A memory of Aunt Mildred, by Sue Goss
Mildred Berry was born in Hastings, England, two months before the Titanic went down. The large Berry family emigrated to Perth, Australia, when she was 20 and she spent several years as a family companion on a vast cattle station in the Kimberley – great adventurer! The station was (and still is) owned by the family of billionaire Andrew Forrest and the chaplain on the station was none other than the one who escaped from the Titanic!
Mildred was a radio operator in the WAAAF during World War Two and returned to England in the fifties as a seamstress to the Dashwood family at the stately home of West Wycombe Park which she adored, as she was not treated as a ‘servant’ but as part of the family. So she sat at table with the family (Sir John Dashwood, Bt, at the time) unless they were entertaining extremely important guests.
She adored the royal family and followed closely every royal wedding and birth but her heart was mainly with King George VI. She and her friend Deb happened to be in London on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and found a place to stand along the route. They had to stand in the rain with newspapers over their heads as no umbrellas were allowed so that everyone had a view. Giving her a calendar with English cottages or a bunch of roses was a pretty safe bet.
Back in Australia, Mildred became the third-time-lucky wife to Sidney (Jim) Bertram Wills Cooke, the tetchy father of six children from the age of 8 to 30 or so. She had no children of her own but loved his large family and cared for them all, taking a real interest in everything they did. I was one of them and she became a second mother to me, a different view of the world. I knew her for 54 years and for the first 50 years (until her sight began to fail) she was the most cheerful and positive person I have ever known. I never heard her say a negative word about anyone, and she never seemed to judge people. She was incapable of feeling depressed and she gave my father 30 years of idyllic happiness after too many years of morose survival. What a sunny and giving person! Her only complaints were the new push-button world of computers and i-pods. But she grew to understand the value of seeing our boy’s photos from England on Catherine’s laptop computer. She particularly loved the stories of what our boys were doing in England and positively rejoiced in our family re-union in Oxford after five years apart.
Mildred died at the age of 101. A few days before she went she remembered what a ‘funny little thing’ I was when she first met me at 11 and how she used to buy me dresses because I didn’t have any. That was many years ago. Yes – we were lucky to have her. A brave and inspiring lady.