Vera Passing Through

Written by Vera Baxter & Melissa Honour

Where does one start? When you are almost 103, it’s easy to say so much has happened in ones life, because it has. Vera  Baxter born to Arthur and Elizabeth Ann Baxter (nee Southall) in Maddocks Terrace, Woodend, Kingsbury, Warwick on July 1st, 1905.

Vera’s Father was a coal miner at the Kingsbury Pit, in Kettlebrook, Tamworth, Staffordshire and died at an early age. Leaving her Mother, who was born to Henry and Anne Southall (nee Best) of Hoarcross Hall alone with her 3 surviving children. Vera’s Grandfather, Henry Southall, was the Head Gate Keeper and Gardner of Hoarcross Hall for 10 years in 1860 and raised her Mother, Elizabeth and 9 other daughters there. Hoarcross is now a luxury spa resort.

When Vera was 5 years old, she was sent to Dr Barnardo’s Village Girls Home in Barkingside where she spent the next 2 years of her life. From here she was sent to the Sisters of Nazareth convent in Oxford for a further 10 years. Vera was not allowed to return to her Mother after Dr Barnardo’s care, as it was deemed impossible when her Mother did not attend church on Sundays!

Vera’s first employment was in the position of ‘under nurse’ for a married couple,  Mr and Mrs Croll (unsure of spelling), who had a son with infantile paralysis (curvature of the spine). They were the American owners of Glenthorne, their weekend holiday house apparently in Sandgate. He was a retired Doctor and they spent a lot of their time on weekends in this luxurious house. It appears that the son Vera cared for was perhaps Mrs Croll’s son from a previous marriage and they also had a daughter, Enid, from Mr Croll’s previous marriage. They were very nice people and seemed loving to both their children.

The boy was about the same age, 17 and the only means of communication Vera had, was to ask him a question and the boy would respond with his eyes. She read quite often to him. Vera remembers its location quite clearly as on most off days; she would spend them across the road at the seaside of Folkstone, Kent wondering where her life would take her next.

From here Vera then worked with her Mother at the famous Bywaters store in Regent Street, Queens Square, London for 10 more years. She was paid 2pounds per week for the whole 10 years she worked there.

Here they worked together as court dressmakers. The store closed down then as WWII was upon them. Vera’s Mother was to remarry and it was then, she found a new job.

Calendar Davis and Ricks was her next place of employment in Commercial Road, London where she sewed battle dress and grey coats for the Army. She sewed the buttons for the coats but as everyone was in training, when the garments came to her, they often didn’t line up and needles in abundance were broken. This effect was apparently quite damaging to her nerves and she moved to another department where she then sewed shoulder pads into Army coats.

Vera felt there was more to life and more to be done in an effort to assist in the War. She managed to secure a position from the local place of employment where she would be posted as ‘Engineer’ yes, Engineer, making gyrocompasses. This proved to be fulfilling, as they needed delicate hands and much patience. They had to be made to 1000th of an inch and then 2/10th’s of 1000th of an inch. No wonder she can still crochet beautifully at 102 (and a half). She remembers the company she worked for, receiving a letter from the British Navy saying thankyou for making such accurate compasses.

At the end of the war, Ford Motor Company employed her as a car upholsterer in charge of 7 girls. Among other things, a dressmaker for Fred Astaire, a lolly sorter on return to England in 1959 and a Cleaner at the Queensland Treasury Museum and Library, Brisbane, Australia. Vera sailed from England to Australia aboard the Ormonde on 17th October 1952 with her Mother, to Fremantle, Western Australia, before meeting her brother and family in Ipswich, Queensland Australia.

Vera has lived through two world wars and survived two near catastrophes at sea in her journeys around the world. She was 9 years old when WWI started and her last holiday was with family in Normandy, France just before the allied invasion of Western Europe during World War II.

She remembers hiding in the bomb shelter in her backyard during an air raid one day and returning to her bedroom to find a piece of shrapnel about six to eight inches wide that had crashed through their roof and onto her bed. In 1970 travelling by sea from Australia to England for a holiday, the ships engine room caught fire and every passenger had to be evacuated. They waited in the water with life jackets on until a towboat arrived to take them and the ship, which survived in tact, minus the engine room, to the nearest port.  But the tow boat then broke down on the way. When she was on her way back from holidays in England and across Europe, where she saw a bullfight in Spain and the Bayeux Tapestry of William the conqueror, the ship she was on then, also broke down.   

Vera Baxter is the oldest and only living Baxter out of 253 Baxter’s of her Family Tree, ranging from 1560 – 2008 England to Australia. She has   3 nieces, 5 g-nieces, 4 g-nephews, 9 gg-nieces, 15 gg-nephews, 1ggg-nephew (unborn) and 1gg? Unborn. She now resides quietly and comfortably in a nursing home in Brisbane, Queensland Australia. She considers her friends there, the 80 yo’s, ‘the youngies’.