Looking back on 100 years
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.”
(Right): Doris Rogers-ratcliffe still lives an active life at 100.
Doris and husband Edward Ratcliffe in their early years in New Zealand.