High School had been evacuated and had been placed at Joy’s school. This meant that her small school was now bursting at the seams, education became compromised and there was no encouragement at all to go to university. Despite this, and with no real parental support, Joy manage to achieve her school certificate with a distinction and two credits. She told me once that one of the questions had been about the Liverpool docks and that an uncle had taken her there many times, explaining how the ships came and went, trading routes, cargoes they brought etc. She couldn’t believe her luck when this was a question on the paper - and it’s a great example of how experiential learning can have benefits we should not underestimate. She had listened and learned, not only from her school syllabus but from real life.
For a while she worked in a bank, which she hated and at seventeen she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Services. She was posted to Italy where she met her husband and was married in Padova. Joy was always the life and soul of the party, she made lots of friends and tells lots of stories of the fun they had. She was also one for a bit of rule bending and a mischievous sense of humour. I remember one story she told me (although now she can’t remember all the details so I will just tell it as I remember it) where she had been demoted for being caught adding the words ‘without legs’ to a sign that warned ‘No cycling’. For a bright, young woman this experience provided her with an opportunity to be both challenged and to explore the world and she lived it to the full.
After the war she returned to England and had three daughters, one of whom became ill in toddlerhood and never recovered needing care for the rest of her life. In 1960, when her youngest daughter was just five, she was widowed leaving her alone to cope with everything. Needing to support the family, she moved to London where she worked in the office of a factory which made dolls, she felt great sympathy for some of the young women on the factory line who came from very deprived backgrounds and tried to help them where she could. (As an aside, my parents met on a blind date at a ball at Norland College where my mother was training as a Nursery Nurse – the same college where the Royal family usually get Nannies for their children- my mother had made her dress out of some fabric left over from the dolls clothes at the factory, and my father was given a swatch of it to identify her amongst all the other young women – and the rest, as they say, is history). She continued to work well past the usual retirement years, for a long time at a college and later in a private office. She had a long and satisfying career and was highly valued and respected in her roles. She also became President of the Soroptomists in Ashford, which is a nationwide group for professional women. She became involved in various community projects and had no qualms about contacting her local MPs over issues which needed addressing.
Having been widowed herself at a young age she ensured both her daughters achieved qualifications which would allow them to support themselves should they ever need it. She also encouraged all her grandchildren to pursue education and careers.
Despite doing well and carving out a strong career herself, Joy was never really satisfied that she had not had the chance to go to university and so after retirement she embarked on an open university course – graduating at the age of 84 years with a 2:1 honours degree. Not satisfied with this she has continued to take Open University courses ever since and is currently, at the age of 95, brushing up her Italian on one.
Throughout her life Joy embraced modernity and innovation. During her working life she saw great changes in the technologies used and was always keen to learn and stay on the curve. This thirst for knowledge and curiosity for the new and unknown means that she had no trouble picking up social media and websites such as eBay. She has done a huge amount of research into the family tree (another passion) via both researching at the public records offices and online. She keeps in contact with all her grandchildren using platforms such as Facebook and Skype.
I still stand in awe of both Joy and my other Grandmother (Daphne), as women whose options were so limited and yet who managed to achieve and continue to achieve through the decades. Resilience is something we hope to teach students at MIS so that whatever life may throw at them, whichever doors may close, perhaps they can get up and dust themselves off and try some different handles. As I said in the last article, hopefully too they can leave some of the doors open for the girls and women behind them, just as those of previous generations have. Joy never gave up on her dream of university and never stopped challenging, striving, goal setting and learning. She coped with various setbacks and had to manage by herself for a lot of her life.
I hope that at 95 years old I am still learning how to use the most modern technologies and exploring subjects which interest me. And I hope too that this will be the same for our MIS girls (and boys) and that they too will have the same thirst for lifelong learning and the foundations for tackling challenges and contributing to the community with the same amount of gusto!