Eighty-eight and counting.
That was the amount of cards Rosina Hampton received from friends and family to mark her 100th birthday.
Surrounded by vases of beautiful flowers too, she laughs: ‘I’ve got a garden in here. The only problem is I have to water them all!’
Born on the February 23, 1919, Rosina – known as Non – grew up in Old Ford, East London, with her younger sister Frances and they were ‘as thick as thieves’.
‘I wanted to stay on at school but my mum thought it would be better if I got a job. I started working in a tailor factory – oh, I hated it!
‘I couldn’t stay there so I got a job in the despatch department for a shirt factory. It suited me down to the ground and I stayed there until I got married,’ she says. Non met Harry Hampton when they were 13 years old through her friends.
‘We all lived in the same area so would go out as a group. As we got older, we all just paired up. And that’s that,’ she smiled.
The couple wed on September 23, 1940, at St Mark’s Church, East London. However it didn’t quite go according to plan.
‘I had a traumatic wedding,’ laughs Non.
‘My husband was conscripted into the army at the beginning of the war. He was supposed to be coming home to marry me but all leave was stopped.’
It was the middle of the Battle of Britain that Harry and Non were due to marry. At 9.30am on the morning of her wedding, Non was unsure whether she would have a groom at all.
‘He didn’t know what to do so he took French leave, meaning he just left without permission, so he could get home. He started getting closer to St Aubin’s, Jersey, but they stopped all the traffic.’
Harry was ordered to help with the ‘ack-ack’ guns – artillery used to shoot upwards towards planes.
‘He was up all night helping but somehow got away. He caught trains, ferries and buses to make it to the wedding.
‘He turned up in his dress suit which was filthy with mud. He got back into his civvy suit and borrowed his brother’s shirt.
‘And we were married for 53 years,’ she smiles.
Non and Harry left London for Send, Surrey, on their wedding night and ‘never went back’. Harry was was fined for taking leave but returned to the army for the duration of the Second World War.
‘I became a camp follower which meant while Harry was in England, everywhere he went I would follow on. He went abroad and then I didn’t see him until the end of the war.’
Non also worked for the National Assistance Board, which was similar to social services, before she got a job at a laundry.
‘I was on my own and Harry had just gone so I wanted something to do. I worked in laundry and stayed there until Harry came home and we moved to Leatherhead, Surrey,’ says Non.
But soon Harry wanted a change of scene.
‘Harry and his friend heard of a garage that was for sale and they were interested. Harry had finished up with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in the army so he had a lot of knowledge about cars.
‘He decided spur of the moment. There was two – one in Hayling and one in Crewkerne. They liked the one in Hayling and we moved on Christmas Eve, 1960, because that was the only time we could take it on,’ explains Non.
‘We ran that business together for 16 years which was nice. It was good fun and we loved Hayling.’
While they worked at West End Garage, the couple lived at St Thomas Avenue until Harry’s death in 1992. Now, Non lives independently at Mengham Court, Hayling, and regularly gets out and about to her luncheon clubs and the United Reform Church.
‘I have always enjoyed painting. That’s one of mine,’ she says, as she points to a red flower painting on the wall above her head.
‘I should find my paintings – perhaps their worth something,’ she smirks, ‘they’re original after all.’
With her hair perfectly in place and her nails painted a bright pink colour, Non says she has always been interested in fashion. Five years ago she bought a computer to stay up to date but also ‘look at the new clothes on the M&S website’.
Non has celebrated her 100th birthday with not one, but five birthday parties with her friends, close nephews Nigel and Adrian and their families. With three down and two to go, Non says she is overwhelmed by the 88 birthday cards she has received – of which only eight are from family.
‘I’m always interested in people I meet. I always listen so you gather a lot of friends that way,’ she explains.
‘As you get older, you don’t worry so much. You just accept things.
‘It’s important to always see the better side of everything.’