Lest We Forget

BESSIE STALLWORTHY, 105 Years Old, 2020

NEIGHBOURS OF THE BEACH, 2018
Bessie Stallworthy, 2018

When Bessie Stallworthy spoke at Malvern Collegiate Institute, she said,

“I hope you decide to do the very best you can so that you can be counted as someone making peace. “

In 2016, Bessie Stallworthy was asked to speak at the Remembrance Day ceremony at Malvern. The students listened carefully and gave their undivided attention. When the assembly finished, she stayed at length to listen and meet with grateful students.  

“You need to get your education so you can be whatever you want, but it means hard work,” she encouraged each of them. 

Several teenage boys approached her. They hugged and thanked her. They explained together, “You’ve changed my mind about university. I will go and give it my all.” 

Bessie Stallworthy understands that your neighbour is anyone you pass anywhere and she enjoys talking to teenagers whenever she can. 

It is incredible to think that Bessie has survived two World Wars and countless changes within our society and across our planet. She experienced War as an infant and young child and as a young bride and mother. In 1918, Bessie participated in the first Armistice Day and she has attended a Remembrance Day ceremony every year since.

Born in 1915, during WWI, in Lewisham, a suburb of London, England, Bessie grew up in a row house with lots of close neighbours. She remembers her young life with great pride despite the hardship and depression of the World Wars. Through her local church, she helped serve the war effort by helping the women make mountains of sandwiches and preparing tea in a thermos. The men of the church would take them each week to Charing Cross station where the soldiers lived under the arches of bridges along the river Thames. 

As a young child, Bessie witnessed the desperation of young men without a home or medical and social benefits. She joined a group, the Oxford Peace Movement, comprised of young people who pledged not to suffer war again. They worked hard to create peace. The group ran out of her church and today, Bessie understands that church is not as important in a young person’s life as it was when she was young. However, for Bessie and the young people who survived World War I, the church gave them a place to depend on for comfort, hope, and assisted in settling the anxiety and stress they endured in the post-war era.

“I have great memories of my childhood and the creativity we shared together. I loved the loads of kids on the street because there weren’t any cars. I remember how life was when there were horses and carts delivering everything we needed. We had the green grocer, the fish man, or the bread man coming around with food in their carts. The lamplighter came out every week with a long stick to light the lamps and that was always fun to watch him.”

By 1939, Bessie had only been married a year to her husband, Chas when war was declared. 

“We were told Germany was on its way to bomb London. So we hid in a small cellar with my baby daughter. I could hear the roar of the flames. It was a terrible night. Thankfully, we were ok but all week the Germans bombed. I went to the west country of England, and was an evacuee. I was an immigrant and not everyone was happy with immigrants. Chas was called up to the war for over six years and I saw him once during this time for one week.

It was six years of being out of my house. However,I had a Dad who could see the best in things and I was an optimist.I went for walks and got to know people in the area. I learnt to have fun and I had to make it as nice as I could for my daughter. I’ve worked so hard not be judgmental because in the war you understand things you might not in times of peace, so I’ve learned I can put this to good use,” Bessie smiles. “I have been very lucky as well as gone through the tough stuff and hard times, but I believe that life is bound up with blessings and problems. We have to have the strength to manage to believe the world is a good place to be.”

At 105, Bessie Stallworthy is a treasure to our Beaches community. She often gives sermons at the Kingston Road United church where she became a member in her late 30s when she moved to Canada. Bessie volunteers on the pastoral care committee and enjoys her time looking after members of the community. She has worked on making the church feel like family because nobody gets in without someone talking to them right away. Her friends include people of all ages.

“We are there for those who want to rejoice and those who need to weep.”

As Bessie speaks to you she looks you in the eye. She knows that people matter. She is open to learning and building new relationships and those who meet her feel better for it.

“Neighbours are not just neighbours they are my friends. This is an incredible part of my life. I think that everyday should have an Awesome Momentand we need to appreciate them. Bloody Hellmoments are fine for a short time, but you need to get out of it and usually a cup of tea helps that too.”

Bessie continues to keep up with the ever-expanding and changing world with interest and positivity. She volunteers, writes stories, reads, uses her Ipad and walks several blocks a day visiting local businesses on Kingston Road. However, just as she remembers growing up in a busy suburb of London, Bessie still enjoys chatting with her neighbours as she sits outside by her lovely garden. It is a slice of England in the heart of the Beach.

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