Jean Webster, a resident at Acacia Lodge in Henley celebrated her 111th birthday yesterday (17 April). She’s the fifth oldest person in England and the oldest born in Northern Ireland.
Jean was born in Belfast in 1906. Her father worked as a riveter at Harland and Wolfe, and worked on the Titanic. She remembers well the day when it sank, as the whole of Belfast was in mourning. As she grew up with her four older brothers and younger sister, she remembers playing out on the street, and throwing a rope over the old gas lamps to make a swing.
Jean has lived through two world wars and has not had an easy life – losing her parents when she was young and her husband in 1973. Following the first World War, she contracted Spanish Flu, but unlike so many millions, she survived, although she remembers being in bed for weeks, and losing all her hair. Her work life saw her working in the linen mills and when her parents died she was left to look after the family.
Jean met her husband, Walter, when he was on a bicycle tour of Northern Ireland, and eventually, she crossed the Irish Sea – a terrible journey, so she tells us – to Aberdeen, where they were married in 1931. They had one daughter, Maureen born in 1938 and lived very happily together until Walter was tragically killed in a motorbike accident in 1973.
During the Second World War, she had another narrow escape, when her house was bombed and she, Walter, and Maureen became trapped in the rubble. They had moved to Ramsgate from London where Jean lived for many years, until moving to Henley to stay with her daughter and son-in-law, before moving to Acacia Lodge 3 years ago.
Jean’s grandaughter Sharon Cleary says, “She puts her long life down to hard work as a youngster. She says, “Oh, it was scrub, scrub, scrub every day and to keeping active well in to her 90s playing badminton, and going to keep fit. Oh, and plenty of porridge, with salt!”
Yesterday Jean had a lovely day celebrating at Acacia Lodge with friends, family and staff and was delighted to be sent another birthday card from Her Majesty the Queen.