By Hannah, a digital marketer and trapeze enthusiast based in Edinburgh. Hannah currently works at Glasgow Women’s Library and can be found on Twitter @hanjmwright
As a young child, my Granny Cathy existed to me as a combination of a few facts.
She lived in a place where there were two beaches.
She was a packer of delicious picnics and would give me little cans of Coca Cola when I was never allowed any at home and we’d often go out to eat at a restaurant that had a soft play area and a game where you had to catch plastic bees in a net.
She was always well presented, making lots of her own clothes, and her hair was permed to perfection – I’m not sure I ever saw a hair out of place.
At this time she really didn’t exist at all outwith her role as my Granny; the fact she was her own being with a history of her own just didn’t come into the world view of a small child whose main joys in life were penny sweets and playing in the park.
As I grew older, I began to realise that Granny Cathy wasn’t just a purveyor of treats and well packed picnics and I tried to make up for this by asking questions. Some of the answers I remember and some I don’t. Luckily, Cathy was a keen documenter of her own life and when I look at old albums and read through letters, I feel as though her scribbles are speaking to me across time.
During WWII Cathy’s brothers enlisted and, not one to be left out, she worked out ways in which she could also be of use. In 1943, aged 11, she raised money to send to help the war effort and received a personal thank you note from Clementine Churchill on paper with a Downing Street letterhead. She kept this letter safe and in pristine condition for the next 65 years and it was something that she was immensely proud of.
Cathy’s adventurous spirit and desire to muck in meant that in 1948, when she was 16, she rubbed at the birthdate on her birth certificate until it was smudged enough that she could alter her birth date by one year. As a 17 year-old, she was eligible to join the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), which had been the whole purpose of the deception. From Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland, Cathy travelled to RAF Henlow in England and became a trumpeter in the WRAF Central Band, a role that meant she travelled to Europe to perform. She kept an album and the photographs and the comments written on each image tell the story of a very happy place and time.
My favourite photographs are one captioned ‘Band in one of their mad moods, Feb 1948’ and another that is a photograph of someone I don’t know. On the reverse of this photograph is written, ‘Good luck in the future, wherever you may be. Wherever I am I will always think of the good times we had at Wilmslow. Your friend always, Margaret xxx’.
Cathy moved back to Lossiemouth after her time in the WRAF and met my Grandad who was an evacuee from Glasgow. Grandad fell in love with Lossiemouth and wanted to settle down there; if it wasn’t for her great love for him, I think she may have travelled much further afield. Together they ran the bar in the local golf club and raised three children and an assortment of animals.
There are still so many things I don’t know about my Granny Cathy; questions I now wish I’d asked. It’s a bittersweet thing to know that someone lived an incredible life but that you’ll only ever know parts of it.
Looking through photographs and reading her words in her own handwriting, I feel as though I’m getting to know parts of her that she never really showed us when she was older. My Granny Cathy was rarely silly – always kind and caring but never silly. It makes me love her all the more to know she wasn’t always as composed and carefully put together as I might have thought. Part of me wishes I could have met that young version of Cathy, in one of her mad moods, but then she wouldn’t have been my Granny. She taught me the importance of oatmeal stuffing at Christmas, of scratch cards and the dream you might one day be rich, and the reality that it doesn’t matter anyway because true riches lie in the love of friends and family. And for all that, and so much more, I feel incredibly grateful.