Happy-go-lucky cockney celebrates 100th birthday in Worthing

Happy-go-lucky and talkative Rene Barclay is a typical cockney and proud of her East London heritage.

Care for Veterans' oldest resident Rene Barclay with Worthing mayor Paul Baker, friends, family and staff. Photo by Derek Martin DM1881386a
Care for Veterans' oldest resident Rene Barclay with Worthing mayor Paul Baker, friends, family and staff. Photo by Derek Martin DM1881386a

The oldest resident at Care for Veterans’ hospital home in Worthing, Rene is a real favourite with volunteers.

There was quite a crowd at her 100th birthday party on Saturday, as she was keen to invite as many people as possible.

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Sue Harris, fundraising officer, said: “She is always a favourite with the volunteers because she always chats to them. Sense of humour has been a real help and because she has had a bit of a hard life, she has had to get on with it. She calls a spade a spade.”

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Rene has always been proud of her lovely, thick hair and has never coloured it.

She also points out: “You notice I am not deaf, at my age. I can’t make it out. I had an operation on one ear when I was 21, all because of flu, but it doesn’t seem to have affected me.

“I just can’t believe I am 100. I have never smoked, which is a help.

“I love it here. The staff are so friendly and I feel safe. I have got a really good sense of humour. There’s always something going on and I do like the music concerts when we have a good old sing-a-long, just like in the East End of London when I was a girl.”

Rene was born in Shoreditch on August 11, 1918. She met Philip Barclay at a friend’s house when she was 17 and it was love at first sight. However, her mother did not approve, as she did not like Rene riding pillion on Philip’s Manx Norton motorcycle, and she made them split up.

Rene was heartbroken but a few years later, she bumped into Philip at the cinema and their relationship began again. They were married just a few months later, in June 1940.

Rene said: “We married quickly because our country was at war and we did not know what the future held for us. We thought it was the best thing to do.

“Philip was initially in the Air Raid Precautions services but was then conscripted into the Army, joining the Royal Artillery.”

Their son, also Philip, was born on one of the worst nights of The Blitz.

Rene said: “I went into labour as the bombs were dropping all around us. It was dreadful and very frightening. There were no ambulances to take me to hospital so I had to go in a fire engine. Philip was born just as the all-clear sirens sounded. The doctor said to me ‘you timed that well’.”

During the war, Rene treasured the rare times when her husband was home on leave and is rightly proud of the Commander-in Chief’s Certificate he was awarded by Field Marshall Montgomery for outstanding good service.

Philip set up a secondhand furniture and upholstery business after the war and Rene was a dressmaker in Oxford Street. She still enjoys weaving and her pieces are made into cushion covers to raise money for Care for Veterans.

Rene said money was always tight but they saved up so they could buy a bungalow when Philip retired, which was when they moved to Worthing.

Philip died on November 5, 1999, and Rene lived alone until she was 90, when she suffered a stroke, leaving her unable to walk.

Rene qualified for Gifford House as Philip served in the Armed Forces, and she moved into the hospital home in 2009.

She said: “I was quite poorly and couldn’t do much but I soon became better and now every day I get up, I go to breakfast and then into the social and recreation room, where the fun of the day begins. I like doing weaving, which keeps me busy, but most of all I have a real laugh with the other residents.”

Rene also enjoys the trips out on the coach, especially when residents attend the Remembrance Sunday parade in London and she wears Philip’s four war medals.

Son Philip said: “This is definitely the best place for Mum to be. She gets the care that she needs as well as the physiotherapy and occupational therapy which makes such a big difference. Mum interacts really well with other residents and really enjoys her time here.”

Rene enjoyed fish and chips for her birthday dinner, as it is one of her favourites, with jelly and ice-cream to follow.