Ron Smith Care Centre (RSCC) Cedar Park resident Anne Brokensha celebrated her 101st birthday on 28 January, surrounded by family, friends and RSCC carers.
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 on 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, and survived Covid-19 in 2020.
On her 100th birthday, her daughters collected messages and photographic contributions from friends and family, eventually ending up with 86 pages of wonderful memories for Anne to browse through for months to come!