Kathleen, 101, recalls wartime experiences

KATHLEEN BEER was a toddler when the First World War broke out, in 1914, but the few memories she does have of the period are vivid.

Now 101, one of her most prized possessions is a letter from her father, written in pencil from the trenches.

WH 120814 Kathleen Beer aged 101. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-141208-153911001

WH 120814 Kathleen Beer aged 101. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-141208-153911001

Kathleen, of Church Road, Tarring, said: “It was for my fifth birthday, in 1918, and Dad wrote to say that he wished he was with me and that he hoped I would have a good time at my grandparents.

“He also said I was very brave for having my tooth out.

“There was no mention at all of the horrors that he was going through, he was just asking about me.

“I have so many tales of civilian life during the First World War, but as children, it was fun for us to do things like sleep under the table.

“One of my most vivid memories is my mother being ill and me having to go to join the meat queue to wait for our rations from the butchers.

“I was about six or seven, but can still feel the money in my hands.

“When I was standing in the queue, suddenly it was very noisy and everybody disappeared, so I was served much more quickly than I thought, which my mother was pleased about.

“I looked up to see a Zeppelin, which is why everyone had got out of the way, but I was completely innocent and just focused on getting the ration.”

Kathleen grew up in Ealing with her parents, John and Edith Webb. She said: “Dad was a secret signalman for Churchill in Whitehall and I can remember him going up to London with his black bowler hat.

“When I was a little girl, to annoy me and my younger sister, Vera, mum and dad used to tap spoons against a cup to communicate with each other, because we did not know what they were saying.”

Kathleen’s parents retired to Worthing, and after her father’s death she moved to the area to care for her mother.

She was widowed when her husband of just 18 months was killed in the Second World War.

Kathleen said: “We married in 1942. Bernard was a pilot during the war and got a Distinguished Flying Cross medal, which I went to Buckingham Palace to collect on his behalf when he was announced missing.

“We did not know what had happened to him for three-and-a-half years, but he was found in a remote community village and buried in Berlin.

“Although that period was very hard, especially when everybody else’s husbands and boyfriends were returning after the war, I have very happy memories.”

Kathleen became a chef, working at Benenden Prep School in Kent, which was attended by Princess Anne.

After retiring, she travelled to New Zealand and Canada and lists her hobbies as map reading and crafts.

Kathleen said: “I have seen so many changes in my lifetime, not least technology.

“I can manage the telephone but everything else is a mystery to me.

“Now children know how to use gadgets even before they go to school. We were happiest with a toy box which had to match the wallpaper.”