100TH BIRTHDAY: Townwomen's Guild stalwart Betty sees in her centenary
Reaching her centenary was just another one of Betty Ash's many lifetime achievements.
Betty, who was actually born Aileen Elizabeth Salisbury but earned her nickname from her middle name from an early age, celebrated her 100th birthday on December 15, 2017.
A well-known figure in the Portchester community, of which she has been a member since childhood, Betty was a member of Portchester Townswomen’s Guild for a staggering 50 years.
She is originally from New Milton and was one of two twin girls. She is now the only living child of Johnathan Salisbury, who served in the army at Hilsea barracks, and his wife Florence.
The Salisbury family moved to Winchester when Betty was very young, before relocating to Portchester, where she still lives, when she was about four .
Growing up, Betty remembers being very close to her twin sister Cynthia Mary, or Molly as most people knew her.
‘We used to do lots together,’ she says. ‘We would often go cycling with friends all the way out to Bognor Regis or Lee-on-the-Solent, seeing as there wasn’t much traffic back then.’
Betty’s first job was at the Fareham branch of Woolworth’s, and it was about that time she met her future husband John Ash, known as Jack, at a dance in Fareham.
‘He was very good to me,’ Betty fondly remembers of her husband, whom she married in 1939 at St Mary’s Church, Portchester. ‘We used to love going dancing, before the war anyway.’
When the Second World War broke out Betty got a job, much like her father, in Hilsea barracks, where she worked for the Royal Army Pay Corps and occasionally went on firewatching duty during air raids.
Betty’s brother George was killed during the Second World War – his name takes pride of place on a war memorial at Fareham Borough Council’s offices, where he used to work.
Jack also served on the frontline, and was even on the beaches at Dunkirk.
She explains: ‘He came back on the last boat.
‘It was a terrible time they had, and he had a shrapnel wound.’
After the war, Betty and Cynthia joined the Guides, while Betty also worked for the shipbuilding company Vosper & Company and looked after Jack following his wartime injury.
Then of course there was her five-decade membership of the Portchester Townswomen’s Guild, where she picked up many hobbies.
She says: ‘We used to love doing a lot of country dancing, and going to festivals in places like Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight.’
Jack died 35 years ago, but in 1993 Betty was reunited with her twin sister Molly, who had moved to Worcester and lived in various places in the midlands since the mid-1940s.
Before Molly’s death in 2014, they would often celebrate their birthday together.
Betty and Jack had two children – Betty’s daughter Susan died in 2005, but her son Robin is now 73 years old and lives in Southampton.
She also has five grandchildren 10 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren, all of whom celebrated Betty’s centenary at Portchester Community Centre on December 17.
‘I don’t feel any different,’ Betty chuckles.
‘Everybody says that I seem youthful for my age, they don’t believe I’m 100.’
Betty doesn’t have a specific secret to a long and prosperous life, but she has learnt a very important lesson in her 100 years and counting.
‘You’ve got to go with it,’ she smiles. ‘I was without my husband throughout the war, and then we had the bombs over here. It was a long time, but we got through it.
‘You’ve just got to be tolerant, that’s all.’
Do you have a friend or relative who’s celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary in 2018? Email Danny Randon now on [email protected] or call (023) 9262 2106.