Witness to a century

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ONE hundred and one years old and still going strong as the most senior resident in the Settlers Park Retirement Village, is Dr Jessie Berry.

Her long and interesting life began way back in 1916 when she was born in Manchester, England. After completing her schooling in the city, she entered Manchester University to study medicine and qualified as a medical practitioner in 1942.

STILL GOING STRONG: Dr Jessie Berry, seated, with her daughter Jean Atkinson, one of a few mother and daughter combinations at Settlers Park retirement village

World War 2 had in the meantime broken out and Manchester was badly bombed during this time. “We, as a family did not make use of the shelters and took our chances at home. We were fortunate that our home was never struck during these raids, but I remember well the devastation caused by the bombs throughout the city,” Berry said.

After completing her housemanship at a hospital in North Staffordshire, she was conscripted into the Royal Army Medical Corps and remained in this until the war ended. Wanting to do her bit in the war effort, she chose to be posted to India and arrived there when the Burma Campaign was on.

She said: “I was commissioned with the rank of captain and women were treated the same as men. I loved India and we were treated very well as officers while we were there until the Japanese war ended in August, 1945.”

It was during this time that she met a man from the then Rhodesia, whose unit had been seconded to the famous Black Watch Regiment. He too was a captain and after a whirlwind romance the two decided to get married. But there came a problem as the Black Watch minister did not have a license to marry couples and could only bury people. After a frantic search, they found an American padre some distance away in the bush. Arrangements were hastily made for the wedding and the couple remained married for 47 years.

She added: “I was still very young and knew little of the rest of the world; I had not even heard of Rhodesia. I wrote to my parents to tell them of my plans, but knew that I would already be married by the time they received my letter.”

After the war ended the Rhodesian forces were put on standby for six months until suitable transport could be arranged to take them home.

Once back in Rhodesia there was another major obstacle. Having joined the army in England, Berry had to return there to be discharged. Undeterred, she took herself off to Cape Town, where she boarded the wrong ship in her ignorance. But she got there and was eventually discharged, but it meant that she was separated from her newlywed husband for six months.

He, in the meantime, had various jobs in agriculture until they bought their own farm near Marandellas in 1948. Wanting to continue with her medical career, Berry concentrated on doing anaesthetics at the local hospital for a few years until she opened her own clinic in 1958. She ran this successfully for 23 years.

The couple farmed on 2 000 acres and developed one of the top Friesland studs in Rhodesia. Their cattle won many awards at various shows and their bulls were widely sought after. But with the advent of artificial insemination, they closed down this operation and concentrated on tobacco and maize farming.

They had three children, who had moved to South Africa once they had grown up. The Berrys wanted to be nearer their children and so it was that they decided to sell their farm and moved south in 1981.

“It was with a heavy heart that we sold. We loved Rhodesia, the countryside, the people and the farm,” Berry said.

They settled in Fort Beaufort where their daughter, Jean Atkinson, lived and she immediately opened a clinic in the town. She provided a much needed service until she decided to finally retire at the age of 79.

The family moved to Port Alfred three years ago and live next door to each other in Settlers Park.

It was a very special occasion when Berry celebrated her 100th birthday last year and it was made more memorable when she received a card from the Queen on the day.

Still as bright as a button and enjoying good health, Berry has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

by BOB FORD

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