Troops are rallied for Joan’s big day

Joan McKenzie Edwards posing with one of more than 60 birthday cards she received from family and friends.         Picture: Sarah Standing
Joan McKenzie Edwards posing with one of more than 60 birthday cards she received from family and friends. Picture: Sarah Standing
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Joan McKenzie Edwards has done a lot in her 100 years – including serving as a sergeant during the Second World War.

On Tuesday last week she rallied the troops for a birthday party at her home in Caroline Square in Portsea to celebrate her centenary.

Joan is amazed to reach the milestone. She says: ‘Unbelieveable – I never thought it would ever happen, but it has happened and I have had a marvellous time.

‘Everyone has been so kind in my life, that has had a lot to do with it.’

Last Sunday members of Joan’s family came to visit her for a smaller gathering, and last Tuesday she had a big party downstairs in her building with friends, which the Mayor of Portsmouth Steven Wylie came along to.

‘Bless him, he was lovely,’ says Joan.

‘It is through my friend John that he came, but he was so nice and stayed such a long time – it was appreciated by all.’

John and Pauline Thurston are two of Joan’s closest friends, having been her neighbours at her previous home in Hooper Court, Portsea.

The couple, and Joan’s other friends Jane and Brian Middlemiss, got her a cake with a hand-crafted icing figure of Joan as a sergeant in the war.

‘I went on a trip to Brighton for the day and I saw the “Your country needs you” poster. I went down some steps and before I knew it I had signed up,’ she says.

Joan was stationed in London before going to Palestine in Christmas 1942, where she encountered many thrilling experiences.

‘The Jewish Resistance blew up the Palestine Police department and our billet was quite near there,’ she says.

‘I woke up with a window frame around my face – we had to cart our mattresses down to the ground floor and spend the rest of the night there.

‘After that we had to be escorted to our offices in open lorries with men carrying tommy guns. It was quite thrilling, we didn’t realise how dangerous it was.’

While over there, Joan met her husband Phillip, who was a corporal, at a military dance. They got married in the old city of Jerusalem and came back to England in Christmas 1945.

‘On the way out there I was on the Queen Mary and had American food for Christmas lunch, which was lovely.

‘On the way back I was on the Batory, which was a Polish ship, and we had baked beans – the contrast was ridiculous,’ says Joan.

Upon returning Joan was stationed in London as a pay clerk and Phillip became a bus driver. They had one daughter, Jennifer. The family then moved to Portsmouth and Joan worked for solicitors Brutton, Birkett and Walsh until she was 79.

She says: ‘I think hard work has kept me going, I used to go to London and get the Underground to visit my niece when I was in my 80s.’

As part of the celebrations, Joan received a card from the Queen, which pictures her holding a bouquet of flowers.

‘From where I sit, the Queen looks like she is holding an ice-cream, and I keep thinking ‘‘why hasn’t she finished it?’’ she jokes.