Ethel at 102 in her own words

04 Feb 2019

Ethel, 102, says, “I wanted to be a writer when I was younger but it wasn’t really possible for a poor young woman from the East End so I left school young to work, like a lot of my generation. That’s how it was, I can’t regret that.”

Now in her own words, Ethel talks about her life, work, the atmosphere in London and Europe before and after World War II and her family.

“I was born on 5 April 1916 in Shoreditch. I lived in North Finchley for 26 years and before that in Islington Today, I live at Jewish Care’s Lady Sarah Cohen House in Friern Barnet. At the home I enjoy the concerts and entertainment in the Pavillion, especially the 1940’s style music. I can’t say how I got to this age. It’s luck, I think. I’ve had my sorrows, I lost my beautiful daughter Diane, but my wonderful daughter Ros, my grandchildren and all my family keep me going.

After leaving school young to work, I did invisible mending. We always worked hard. I worked as an invisible mender at my aunt's establishment in Cannon Street. After the War I learnt to audio type at night school and worked as a temp for many years, including legal secretarial work.

When I was younger, my brother and I were members of the Clarion Cycling Club, who had groups all over London. My brother sold Percy a bike and that’s how we met. He was in the club too and cycled all over the world. We soon married and used to go on cycling holidays together. Percy and I were married for 43 years and had many happy years together.

I can remember just before war broke out we went to cycle in the Black Forest in Belgium. We stayed at a hostel for cyclists and walkers. It was a strange time to be in that part of Europe. Everyone at the hostel sang their national songs and we came across the Germany-Luxembourg border and swiftly turned around. In England, things weren’t good at that time either. I can remember the fascists in Cable Street very clearly, though I didn’t get involved.

In WWII Percy served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Egypt, Al Kabeer and I was evacuated to Letchworth. My eldest daughter, Diane was born there in 1941. All the relatives from London used to come and stay whenever they could get away from London and the bombing. It was an open house and a very welcome haven for them.

After the war, we came back to London's East End where Rosalind was born. I wanted to be in a Jewish environment and my father had a flat in Brady Street. We lived there in rather cramped circumstances until we were able to get a larger flat in Highbury. In the early 50's in Highbury we were very happy. At that time it felt like the countryside after the East End with Clissold Park nearby and it was lovely. Diane used to cycle here, there and everywhere. I became a full-time mother and later a legal secretary.

Looking back, I think the biggest change in my lifetime has been technology and computers. It has changed everything and there are new opportunities. Life is a bit easier now, it was hard in the 30’s when jobs were hard to find. Though I think young people spend too much time on computers and phones. They’d be better off talking to each other and being sociable.

I have a fantastic family with 11 grandchildren between the years of 3 to 19. I played Bridge for 50 years, Percy and I enjoyed going on our Bridge holidays. Today, when my family come and visit me at the Betty and Asher Loftus Centre, we enjoy playing Kalooki together. My proudest achievement is having such a loving, caring family.