Hilda Gertrude Doran was born into a world on the brink of plunging into the turbulence of the Great War. It is remarkable that one of her earliest childhood memories should have been of seeing Zeppelin airships over Manchester.
On 11th July, 1940 she married Harry Townsend and the couple went on to have two daughters and a son. Whilst in hospital herself, she learned that her husband was also an inpatient (in another institution) and was gravely ill. A couple of days later she was simply informed of his death leaving her a single parent of three young children in a pre-benefits, much less tolerant society.
She would often speak of her early life, always with a cheerful smile as if looking back with fondness on some halcyon time, rather than describing the day-to-day hardships which I suspect few of us would be equipped to cope with in 2012. Reminiscing was a favourite pastime and those of us who knew her will always remember the tale of her sweeping the board in the winemaking competition, a ubiquitous story, sequel to the phrase: “I used to make wine, you know”.
In the near eleven years I knew her I never once heard her speak ill of anyone (or anything), nor complain of aches and pains. She delighted in spending time with her family (despite being so hard of hearing that 95% of all social occasions must have passed her by) and even into her ninth decade she could be found “looking after the old dears” in a local day centre. Well into her nineties, she fell and broke her hip. Visiting her in Leicester Royal Infirmary I wondered if she would recover her health or whether this assault on her frailty would spell the beginning of the end (as it has done for so many of my patients). My fears proved unfounded and she made a remarkable recovery.
Until the final few months of her life she lived mostly alone in her own home (spending time with her daughters at intervals) with a razor-sharp mind born of years of reading, meeting people and extensive travel. Her visits to our house were always enjoyable – “Can I get you a cup of tea or coffee?” would most likely be answered by: “I’ll have a glass of wine, dear”.
She always struck me as something of a Queen Victoria-type figure, the well-spoken matriarch at the head of a huge extended family, but unlike the distant monarch she was simply “Nanna” to children, grandchildren and latterly, great grandchildren. A year or so after we met she said to me one day: “I’d like to be your Nanna too if you’ll have me, Nick?” It was an honour to have been asked and quite simply a privilege to have been able to accept and to know such a remarkable person.
Hilda Townsend, born 19th February, 1913, died in hospital on what would have been her 72nd wedding anniversary, 11th July, 2012.