Monica Wills House’s first centenarian recently celebrated her 100th birthday with friends, family, staff and the Lord Mayor of Bristol.
Violet Hutchinson was born on 23 January, 1917 and puts her longevity down to hard work and a couple of lucky escapes. She said:
I’ve worked all my life and was never one to loll about much.
I was happy at every job I ever had and worked from the time I left school until I was 63.
Raised in Ashton, Violet was the youngest of nine children. “There were seven of us in a two bedroom house.
“My mum and dad slept in the front room, my three brothers slept in the next room and I slept in the middle of two of my sisters.
“When I wanted to turn over in the bed, I had to poke one of them and say “I want to turn round.””
Violet started working at the Robinsons factory in Bedminster when she was fourteen before being called up for war work at the Bristol Aircraft Company (BAC).
“I trained to be a fitters mate to make the Bristol Beaufighter. I never thought I’d do all the things I did there like welding, drilling and swinging things around.
“There wasn’t much I didn’t do on the benches, as they used to call them.”
In the evenings, Violet served with the Civil Defence Service, a volunteer organisation providing medical services for victims of air raids.
Me and my sister would go to the church hall to learn first aid. We always had to have our tin hats on to be ready for an alert.
We used to practice with bandages at home on my mother. She ended up looking like an Egyptian mummy, which always made her laugh.
It was during the early years of the war that Violet met her husband, Alfred. “I used to go dancing every Friday or Saturday night with my friend, Betty.
“We were sat along the side of the hall on chairs and the men would line up. When the bandleader would say “take your partners” the men would eye us all up.
“Alfred came over towards us and I said to Betty “you go,” but she said “he won’t ask me”. And she was right. He came straight to me and said “may I have this dance?””
“I had a few dances with him and when it was time to go he said “where do you live?” and as it happened, I lived in the next road to where he lived.
“I always had to be home by 10pm and my mother would always be waiting for me if I was a bit late.
“If I was saying goodnight to Alfred out by the gate, my mother wouldn’t call me in. Instead she’d clink two empty milk bottles together to let me know it was time to come in.”
Alfred was an army driver during the war and they had to get special leave when the couple were married in 1942.
With the tide of the war turning in favour of the allies, Violet left the BAC in 1944 to work in the Royal Mail sorting office.
“We had to put all the mail in little pigeon holes and you couldn’t make any mistakes. There was all the mail from the families of soldiers at the front being sent overseas, so we were kept pretty busy.”
Violet’s daughter Janet was born in 1947 and she returned to work when Janet was ten years old, working as a cleaner at the head offices of the Imperial Tobacco Company until she retired in 1980.
Alfred and Violet were married for 54 years until he sadly passed away in 1996. Violet has two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren who all live in the Bristol area.
Violet has also had her fair share of lucky escapes over the years, including surviving a direct hit from a German bomb on her next door neighbour’s house during the Blitz and falling down a trapdoor while on holiday.
She said: “I was on a week’s holiday with Alfred in Southsea and there was a café that we went to every day for elevenses.
“Alfred went to find us a table and I was carrying the food on a tray. Because I was holding the tray, I didn’t see that the trap door to the cellar had been left open and I went ‘whoosh’, straight down the shaft.
“They took me to the hospital, but apart from a graze on my leg, I was fine.”
Violet has been a resident at Monica Wills House retirement community since it opened in 2006.
Coincidentally, the retirement community was built on the site of the old Robinsons factory where she worked after leaving school 86 years ago.
She said: “It’s one of life’s strange turns to find myself living right where I used to work all those years ago.
“But I’m still here and I’ve got a very good daughter. I only need to shout and she’s here. She’s one of the best!”