Former NHS worker and WW2 veteran, Joan aims to walk a lap of Allenby Park’s pathways 102 times before her 102nd birthday in September to raise money for the NHS. (Each daily lap is 560 metres door to door.) This Girl Can!
Joan was born in 1918 at the height of the Spanish flu epidemic. There was no NHS to help sufferers then, in fact, no NHS until Joan was 30 years old. She will be 102 years of age on her next birthday. Not only was she part of the generation that that knows what it’s like to be without the NHS, she was an NHS worker herself – first at Hillingdon Hospital, then at Felixstowe General Hospital as an auxiliary nurse in the Outpatient Department from 1964 to 1978. She loved working there, and the inspirational, dedicated people she worked with. She is also proud to have had a great aunt who was a matron at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Joan says: ‘Even behind a mask today’s NHS workers can make people smile, so let’sall smile.’
Joan’s early life: places she has lived
Joan was born in Meriden, as she refers to it: ‘The very heart of England’. She lived in a variety of places as a child – her father was a writer and travelled for inspiration so as well as Meriden, when she was very young Joan lived in Borehamwood, Coombe Martin and Herne Bay, but for most of her life Joan lived and went to school in four different parts of Suffolk: Felixstowe, Hadleigh, Sudbury and Ipswich.
Her first job was in Ipswich, working on a vegetable stall in the Butter Market – cold work, with chilblains on her hands. Later, during the late 1930s to early 1940s, Joan worked as a manager of the Co-op greengrocer on Norwich Road, Ipswich.
In Joan’s spare time, she was a keen member of the Ipswich Bicycle Club. Known at the time by her maiden name, Joan Ashford was joined in IBC by her sister Jean, brother Ted and future brother-in-law Ted Wyard. She still has her club badge!
Joan had two bikes, one she saved up for and had made in an Ipswich bike shop opposite the Regent Theatre. She chose a green frame, which she was very proud of, and cycled in shorts or plus fours with thick knee length woolly socks. Joan enjoyed long trips, time-trials and exploring Suffolk. Every Sunday IBC gathered at The Greyhound pub in Claydon and set off from there on their treks. IBC mixed with the Bedford Bicycle Club too and Joan made great friends in both clubs. She unexpectedly met up with some from IBC in very different circumstances, after VJ Day in 1945.
When war broke out in 1939 Joan was living in Ipswich. She met up with her cycling friends that day. They rode the Suffolk lanes, wondering what the future held for them all, and when they would get the chance to cycle together again.
Joan continued working at the greengrocer, adding voluntary Ipswich fire-watch duties to her weekly routine. In 1942 she joined the Army and was posted to Nottingham, then to the Middle East as a ‘Red Cap’ with the Provost.
Ever a carer Joan’s Middle East military duties included greeting and helping with the rehabilitation of POWs returning from Japanese camps. Released POWs docked in Alexandria and spent time there, before completing their journey home to England. Imagine Joan’s surprise when a new arrival called out, ‘Joan, you’re a bloody Red Cap!’ It was not just one, but a gang of her good friends from the Ipswich Bicycle Club, who had joined the Suffolk Regiment and been captured at the start of WW2.
The significance of Allenby Park(s)
Two Allenby Parks have been significant in Joan’s life because, by coincidence, in the MiddleEast Joan lived close to Jerusalem’s Allenby Gates and the city’s Allenby Park. BothFelixstowe and Jerusalem parks were named after Lord Edmund Allenby, 1 st Viscount Allenbyof Megiddo and Felixstowe. Famous for his military achievements in Jerusalem in 1918, LordAllenby once lived in a large house, called Felixstowe House which, until 1923 stood on thecurrent site of Suffolk’s Allenby Park. For the last fifty-three years, more than half her life,Joan has lived in a house with views of Felixstowe’s Allenby Park. She loves her house andintends to stay there!
Post War Years and NHS Work
In 1947, back in civilian life, Joan returned to Felixstowe with the man she married inJerusalem. In the 1950s, they lived, worked, and raised a family of four in Buckinghamshire.For part of this time Joan worked as an auxiliary nurse in Hillingdon Hospital, her first role inthe NHS.
In 1964 Joan came back to Felixstowe, after her husband died, bringing her children withher. She was a true trailblazer for mothers who are single parents, working hard, again as anauxiliary nurse for fourteen years until her retirement in 1978.Joan often recalls making trips from Felixstowe’s hospital to nearby to Allenby Park in hernurse’s uniform, to retrieve a patient who had sneaked off to sit in the park’s relaxing grounds!
Charity and Voluntary Work
Once retired Joan worked in a charity shop. She also used her nursing skills as a volunteer for Felixstowe’s Mencap Club, Gateway. To celebrate 25 years of voluntary work for Gateway,she held a mini garden party at her daughter’s former house, to raise money for the group. Onher 90 th birthday Joan didn’t want gifts but had a strawberry tea in a village hall to raise moneyfor Cancer Research UK. In 2013, aged a mere 95, Joan completed a 5K charity walk forCancer Research UK.
Joan loves walking in Allenby Park, enjoying the flowers, trees, wildlife, and friendly visitors she meets. When the gates reopened, Joan resumed her regular park walks and marvelled at the NHS motive of love mown into the grass. She hopes to raise money for the NHS by completing a daily circuit of Allenby Park’s pathways totalling 102 walks before her birthday. There and back is 560 metres, of course, she’ll keep socially distanced, and only go when weather permits. Although Joan now uses a walking frame, the Allenby challenge should be a walk in the park for Joan! On 22 nd April she walked through the open gates and the countdown began.
Please support former NHS worker, Joan by giving a donation to the NHS, no matter how