(1920 - 2008)
The funeral of Doris Hirons (née Branson) took place in the Church of St James, Sulgrave on Thursday 22nd January. Doris was the last surviving and youngest of the 12 children of Bertram and Clara Branson. She was born in the cottage known as Spring Gardens in Sulgrave in 1920 and died in Kendal, Lancashire on New Year's Eve 2008.
The following tribute was given at the service by her nephew Colin Wootton:
Auntie Doris was born in Sulgrave in 1920, the youngest of the 12 brothers and sisters of the Branson family. They were a close knit family, united in the adversity consequent upon the employment difficulties of the twenties and thirties. Most of her brothers worked on local farms or the Great Central Railway and many of her sisters were in domestic service by the age of 14 or 15. Doris escaped that fate and worked in the village store – a very different place from today’s community shop with its baguettes, French wines and buffalo mozzarella. She would have started very early in the morning to spend her days weighing out orders for flour, rice (only used for puddings), sugar and salt, scooped up from wooden drawers and poured into hand labelled paper bags. There was cheese to be sliced – one kind only – from huge blocks, using thin wire cutters. Customers would bring their own containers for the paraffin then widely used in the village and she would have made many journeys to the big storage tank in the back yard. Brooms, brushes, spades, rakes and hoes hung from the high ceiling and were retrieved for customers using a long pair of steps. Not much more than a child herself, she would have been serving penny sweets, sherbet dabs and the newly invented potato crisps to the village children.
However, life was not all work and there were many consolations to growing up in a country village. My own mother talked fondly of she and her sisters dressing in white and taking the May Garland around the village, singing the little song reserved for that day, accompanied by brother Bill with his mandolin. “Here we come with the May Garland, made by God’s own hand” they sang. Bill’s mandolin was also heard at Christmas time, since the family were much involved with the Sulgrave Mummers, singing, dancing and acting in village houses and further afield.
However, these simple pleasures came to an abrupt end when war was declared just after her nineteenth birthday. Village life was turned upside down. Many of the men were called up into the armed forces, including her youngest and favourite brother and also Fred Hirons, a cheerful and vivacious young man to whom she had taken more than a little fancy. The school roll was doubled overnight with the influx of evacuees from London, billeted wherever bed spaces could be found. Young women were required to do their bit by working on farms as the famous “land girls”, becoming nurses or by taking men’s places at the vital Banbury aluminium factory.
Doris opted for something which perhaps seemed a bit more glamorous than any of these and volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, for ever known as the Waafs. Initially she was stationed at nearby Finmere and I have vivid childhood memories of seeing her in her smart blue uniform, walking off to Helmdon station to catch the train. She became a Leading Aircraftswoman and subsequently served at Poole in Dorset and Darlington in Yorkshire. The airfields where she served could come under attack at any time. Danger was ever present and on one occasion her station commander was killed in an attempt to rescue the crew of a crashed bomber. From such fraught situations came friendships which endured for the rest of her life.
The war ran its course and she was re-united with the cheerful young man who had become a sergeant in the East Africa Army Service Corps with a working knowledge of Swahili! She and Fred Hirons were married in this church on a July day in 1944, whilst he was on leave. The best man was his navy friend Robert Jones and the bridesmaid his sister Olive. To the derision of my village friends I was chosen to be a six-year old page boy, forcibly detained whilst trying to escape and thrust into a white shirt and fancy blue satin trousers. I only restored my street credibility by ripping this outfit whilst jumping over a wall! My younger cousin Rosemary was happy in her bridesmaid’s outfit and would have been here today but for a hospital appointment. The local paper described the wedding as “a very pretty affair”.
A year later the war had ended and the newly-weds were at last able to set up home in the village of Helmdon, where their only child Lynette was born in 1951. However, the call of the village was too much and they moved back to Sulgrave in 1962. Doris was therefore able to help in the care of her aged mother who lived to the ripe old age of 90 years despite, or more probably because of, her twelve children.
Sadly, suddenly, but cheerful to the end, Fred died of a heart attack just after Christmas in 1980 at the age of 66. The village as Doris had known it was changing rapidly. Inevitably her older brothers and sisters were beginning to fade away and many friends of childhood had moved elsewhere. Lynette had married in 1969 and was living in Anglesey with husband Derek and children Martin and Maddy. In 1983 Doris therefore decided to cut her remaining links with Sulgrave and move to Anglesey to be near her family. She spent 23 happy years on the Island, becoming a great-grandmother when Emma was born in 2001 and Nicholas in 2003.
In 2006 she moved to Kendal, again to be near her family. At 86, however, setting up house once again was not really an option and she moved into a care home. Sadly, conditions there deteriorated and she moved into a new home just before Christmas of last year. Conditions there were everything that could be desired and I’m told that she was very contented and peaceful during the few weeks she lived there. Indeed, she wrote a very cheerful letter to Molly and I, extolling the virtues of her new home.
She died suddenly but peacefully on New Year’s Eve. Her quiet state of mind during those few weeks have suggested to the family that the end was not quite as unexpected to her as it was to them and she was fully prepared to meet her maker.
And so the wheel has turned full circle and we find ourselves back in the village and at the church where she attended Sunday School as a child, was christened and married. She will be re-united with Fred after almost 30 years and her name added to his on a headstone in a little part of the churchyard overlooked by the house from which she walked out into a world at war almost seventy years ago.
May she rest in peace.