104TH BIRTHDAY: Elsie’s guiding hand rolls on...

Elsie Pickles cutting her 104th birthday cake
Elsie Pickles cutting her 104th birthday cake
From left: PO Adam Hilton,  Father Christmas, Captain Peter Towell, CPO Chris 'Paddy' Gilkes and Malcolm Dent

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There must be hundreds of women in the Portsmouth area who as girls benefited from Elsie Pickles’s guiding hand.

That all happened in the first half of the 20th century. Those girls are probably now all in their seventies, some much older.

Elsie and Reg Woodland at The Berkeley Arms, Bosham

Elsie and Reg Woodland at The Berkeley Arms, Bosham

Yet Elsie, at 104, is still going strong.

She was born in Littlehampton in 1913 to Edith and William Gray, and had one sister, Evelyn.

A churchgoer and Girl Guide, Elsie has always helped people in her community.

She never had children, but has a close relationship with her goddaughter Jane Brace, who went to Elsie’s recent party with her sister Heather.

Elsie and Jack
Pickles on their wedding day at St Leodegar's Church, Hunston, near Chichester

Elsie and Jack Pickles on their wedding day at St Leodegar's Church, Hunston, near Chichester

Elsie said: ‘They are like my children. I think the world of those kids.’

The 104-year-old was a close friend of Jane’s parents and Elsie stepped in and did the ‘godmother thing’, letting the teenaged Jane live with her while she was at college.

Jane describes her godmother as ‘one of the most amazing women I’ve ever known’.

She adds: ‘A keen gardener and a great cook, she is a force of nature, utterly determined and with a great zest for life. I am more than happy that my parents chose her to be my godmother. We have had so many wonderful, unforgettable times together.’

Goddaughter Jane Brace with birthday girl Elsie

Goddaughter Jane Brace with birthday girl Elsie

In 1938, Elsie married Reg Woodland and they moved to Rowlands Castle. They later moved to The Berkeley Arms at Bosham so Reg could fulfil his life-long ambition of running a pub.

With Elsie in charge of the catering and the bed and breakfast, which she describes as ‘jolly hard work’, the couple ran the pub for nearly 23 years. It was featured in The New York Times, and Elsie raised enough money for five guide dogs during her time there.

She was famed for her cooking, including her sausage rolls – a delicacy she continued making until earlier this year when she moved into a Littlehampton rest home.

When Elsie and Reg retired in the 1980s the couple moved back to her family home in Littlehampton. But after 62 years of marriage, Reg died in January 2000.

However, a few months later Elsie found love again with her second husband Jack Pickles, an old friend and widower.

They married in October 2000 when Elsie was 87 and Jack was in his nineties, and had a wedding ‘with all the trimmings’ in St Leodegar’s Church, Hunston, near Chichester.

Elsie said: ‘People thought we were mad having a big wedding, but I thought why not? If I was going to get married again, it was going to be in a church.

‘I have been so lucky in my life. I have had two happy marriages; I have always had friends backing me up.’

And the secret behind those 104 years? Elsie is typically down to earth: ‘This business of living to this age; we don’t do anything to deserve it, it just happens. It’s just down to luck, nothing else.’

ELSIE’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH GIRLGUIDING

In 1923, Elsie joined the 1st Littlehampton Guide Company, and a lifelong love affair with the Guides began.

In 1938 she co-founded the Havant Trefoil Guild for former Girl Guides, and the Rowlands Castle branch of the Girl Guides a year later.

In the 1940s and ’50s she held several senior Girlguiding posts in Horndean and Portsdown.

By 1984, Elsie was chairman of the Littlehampton Trefoil Guild.

She said she has lived by one mantra from her time in the Guides: ‘do one good turn to somebody every day’.

Margaret Baker, 92, met Elsie when she was 10 through Girlguiding and they have been friends ever since.

Margaret, 92, received an MBE for her community work, including the Guides, and described Elsie as ‘a very big inspiration to me’. She said: ‘Elsie is a remarkable person with a lot of spirit.’

For her 104th birthday, Margaret made Elsie a Girlguiding-themed cake.