Look­ing back on 100 years

Hamilton News - - FRONT PAGE - Louela Rosal Pe­garido

With a mind still as sharp as a tack, Doris Rogers-rat­cliffe lives a life ex­ud­ing en­ergy and joy.

Pos­i­tive and healthy, she turned 100 on Satur­day, Septem­ber 8.

“I’m still here. Per­haps He doesn’t want me there yet. There’s too many of them al­ready,” she said laugh­ing heartily.

Her only child, Kath­leen Walsh, says her mum is “very busy, very ac­tive, very well”.

“She vis­its the sick and el­derly, reads a lot, does cross­words, keeps up with cur­rent af­fairs, and al­ways watches the news.”

Doris lives in her own home in Hamil­ton East, goes to church and be­longs to a women’s fel­low­ship. She meets friends for cof­fee, speaks daily to her daugh­ter and oc­ca­sion­ally goes to the cin­ema.

But life has not al­ways been this safe and quiet for Doris, with her voice be­com­ing emo­tional as she re­calls some things in her dis­tant past.

New Zealand has been home to Doris for al­most 50 years and she says she loves it here. She is orig­i­nally from Eng­land where as a young woman she worked as a typ­ist in the city of Sh­effield and lived at home in the sub­urb of Wood­house — once a farm­ing and coal-min­ing vil­lage.

World War II changed her life when three years into the war she was called on to con­trib­ute to the war ef­fort.

“I wasn’t sur­prised. No. No. We all had to do our bit for the war,” says Doris.

The only sur­prise was be­ing of­fered a choice: ap­ply to be drafted into the forces or opt for war work of an undis­closed na­ture, in a fac­tory.

She chose the lat­ter, to be able to stay in close con­tact with her par­ents as Sh­effield — home to Bri­tain’s steel in­dus­try — was a prime tar­get for en­emy bomb­ing raids. Af­ter three weeks of rudi­men­tary train­ing in Leeds learn­ing how to fash­ion an un­even block of steel to a pre­scribed thick­ness, she was trans­ferred to Manch­ester for fur­ther train­ing.

Some­thing to do with air­craft, she dis­cov­ered.

“What makes them fly. Not to fly your­self but all things that make them work,” she says.

When train­ing was over, she was among work­ers who were trans­ported each day to a se­cret un­der­ground air­craft pro­duc­tion fac­tory at Yeadon.

Doris worked check­ing parts man­u­fac­tured and as­sem­bled in the fac­tory that would form the body of the Avro Lan­caster — a four-en­gined heavy bomber.

“It was sat­is­fy­ing work,” Doris re­calls. “You’d learned some skills and put that knowl­edge to use. And it felt like a big re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

She re­mem­bers an enor­mous hangar and climb­ing a tall lad­der into the shell of a Lan­caster to view the plane’s in­ter­nal struc­ture prior to its fit-out.

For three years, she worked 12-hour shifts.

Be­ing un­der­ground, the Avro work­ers were deaf to the sound of en­emy bombers. It was only later that she learned that the fac­tory had been cam­ou­flaged by a roof land­scaped in grass, trees and mod­els of graz­ing cows.

Doris came to New Zealand in 1964 aboard an Ital­ian ship, Cas­tel Felice.

“It was a very nice jour­ney ex­cept most of us got sick when we came to the In­dian Ocean and we ran into a storm,” she says.

She was 45 then, with hus­band Ed­ward who was with the Royal Air Force and their 16-year-old daugh­ter. Doris says she didn’t have trou­ble blend­ing in or mak­ing friends as she took the ap­proach to al­ways make do with what­ever cir­cum­stance she was in.

“To peo­ple who come here and in­tend to stay, we have to adapt a bit to peo­ple that we live with, peo­ple that we work with, and the gen­eral sur­round­ings,” says Doris. “We should stop think­ing, Oh, it’s not like home. I can’t see that tree and I can’t see some­thing that I’m used to see­ing. You won’t be happy,” she says.

In New Zealand, Doris found work in the Ma¯ ori Af­fairs De­part­ment.

She has never been in hospi­tal and has no re­stric­tions on what she can eat.

“I’ve got a slow cooker. I cook meat and veg­gies that last three days, put them in the freezer,” she says. A good diet is very ba­sic.

“You shouldn’t eat take­aways all the time.”

She lives in Hamil­ton in a two-bed­room house she bought af­ter she came back from a three-year stay in Aus­tralia and an­other three-year stay in Eng­land, where her hus­band died. She came back to New Zealand where she feels more at a home than any­where else. She keeps her­self busy help­ing in the com­mu­nity. She gets up at 6am and is an ac­tive main­stay of Grey Power, U3A, and 60+.

“Liv­ing alone doesn’t worry me. I might be on my own but I’m not lonely,” Doris says.

“I’m out in the morn­ings for meet­ings, come home for lunch. Go out again, see pals, go to con­certs, read. Check out the li­brary, when there’s too much rub­bish on the telly.”

She has two grand­chil­dren, one great­grand­child and two step-grand­chil­dren.

For her 100th birth­day, she re­ceived cards from the Queen, the Gover­nor-gen­eral and the Prime Min­is­ter.

“Ah, Doris. She’s rich and fa­mous and should be in a mag­a­zine,” her neigh­bour of 16 years Anne Gib­son teased.

Asked about liv­ing a long life, Doris says she would like to know how she will die.

“Not when I’d die, for it’s not up to me. Will I have an ac­ci­dent? Will I fall down the stairs and break my neck? I hope it’s not dread­ful. Not a long drawn-out ill­ness. I would hate to be in a hospi­tal for weeks,” she said.

“I am not overly re­li­gious but ev­ery night I kneel down and I say my prayers — thank you for to­day, see me through the night and per­haps to­mor­row. I of­fer my prayer for some­one needy.”

Photo / Louela Rosal Pe­garido

(Right): Doris Rogers-rat­cliffe still lives an ac­tive life at 100.

Photo / Sup­plied

Doris and hus­band Ed­ward Rat­cliffe in their early years in New Zealand.

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