Elizabeth Mary Angel – Betty - was born on the 7th January 1913. Her parents both grew up in Liverpool, but her father had done well at his job with the British and Argentine meat company, and he was promoted to the London office. So Betty was born in Finchley; the middle child, with an older and a younger brother.
Some of Betty’s early memories were of the First World War: she wrote,
“I remember air raids and the gun, Big Bertha, and getting under the dining-room table with my brothers while Mum and Dad covered it with a mattress. We thought it rather fun, especially as we had really gone to bed upstairs – but they poor darlings must have been really scared. We lived in Finchley, near enough to the action. Zeppelins came over, and once one caught on fire, hit by Big Bertha we thought, and Mum and Dad actually let us watch it with the lights out, through the window.” How appalling, she thought later, that we were so excited and pleased to see it burn.
A better memory was the day the war ended:
“Where was our mother? My three-year-old brother and I dangled our legs and continued to scrape our grey slates which set our teeth on edge every few minutes. But mother did not come.
I slipped down from the chair and went to look for her. The front door in the tiled hall stood open. I ventured onto the top step.
There were some bangs and then loud shouting and almost screaming from a crowd at the top of the road.
I felt a little frightened and insecure – especially as my small brother had followed me and could fall on the steps. I took him back inside feeling that we should have stayed with our squeaking slates, and then my mother came rushing down the road laughing and almost crying in a very unusual way.
She clutched us in her arms with unexpected strength and affection.
“It’s over my darlings – it’s over” she repeated again and again until we joined in, singing and jumping about in a sort of dance – “It’s over my darlings – it’s over”.
And that was how the war ended for us, and we were glad.”
In the 1920’s, Betty being a girl, her parents almost forgot to educate her. Eventually they let her go to Woodhouse School with her younger brother. Cyril Fletcher, the comedian, was in the same class and he started out by imitating the teachers, to the enjoyment of his classmates.
After school, Betty had another fight to be allowed to go to Teacher Training College in Brighton. But she did, and qualified as an Infant teacher, specialising in Art. She had fifty Reception children in her first class, and no teaching assistants in those days!
Betty enjoyed her teaching and her social life. An evening at the theatre cost her 1/3, and she’d often seen everything that was on in the West End. But Hitler had come to power and war clouds threatened.
Just before the outbreak of war, Betty was on holiday. She wrote: “I was staying in Burton Bradstock, in the Bay View boarding house on Burton Cliff (now the Seaside Boarding House), with my father, my brother John and a friend. The weather was warm and hopeful. There was a quiet unity among the holidaymakers and villagers and a great wishful thinking seemed to prevail.
We sat on the wall outside Mr Mullins’ shop (now Bridge Cottage Bed and Breakfast) and waited for the London papers to arrive. I remember a long wait, while optimism and pessimism alternated with the warmth of the sun and the fear in our hearts.” But the news was bad, and teachers were recalled.
Betty was evacuated with a party of children from Sutton, to Marlborough in the South Hams. She said at first the teachers tried to keep their distance from children with labels proclaiming them verminous. But during the long train journey, all the adults and even the bigger children ended up holding the little ones who were fast asleep. On arrival, she saw all the children billeted. She was pleased that some of the boys went to farms and one or two even settled there permanently.
Betty herself did not stay in Devon, she went back to Epsom and was a volunteer through the blitz at the Red Cross First Aid Post in the evenings, as well as teaching by day. After the war, she met Len Starkey and they got married in 1947. In 1952, to Betty’s delight, Len applied for the headship of Burton Bradstock school, and was chosen from over 200 applicants. They arrived at The Magnolias with two small daughters and the third was born the following year.
Betty returned to teaching in 1958, spending four years in charge of King Street, the Colfox annexe needed because the new school wasn’t big enough. On moving up to the main school, she took all first year classes for Religious Education for many years, which is why she was so well known in Bridport. Teaching English was her real love. She looked for originality and talent rather than correctness and she delighted in encouraging late developers. She spent nearly twenty years teaching at Colfox; she gave a lot, but she got so much back as well.
She saw many changes in Burton Bradstock, and she served on the Parish Council in her retirement, always with the interests of the village at heart. Even in recent years, she kept her interest in people and lived through talking, sympathising and reminiscing.
Among her writings I found these lines which sum up her philosophy:
Time is gentle with our grief, yet puts no limit on recalling joy –
Let fun and laughter guide you to the end
And show the young ones, coming after,
That Life’s worth living.
Don’t give up, my friends.
Mary Ibbotson (eldest daughter)