Gladys Jenny Elliot née Bunting-Haynes

Dr & Mrs Elliot

Gladys Jenny Bunting Haynes, later Elliot, was born on May 29th, 1903, six months or so before the Wright brothers made 'the first powered flight' (Dec. 17) and 450 years to the day after the Turks captured Constantinople (1453). She was born in a farm called Leighton Lodge, just north of the village of Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, the ninth of ten children of a tenant farmer. She went to school in Long Buckby but when she was ten the family moved to the Model Farm, Hanslope, Buckinghamshire. These two places, a few miles apart, are now separated by the M1 motorway. Perhaps significantly, the family had been Congregationalists in Long Buckby but became Church of England in Hanslope.

Gladys as she was then called left school at fourteen, towards the end of the Great War, and for a time worked for two of her sisters who ran a post office and village shop in Lubenham. (Lubenham is just west of Market Harborough and not far from Naseby, a Civil War battlefield Gladys often mentioned.) One of her jobs was cycling round delivering letters and also the dreaded official telegrams with news of death. Later, perhaps after the war, she followed the example of one of her sisters and took a secretarial course, but travelling to work (in Northampton, I think) cost marginally more than she earned and she stopped almost immediately. Being free of other commitments she often helped her sisters when they were confined and on one of these occasions the midwife suggested nursing as a career. Gladys wrote off in answer to an ad in a nursing magazine lent her by the midwife, and was offered a job in a hospital in Epsom, which she took. This led on to the nursing job in Burnley, Lancashire, where she met James Elliot, one of the house-surgeons, who asked her out and then married her on January 12th 1931. Gladys' approval of bridges and viaducts (the only charity she is known to have subscribed to is one concerned with the upkeep of railway bridges) is thought to have some relation to the place where he proposed to her, a bridge near Burnley. (She has also said he proposed on a bridge in Settle, Yorkshire, where she had turned him down.)

Her first child Alistair (once described as a 'first anniversary present') was born on October 13th 1932 when the young couple were living in Wigan, where James had become a GP. They had two more children there (Anne in 1934 and Jean in 1936) and the children had to learn the address and telephone number of their house, in case of getting lost. This information was often cited in the family as 'Ellum Bank tw-oh tw-oh' (really 2020, I think, in a child's version). Eventually, because of the senior partner's habit of disappearing suddenly on binges lasting a week or more, they moved to another practice, at Hoylake, on the Wirral. They moved into 21 Market Street on April 12th 1938 after a few months in a house in Waverley Avenue, from an upstairs back window of which one could just see the Kingsway Cinema, which struck Gladys as an exciting sign of good times to come.

What came of course was the war, and a decision to accept an offer from an American anglophile to take care of six children from Hoylake, though an intermediary who happened to be one of James' patients. Six children were found but the three others dropped out after invasion ceased to be a threat. But James and Gladys were afraid that he would be called up, his income would disappear, they would lose the house (rented from the previous G.P.), and there would be nowhere for the family to go. (This had happened to another doctor in Hoylake.) So in November 1940 Gladys took her three children aboard a ship called the Nova Scotia in Liverpool and they sailed in convoy (other ships were sunk) to land in Boston. The children were to be taken care of by a 'governess' (really a nurse for very young children) called Miss Love, and Gladys thought she wouldn't do - but there was no way out. She had to hand over the children, in Palm Beach Florida, and go back to New York to wait alone, and insufficiently provided for, till she could get on a ship that would take her back to England, through the U-boats. The children's hosts, Mr and Mrs Charles E. Merrill, were kind, but can hardly have understood the horror of Gladys' situation. (She did not help herself by indulging in her usual thoughtless frankness: she used to tell the story of how at a dinner given by CEM in her honour she naively remarked on the awfulness of business people.) See Alistair's poem What Did You Do in the War, Mummy? for another angle on these events.

In the last year of the war Gladys became pregnant again. Tim was born in January 1945. The Americanised first three came home that July, just before the end of the War in the Pacific. They were judged to be educationally backward, even Alistair, who had been for over a year at an excellent boarding school in North Carolina, so they were crammed a bit and sent away to boarding schools, Alistair to Edinburgh (Fettes, from January 1946) and the girls to Cheltenham Ladies' College, perhaps from autumn 1946 and 1947. So Gladys lost her three elder children yet again - they were home only in the holidays. During those years when these three were at boarding schools and later universities (and later during Tim's years at Sedbergh) James and Gladys must have been short of cash much of the time, certainly in comparison with other doctors.

Gradually the children left home more thoroughly still, getting married and going abroad, Anne to Africa, Jean to the United States, where she married, became Jewish, had children, and became a citizen, Tim to Sweden where he married a Swede and had three Anglo-Swedish children, and Alistair to Iran (two years) and Newcastle, from 1967.

James died just before his 90th birthday, in August 1991. Gladys became seriously incapacitated with arthritis in 1995 and had a hip operation which got rid of the arthritis but didn't restore her mobility to what it had been. She had to sell the house and move to near Alistair and Barbara in Newcastle. The change of surroundings enabled her to change her name to Jenny - she had apparently hated the name Gladys all her life.

In early January 2003, aged ninety-nine, she fell (not for the first time) and broke her leg (the one operated on before). She seemed to be slowly recovering in hospital, but today 5 Feb 2003 left us at last for the rest she had earned.