It’s Women’s History Month and here at The Fremantle Trust, we’re celebrating by marking the incredible achievements of a number of our residents.
These intriguing and inspiring stories provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these women and include tales of resilience and survival, entrepreneurship and even enigma code breaking. We’re delighted and proud to be home to some truly wonderful women.
MARGOT VARESE - DISCOVERED THE MARY ROSE, LEWIN HOUSE
Combining her archaeology career and passion for diving, Margot was one of the small team to accompany Alexander McKee, a military historian and amateur diver, who discovered the remains of the Mary Rose.
“I was part of the team of four who went into the water with probes looking for any signs of the ship. By using a magnetometer we were able to identify unusual activity in the area, which led to the discovery of the Mary Rose.”
It wasn’t a straightforward dive on this occasion, as Margot recalls:
“During the dive my air supply suddenly stopped. It didn’t run out it just simply stopped working, which was terrifying as I was 40 feet under water. Luckily I used my breathing training and managed to get to the surface.”
MARY DAVIES - ENIGMA CODE BREAKER, LEWIN HOUSE
Born in Malta in 1924. Mary was just 15 when World War II started. Shortly after, Mary found herself stationed at a secret location deciphering messages from the German Enigma machines. She was the first female to operate the machine.
“I can’t share too much, but it’s something I am incredibly proud of and have such fond memories of this time. I received a number of medals for my contribution and I treasure them dearly.”
PHYLLIS WILLIAMS - MODEL, FREMANTLE COURT
Phyllis who was born in 1917, just before the end of the first world war spent many years as a fashion model featuring in catwalk shows, modelling for department stores and in catalogues and magazines.
“To this day, I style my own hair and always like to look and feel good”.
Phyllis lived independently until she was 101 and has been living at Fremantle Court since. When asked to share the secret to living such a long and healthy life, she simply puts it down to good genes.
“It just seems to run in the family . My mum passed away at the age of 106, just before her 107th birthday and her sister reached 107 years old ‘I also have a very big family, which keeps things interesting.”
LUCILE (LUCY) MARTIN - CHAMPION SHOOTER, LENT RISE HOUSE
Born in April 1938, Lucy worked at the Commonwealth War Graves as a painter for much of her career. Mother of two boys, Lucy was introduced to target shooting by a colleague and joined Marlow Rifle and Pistol Club, one of the longest established target shooting clubs in the UK, where it soon became apparent that she was exceptionally talented and skilled.
1991 - 1992 were Lucy’s glory years and she was appointed as Ladies Captain for Marlow rifle and pistol club and Bucks County rifle Association, a post which she held for 10 years.
“I won my first ever match and continued to come top of the group in other competitions. In 1992 I shot with the women’s British team. We beat the USA and I received The Rendle Trophy International Women’s Team 400 Ex 400 Silver Tray.”
After years of competing, in 2008 Lucy became a range conducting fficer and taught rifle shooting.
She describes her life as ‘wonderful’ and despite her rifle shooting accomplishments, sites her biggest and proudest achievements as being a wife and mother.
MICHALINIA KOLOYNSKA - WAR SURVIVOR, CAREY LODGE
Michalinia was born in Poland on the 13 March 1928. 11 years later, Germany and Russia invaded forcing her and her family to flee the country. Michalinia recalls travelling with her family through many countries.
“We lived in very poor conditions and were often hungry. I was eventually separated from my family and was meant to go to New Zealand, but I contracted malaria and was sent to the UK. “
“I could not go back to Poland because anybody who had connections with West Europe wasn’t greeted well in new Poland, so I stayed in the UK, where I met my husband.”
Settling in Slough, Michalinia and her husband were married and soon had a son. For most of her working life, together with her husband, they worked at the Mars factory and took rations home for family, local children and schools.
JOAN LOOSELY - WAR SURVIVOR, ICKNIELD COURT
Joan is 102 years old and lives at Icknield Court in Princes Risborough. Born in East Grafton in Wiltshire Joan was sent to work in service at Dawes Hill House at Wycombe Abbey, when she was 14 years old. She was a cleaner along with 15 other girls.
Married to Reg, a soldier, on her 21st birthday in May 1940, Joan said good bye the following day as he was sent away to fight in Germany.
“After the war we moved to Chisledon, where I worked in The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), cleaning the café during the day and as a barmaid at night.”
Joan and Reg had three children and whilst the children were young, Joan had 2 jobs.
“I was a cleaner, but I also had a job working from home knitting Aran jumpers for the Aran Company in Ireland. It took me 3 weeks to knit a jumper and I got paid £12 per jumper, which I sent over to Ireland when it was finished.”
Joan knitted for the Arun company for 26 years from 1957 and continues to knit to this day, creating items for her family, which includes 3 children, 12 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren (plus another one on the way!) and 2 great, great grandchildren.
AUDREY ROBERTS - LAWN BOWLS CHAMPION, ICKNIELD COURT
Born in Princes Risborough in January 1930, Audrey has lived and worked in the area her whole life.
“I left school at 14 and worked at Forest Products as a Laboratory Technician. I worked here for the whole of my working life, until I retired in 1990.”
Audrey has enjoyed a range of hobbies in her life, from horse riding and tennis to water colour painting and lawn bowls.
”When I retired, I played a lot of lawn bowls, representing High Wycombe Bowls Club where I played in many competitions. I won the Ladies Championships in 1991, 1998, and 2002 and have kept many of my trophies.”
HENDRIKA LANG - WAR SURVIVOR, CHESHAM LEYS
During World War II, Hendrika was living and working on a farm in Holland. She vividly recalls the moment when the German army tried to invade.
“The Nazi’s would often attempt to enter Holland through the neighbouring Islands near the farm. To stop them from crossing the border and infiltrating the country, I had to take up arms.”
Shortly after the war, Hendrika moved to the UK to train to become a nurse. Once qualified, she travelled to India helping to set up clinics in remote locations across the country.
“The clinics mean that the people in these remote areas had access to vital health care that they otherwise would not have received.”