Rand Aid Ron Smith Care Centre resident Anne Brokensha celebrated her 102nd birthday on 28 January.
Anne’s daughter Sue Byrne, who came to spend the day with her along with other family members, says Anne has outlived all the relatives of her generation and most of her friends.
“In so doing, she has given us daughters – Peggy, Sue, Gil, Sheila and Anne – and our families and in-laws and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren so much inspiration.
“No matter how old, tired or sick she has been – including two bouts of Covid-19 – she has always had a smile for us, her roommate Ursula and all the lovely women who have cared for her at Ron Smith Care Centre,” says Sue.
As a result, she is dear to everyone around her and RSCC’s carers turned out in their gorgeous best for her birthday and gave her a rousing, very special party.
“We have been so blessed to have had 102 years (and still going) of this wonderful mom. This kind, gentle, loving woman has been our beloved rock for so long,” says Sue.
“Our special thanks go to our American sister Anne, for her generosity and all she and her family have done to keep mom at RSCC and enabling her to have Thubelihle with her. We are blown away by Thube’s level of love, tenderness and attention to detail, and by the caring staff at RSCC’s Cedar Park wing who have loved and cared for our mom as if she were their own. We are certainly a privileged family,” she adds.
Anne’s wonderful life spans three continents.
Her life story tells of a challenging childhood that equipped her with numerous skills, wartime intrigue and, above all, a strong, nurturing personality that has been her family’s guiding light.
Born in India in 1921 to British parents, who were based there during World War I, Anne and her family soon returned to England. The post-war depression then prompted them to move to South Africa, where they bought a farm in Maclear in the Eastern Cape.
When Anne was seven, she started school as a weekly boarder. She and her dad would ride over the hills every Monday, on their horses, Ginger and Charles, and her father would fetch her again on Fridays.
Her happy early life came to an abrupt end at the age of nine, when her mother died, trying to save their Angora rabbits from a burning hutch. Anne’s father then took a job teaching maths in Malvern, outside Durban.
When her father remarried, the family moved to Egypt. As there was no school in the village, Anne was home-schooled in maths and general knowledge, by her father. Her stepmom Aileen then became ill and died, with young Anne, then 11, tearfully holding her hand.
Anne did her high schooling in Yorkshire in England. She rode the 9km to school and back on her bicycle, in all sorts of Yorkshire weather, and wrote ‘matric’ at 15. After completing secretarial and French courses at a business college, she stayed with a French family in Paris, learning commercial French and shorthand, before returning to Egypt and her father and his new wife. She then attended a German school there and become as fluent in German as she was in French.
During World War II, Anne – just 17 – left her first job as private secretary to work for the Land Army in support of the war effort. She had to milk cows and toss hay onto a lorry, and later took on the milk delivery. She had to quickly teach herself to drive and, by herself, load the milk crates onto the truck and deliver them in the foggy blackout – a heavy and terrifying job.
She then put her name down to serve in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Because of her knowledge of German and French, she was sent for training and posted to Withernsea, and from there to Ceylon, to keep naval watch.
Little did she know that the signals from enemy ships and U-boats that she picked up on two monitors simultaneously, were being sent for decoding to Bletchley Park, which was the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the war.
She later received a medal for the part she played at Bletchley Park. As required, she had signed the Secrecy Act, which was only dissolved in 1975, and so she kept her role in the war secret from her husband for close to 50 years!
At age 97, Anne wrote a book, Memories of 97 Years, so that her family could know what her life had entailed.
She has lived at RSCC since 2015.