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John Trewin Westaway
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Helena Augusta Brooking born 18th October, 1893 died 1st April, 1991

Nan on her 90th Birthday

From the day I was born in 1943, one of the most important people in my life was my Nan. We had a very special relationship. Nan was a widow and I was the youngest of three children and so I spent most of my childhood days with her. She was a wonderful person, full of fun and so kind. I don't think I ever heard her moan, even though life must have been hard at times. She was always there to share my happy and sad moments and I loved her dearly, as did all the family.

In her last year of life she suffered a series of falls, now blind and with brittle bones, life became a series of operations with long periods staying in Newton Abbot Hospital (the old workhouse) and I spent hours at her bedside. This was when she told me about her mother, Maryann Westaway. She talked about how Maryann would visit her mother, Jane, who then lived in Kingskerswell Road, Newon Abbot. Maryann and the children would ride on the back of the milk float which was horsedriven, from Torquay to Newton Abbot. Maryann died in the workhouse and Nan felt terribly guilty about this as at the time of her death she was heavily pregnant with my Aunt (1930) and as there were no free medical care Maryann was forced to go into the workhouse to die. The Geriatric Ward at the Newton Abbot Hospital was originally built as a workhouse and Nan was scared that she would die there as well.

Nan was 97 years of age and all the family were willing her to live to a hundred years old. Over the months it became too much and she died on Easter Sunday, April 1st, 1991 and was buried on the 8th April. I went straight from her funeral to London to buy her birth certificate as I just had to find out more about this remarkable lady. How I wished I had asked her more questions about her childhood, but it was too late.

Helena Augusta Brooking was born on the 18th October, 1893, the twelth child of William Thomas Herd Brooking and Maryann Westaway. Two more girls were to complete the family, but Helena outlived them all. Helena was well educated and an avid reader. She took me to the Theatre and on trips to other parts of Devon. Every day she would read her bible, although she didn't attend church on a regular basis.

She loved colourful clothes and was always immaculately dressed. She, like many of her sisters, had beautiful auburn hair, which even when she was ninety still hadn't gone grey. Her favourite perfume was California Poppy and later Yardley's lavender. Whilst she never remarried she was never short of admirers and enjoyed life to the full. Her favourite party piece was a rendering of "Knees up Mother Brown" and this she would do on top of the nearest table. As she married a Frederick Brown it had significance. In contrast my mother was quite a serious person and often felt Nan was a bad influence on me as we shared the same sense of humour. In her last years she had no money but was visited by all because of the love and respect we all felt towards her.

After her father, William died in 1905, Maryann started a Laundry Business in Lymington Road, Torquay. All the girls were taught the trade and were expected to help out. I can remember my Nan ironing for all our family. The shirt would take over an hour to iron, with its starch collar etc and then it would be folded in an expert way so that it didn't crease. Helena was to continue in the laundry business when she herself was widowed at the age of 40 years and my mother, Eileen Augusta, as the eldest daughter was her assistant. Life was very hard in those days, and even though my mother had passed examinations for University, there was no way her father would let her do it. Children were expected to bring in extra income to support the family and female education was considered unnecessary. However mum was a gifted athlete and he encouraged her in this. Mum died in 1965, at the young age of 47 years old, and how different her marriage had been to her mothers.

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Mum around 1931

My father rose to the rank of Squadron Leader in the RAF and it was amazing how my mother adapted to this life style, although always retaining her humble roots. Had she lived longer she would have been delighted and very proud that her seven eldest grandchldren have all graduated from University and two have obtained Doctorates.As well as my mother and Uncle Arthur, her elder brother, Helena had three young children to feed and bring up when Frederick died in 1933, Edward was just 5 years old, Jean three years old and Peter just a year old. There was no widow's pension so she and the two eldest children, my mother and Uncle Arthur had to make money taking in laundry and selling newspapers.

My Nan has left me a real legacy, since her death I have been so involved in Family History that I have now registered both the YEO & WESTAWAY names as one name studies. The fun of writing and meeting so many different people world wide has really changed my life and I can only say how lucky I am that my grandmother was called HELENA AUGUSTA BROOKING

The photograph below is of my wedding on the 16th May, 1964

Helena is fourth from the right holding her handbag, behind her to the right is my Aunty Jean, Next to Helena, fifth from the right is my sister, Eileen. Then myself (wearing a hat) with my younger brother Andy in front of me. In front of my sister is her son Stephen, who has ginger hair. Behind my sister is my mother, who in fact died nine months after this photograph was taken. My brother, Bob, first from the right is holding my niece, Rachel. Behind Rachel is Edward, my uncle and son of Helena.

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  © 2003-6 Sheila Yeo | For more information on the Westaway family and the research contained in this site email sheila@yeosociety.com or call me on +44 (0)1626 360978