Wartime teacher reflects on ‘lovely life’ as she celebrates her centenary

A Ferring resident who retired to the village in 1982 after teaching in schools throughout the war celebrated her 100th birthday last week.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 2:10 pm
Norah celebrating with her family and friends. Photo: Derek Martin Photography

Norah Elizabeth Fernie, who was born in London, turned 100 on January 26, celebrating with a dinner at the Ardington Hotel.

Norah’s first job was as a teacher at Toll Central Girls School in London in 1938.

She said: “It was difficult to adapt to evacuations and air raids but we kept spirits high.”

Norah celebrating at the Ardington Hotel. Photo: Derek Martin Photography

Norah explained that when the war started, teachers were sent all over the country to where they were most needed.

She spent the last six months of the war at a school in Bideford.

She said: “The empty schools in the dark during the blackout were incredibly eerie.

“We had to check the roofs and corridors of the school to make sure there were no fire balls or incendiary devices.”

When the war was over, Norah moved back to London before applying for a new teaching job in Littlehampton. She said: “I felt at home here in Sussex.”

After settling in Littlehampton, Norah wanted a hobby to help her ease back into civilian life, so joined the Maltraver’s Tennis Club, where she met Joseph William Fernie, an ex-army solider who served in the Normandy Landing.

On April 14, 1949 Norah and Joe married and moved to London for Joe’s work as an estimator.

She said: “Joe and I brought our first house for £1,800. It needed a lot of work but we renovated it ourselves. It was a nice project, although I’d always dreamt of a new build.”

Reflecting on her marriage Norah said: “Our marriage was very happy, he was a lovely husband and we had many happy years together.

“It is a little sad we never had any children, but we were still very happy and I was surrounded by children my whole life.”

Norah retired from teaching in 1970 as she struggled to keep up with the rapid changes of education.

In 1982, Norah and Joe – who had always hoped to retire to West Sussex – moved to Ferring, where Norah still lives today.

Norah has had many hobbies and interests throughout her life, including tennis, badminton, cycling, gardening and reading.

“I don’t do the physical activities so much any more, but I still like to potter around in the garden and read,” she said.

Norah is also fluent in French, after a visit to a companion friend in France before the war.

“That visit inspired by love for France and it has stuck with me all my life,” she said.

Asked about her secrets to making it to the age of 100, Norah said keeping fit was possibly key.

“And maybe a glass of wine a day with your meal helps - that’s something I learned in France,” she added.

Looking back on her life, Norah felt it had been one of fulfilment. She said: “I’ve had a very lovely life, often had little money but I was always happy and life is still worth living.”