My mum was born 100 years ago, March 15th, 1916, in Dudley Drive, Glasgow, the eldest daughter of Percy Huggins and Harriet Davenport.
Mum left school when she was 14 and went to work as a shop assistant. She also loved playing tennis, and it was at a ‘tennis dance’ that she met my dad.
They were married on August 15th, 1938 and moved down to Coventry where my dad had a job in Britain’s burgeoning motor industry.
But it wasn’t long until she returned to Scotland. Sensing war was on the horizon, my dad had joined the army reserves in November 1938 and was called up at the beginning of September 1939. Alone in Coventry with no family nearby, my dad drove my very – very – pregnant mother up to Glasgow, where she gave birth to my brother a few weeks later on September 16th. Apparently it was touch and go for a while, the doctor not sure if he could save both my mother and my brother… but he did.
And then my mum became one of the quiet, unsung heroines of the war; one of the millions of women who didn’t earn any medals, who was never feted in the mess, but who just ‘got on with it’, coping alone for four years when her husband was overseas, queueing up to buy her weekly rations, carrying pails of cold water up three flights of stairs to wash her baby’s dirty nappies, waiting alone by my brother’s bedside as he fought meningitis, then as now a killer disease, in the days before antibiotics.
I still miss mum a lot. Having suffered rheumatic fever twice, her heartbeat might have been wildly erratic (irregularly irregular might have been the medical description!) but she was strong and courageous with just a touch of whimsy in how she viewed life. I remember dancing with her around the kitchen, her waking me up to look at the moon, standing beside me one dark stormy winter’s morning watching my brother cycle off to work and telling me that the rain running down the windows was heaven’s tears because he had to go out to work in such weather. I remember getting up at seven in the morning to drive down to Dumbarton Road to buy rolls fresh out of the baker’s oven for breakfast before going to school.
I remember, too, taking mum on a holiday to Hawaii, watching her lie back on the sand as she enjoyed the sun. Remember her courage when, in her eighties, on a very turbulent flight from Glasgow to London, she helped the people seated next to her by handing out sick bags and making sure they were okay.
But one memory sticks out really clearly which to me, exemplified her willingness to have a go at life. My mum was one of those people who had a talent for looking after people and for making her surroundings really lovely. Whether it was the way she served the food on a plate or adjusted a piece of furniture, she had one of those eyes (my sister has it too) of making something/anything look really good. Widowed in her early 60s, she took in a lodger for a while, but when they left she decided she would get herself a job – her first real job since she’d been married. Dressed up in her ocelot fur coat and knocking ten years off her 76 years, she interviewed for a job as a housekeeper/driver in London. A few weeks later found her driving around London in her employer’s jag on roads even I would be scared to drive on. But she took it all in her stride. That generation of women, the quiet unsung heroines of the war, they had gumption.
I miss you mum. Every day. You’re never far from my thoughts. On this special day I will, as I do every on anniversary of your birthday, light a candle for you and thank you for being my mum.