Gwen Harmsworth has always been active – she climbed Table Mountain in her late twenties and is a life member of the CTC, the national cycling charity.
This could be the secret to her longevity, as she celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday with a family party.
Gwen was born in Portsmouth in 1915. Her earliest memory is earning pocket money with her siblings.
‘We used to collect wood from the tip and fill our carts with it. That would pay for a trip to the pictures,’ she says.
In the thirties, Gwen worked in a bike shop called Fancys on Kirby Road. She met her husband Bill, a dockyard worker, at a work party. They got married in 1940.
When Bill went to Simonstown in South Africa to repair ships during World War Two, she followed him.
A U-boat was shooting over our bow and we had to stop. I was a good swimmer, but I wasn’t sure I could survive in the waterGwen Harmsworth, 100, on her journey to South Africa during World War Two
Gwen endured a turblent boat journey to get there.
‘A U-boat was shooting over our bow and we had to stop. I was a good swimmer, but I wasn’t sure I could survive in the water.’
Luckily, Gwen made it safely to Simonstown. During her time there she climbed to the top of Table Mountain.
‘Some older people were with us and they had to stop and rest, so we found a bush where we spent the night.
‘The next morning when we looked around there was a sheer drop behind the bush, we escaped death really.’
The view from the summit was well worth the risk.
‘When we got to the top, there was what was called a tablecloth over the mountain – low lying cloud – and we were above it. It was a beautiful sight,’ says Gwen.
Her daughter Hazel was born in 1945, and the family came back to Portsmouth in 1947.
Gwen had son Bill in 1949, and not long after they would go on bike trips as a family.
Gwen stopped cycling when she was 70. She now lives in the Meadow House residential home on Stubbington Avenue, where she is very happy.