Wartime memories of a centenarian

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As a school teacher and ARP warden, Marjorie Burn played a vital role on the home front in the Second World War.

And shortly after celebrating her 100th birthday, the great-grandmother still has vivid memories of that time.

Anyone who knows Marjorie – who celebrated her 100th on May 24 – will tell you that she loves to talk and has plenty of fascinating, and sometimes harrowing, tales to tell.

As an ARP (air raid precaution) warden in Gosport, Marjorie would patrol the streets with her colleagues, checking for rogue lights during the blackout and ready to fight fires during air raids.

She remembers a bomb dropping between two air raid shelters in Hardway and killing most members of the families sheltering there.

The young warden was with a team who dug out the only survivor – an 11-year-old girl called Rosemary – and the pair remained friends for the rest of Rosemary’s life.

Orphaned Rosemary was evacuated to Basingstoke and Marjorie would drive up there to visit the young girl. ‘There wasn’t anyone else to visit her and I didn’t mind. I used to take my mother and father up there to see her,’ she says.

Marjorie was also lucky to survive the incident. Two days later an unexploded bomb detonated in the exact spot of the rescue.

‘I’d gone to bed early when it exploded up the road, I thought “well there aren’t any planes or anything”. Unfortunately, they had buried the family dog there and it blew it out of the grave,’ she says with the mischievous smile of anyone who has witnessed tough times and had a narrow escape.

Marjorie was evacuated several times during the war with Portsmouth school pupils and would teach in their countryside destinations.

Among those rural havens was Pilley in the New Forest. The local children would have the school for half of the day and Marjorie and her city pupils would use it for the other half.

A very bright and alert lady, Marjorie tells her stories in her comfortable room at Croft Manor care home in Fareham. It was here that she celebrated her important birthday with many family and friends.

Born in Gosport, she turned out to be a clever girl who went to grammar school and then on to university to study French.

In 1946 she married fellow teacher John Burn and the Gosport couple had three sons – Richard, Gerald and Kenneth.

Marjorie returned to teaching French in 1957 at Grove Road Secondary School and moved to the new Brune Park comprehensive when it opened in 1965.

She received cards from ex pupils for her birthday and one of them – a former neighbour – attended the party.

On social media today she is still referred to as the formidable (translates as tremendous/superb) Mrs Burn.

Marjorie, who has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, says of her 100 years. ‘I just get on with it. I don’t feel that old, in fact I don’t even feel 60.’