From horrors of London Blitz to ‘a little piece of heaven’

Grand century ... Irene Haigh had a long love affair with Glyndebourne

Ringmer resident Irene Haigh toasted her 100th birthday yesterday (Thursday) proudly holding her letter from The Queen as she celebrated the milestone with her family.

Irene said she reached her grand age thanks to “family, good friends and living in a lovely area”.

She was born in Wombwell, South Yorkshire. Her father, Stanley Briggs, was a builder and travelled the country working and the family lived in Plymouth and Suffolk for spells in the 1920s and 1930s before settling in London.

Irene married her first husband, Bill, in 1939, but days later he went to war in the Royal Navy and his submarine was torpedoed and destroyed. He was killed just two weeks after their wedding.

In a letter to her sister Betty, Irene described the Blitz over London in September 1940: “We are terribly jumpy as we hear nothing but aeroplanes, whistling and screaming bombs and see huge fires which light up all London.

“Betts, honestly, there is nothing so nerve-wracking. Daddy said the safest place was in the pantry so we just held each other tight and waited for it ... The flames, the shells bursting in the sky – well, it was like Dante’s Inferno and left an impression that will never die.”

In 1940 Irene met Doug, her husband for 50 years. The printers he worked for in London was bombed and Irene, pregnant with her first child, Sally, gave birth in Northampton before the family moved to Ringmer and Doug transferred to Lewes Press, then in Friars Walk.

The couple loved Ringmer as soon as they arrived and their second child, Peter, was born in 1946. The family had a great social life with many friends. Irene was once featured in a promotional shoot for Babycham, filmed at The Green Man in the 1950s.

Irene and Doug, along with many others, were heavily involved in Ringmer Football Club in different capacities for many years. Irene remembers making the teas in a tiny hut on Anchor Field, before the clubhouse was built.

After her children grew up, in 1962 Irene started her love affair with Glyndebourne, working in the cloakrooms for many years with her best friend Kathleen Crees. She retired from the job she loved in 2007, describing Glyndebourne as “a little piece of heaven” and receiving her P45 in the same week as her 90th birthday cards!

Irene is a dedicated ‘Nan’ to her four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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