For many of our residents the war years were defining ones in their lives, so Remembrance Sunday is always marked and always poignant, a time for reflection and for thanksgiving. This year it will be especially so for Sutton Manor’s Phyllis Baynham.
Phyllis has attended more than 70 Armistice Day services and this year, although she won’t be attending in person, she will be watching on television Although she’s not the only one of our Amesbury family to have witnessed so many of the commemorations, this year is a milestone Remembrance Day for Phyliss. As a young woman she served as a wartime military driver and just a week ago she celebrated her 100th birthday, on the 1st November.
As a driver in the Mechanised Transport Corps, her job was to keep Britain’s war effort moving by delivering fuel to petrol stations, vehicle depots and aerodromes around the country - challenging work which she clearly loved.
She remembers the atmosphere of joy and relief in the capital that came with the Armistice on September 11, 1945. “I was in London for the end of the war and everyone went mad,” she remembers. “We were due to be inspected by The Queen the next day, but nobody could get through. Hardly anybody turned up at Buckingham Palace because you just couldn’t get there. Everywhere was so busy with people celebrating - you couldn’t get a taxi or anything. All the pubs opened up with everything they had, and it was a big party, people a bit drunk, all having a lovely time.”
Although the end of the war heralded the end of her professional driving career, Phyllis remained a keen motorist all her life, and only stopped at the age of 95. Her civilian driving record was accident-free, but during her serving days she did have one accident, a hair-raising incident that perfectly demonstrates the indomitable spirit of both Phyllis and her generation.
“It was the day after a major air raid in Birmingham and the city badly needed petrol,” she remembers. “Normally we didn’t go into Birmingham – that was left to the men and much larger lorries than the women drove. But this time we had to. Going down a steep hill in a convoy, I saw a young girl about to fall off her bicycle. The tanker in front braked and, distracted, I had to veer across the road and up a bank, turning the lorry over in the process.”
She quickly adds: “I didn’t lose any petrol, which I was congratulated about. I wasn’t hurt - I climbed out of the window. The next thing I knew I was taken home, only to be called on again straight after lunch with the command, ‘you’re going to Stratford!’ So, I jumped in a truck and headed off to Stratford-upon-Avon and that was it. After that until I gave up my driving licence at 95, I never had another accident while driving.”
Although 100 years old, Phyllis lives independently at The Mews at Sutton Manor, in the grounds of the manor house. Family and friends joined her for a party to celebrate. It was at the party that she heard the news of the arrival of her very first great-grandchild, a little girl called Autumn with the same birthday as Phyllis - but a century apart.
Phyllis said: “Funnily enough, when they told us they were having a baby, her husband said to me that it was around my birthday and he’d told her to hold on so the baby could be born on my hundredth birthday. And she jolly well did!”