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Chatting up a 93 year old in Clerkenwell

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 26 July 2015

Saturday nights in Free Speech & Liberty Pizza are fairly quiet – it is that sort of neighbourhood. And so if I am there, as I was yesterday, you can often find yourself having a long chat with your customers. And so yesterday these two “mature” women wandered in. Eight vodkas and two Irish coffees each later they left. It turned out they were sisters, one 93 and the other a bit younger.

They were sharp as nails and certainly not showing their age. The 93 year old put that down to a lot of drink.  They were born in the social housing behind the restaurant and one still lives there. The 93 year old is out in God’s chosen county of Essex but had come in to see her last surviving sister, ten other siblings are now in a better place.

Born in 1922 the elder sister served in the WRAF during the war and remembered it as if it was yesterday. Her poor husband has severe dementia and is in a home and we talked about the challenges that had thrown up over the past year or so. We talked about the war, the changes in Clerkenwell, now no longer an Italian area as it was until the fifties. These girls remembered everything.

When I was growing up in Northamptonshire the post office was run by a former German prisoner of war – Mr Eichler. There were men in that village who had been abroad only once in their lives, a trip to France that started in 1944. A couple had limbs missing.  A lady in the village brought her elderly German mother to live with them and told me that when she had been at school in the late 1940s the other kids had painted a swastika on her back because her name was Krauser. The reason her parents had left Germany was because they were Jewish but the war was such a recent event that in the 1940s I guess kids did not really understand that.

So for me as a child the war was a bit more real a bit closer. My father was evacuated. I talked to his father who served in the War Office. My father’s uncle was killed in 1942. I am chatting to this lady from the WRAF. The next generation will have no direct contact. For them WW2 will be like WW1 is to me, films, poems, not direct contact.

The sisters have been advised to take a holiday and are shortly off to Marbella for a month. I am sure they will have a great time and wish them well.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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