18 June 1931 – 2 November 2020
Vera always had a twinkle in her eye. She was born at the family house in Edenfield in Lancashire, the youngest of six children. She had three sisters – Doris, Edna and Joan – and two brothers – Frank and Leslie.
Her father died tragically young, a few months before Vera was born, and her mother needed to work hard at her trade as a dressmaker to make ends meet. Doris was often left in change of her little sisters while Frank and Leslie looked after the chickens and rabbits, chopped wood and did odd jobs for neighbours to help out the family finances.
Were the girls perfectly behaved? They were not. They fell into streams and grazed their knees and tore the lovely new dresses that grandma would sew for the annual Whit Sunday outing.
It was a close and happy family, but Vera had an adventurous streak that drove her to leave home in her late teens, a few years after the war, and join the WRAF – the women’s Royal Air Force.
We don’t know much detail about her initial postings, but they included RAF Cosford in Lincolnshire, and NCO training at Hawkinge in Kent, where the Battle of Britain museum is now located.
She made many friends in the WRAF – some of who kept in touch for the rest of her life. In particular, her sporting talents came to the fore: she won a pile of medals (and a silver spoon) in athletics – sprints at the 110 and 220 yard distances, relay running and high jump. She excelled too in hockey and cricket, and continued to play into her fifities.
In 1955, life became even more exciting. She was posted to Singapore, to fight against Communist insurgents in the Malayan Emergency. Her photos show her fascination with the local culture and landscape – but also the comradeship in her squadron, and the tough life they led in the military.
On the back of one photo is the note:
Fraser Hill. Jungle Patrol – two days later on the same route, the patrol got lost and spent 48 hours in the jungle. 3 including the leader had to be carried out on stretchers.
By 1962 she had been posted to an RAF base in Germany. She continued winning athletics medals and travelled widely in Europe. In Malaya, she had adopted a pet monkey, known as Baby. Now, working as a Provost Sergeant in the Special Investigation Branch of the RAF Police, she had the opportunity to call in the dog handing unit when needed on operations.
This love of dogs continued when she left the RAF, when she took on and trained a rescue dog – her beloved Alsatian Kimba.
After this, she returned to London, where her life became a bit of a mystery. This was the time of the Cold War. We believe she worked for the Security Service – otherwise known as MI5 – and was involved as a field officer in reporting the movements of possible Soviet informants, including John Vassall. But she’d signed the Official Secrets Act, and has left no written or photographic evidence of what she was up to.
As our Auntie Vera, she enlivened many a family occasion with tales of derring-do, mad hats and caustic jokes. She drove around London in a blue sports car with Kimba at her side. She led a dashing life.