Capecare Busselton resident Eddi Cowling has packed a lifetime of adventure into her 100 years.
She’s been a lorry driver for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), a British Red Cross volunteer nurse, and an amateur dramatics singer and performer. She has a passion for ballroom dancing, Donna Leong murder mysteries, Queen Elizabeth II, crosswords and travel.
Eddi hails from Yorkshire and emigrated to Australia 40 years ago. She’s retained a delightful sense of humour and a twinkle in her eye.
Travel has been a constant in her life and she was keen to get moving by her late teens, when World War II was being fought.
“I always wanted to drive but my dad wouldn’t teach me because not many girls drove ‘in them days’. Bless him. My dad was lovely though, very understanding.
“I thought that if women were being called up to war, then I may as well join and do something I enjoy.
“So I left home and joined the WAAF and learned to drive before I turned 20. I drove lorries, not quite the size of the trucks you see now. I drove within England from the aerodrome, stationed mostly in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and London for a time.”
Eddi has loved ballroom dancing all her life and met husband Geoffrey on the dancefloor.
When living in Hertford in Hertfordshire, she joined the local amateur dramatics society.
“I loved acting, it was in the years when they used to write proper music. Rogers and Hammerstein, started with Oklahoma then Carousel. Beautiful songs. I sang in the chorus, I can sing in tune but haven’t got a strong voice.”
Eddi and Geoffrey married in 1951 and moved around the UK with his work as a town planner. She has enjoyed many holidays in Italy, France, Spain, Yugoslavia and Africa.
Her and daughter Julia are great friends, and when Julia emigrated to Australia for work in 1982, Eddi and Geoffrey followed. They lived in Sydney for 16 years, enjoying their retirement and making new friends. When Julia later moved to Western Australia, they again followed and spent approximately seven years in Margaret River before Edna moved to Capecare when Geoffrey passed away.
“I say to a lot of young people: do try to travel. Travelling is all about gaining experience. You learn about other people’s lives and what it’s like living in different countries, meeting different people. You then get friends dotted all over.”
When asked about proud moments from her life, Eddi recalls her time spent volunteering with British Red Cross. She joined after moving to a new town and although she hadn’t planned to be a nurse, she thought it would be a way to make new friends. She stayed with the Red Cross for more than 20 years.
Among her fond Red Cross memories was competing. Competitions were held regularly nationwide to test the knowledge of nursing standards. The competitions were used to highlight expertise and encourage funding from the community.
“We got to London in a first aid competition, up against different counties. We came fifth. The people who won came from Scotland, so they probably had nothing better to do!” she laughed.
“I’ve got lovely memories from it and made everlasting friends until they went. That’s the sadness of getting old.”
Eddi has a striking photo of her in a Red Cross uniform. “It was taken outside of St Pauls in London, on the centenary of the Red Cross in 1963. It was a lovely occasion; the Queen was there, I got to see her, but I didn’t get to shake her hand.
“The Queen was a lovely young woman. She did a good job. I ached for her when Phillip died as I think he was her rock and I still shed tears for her.”
When mentioning that she would be amongst the first to receive a letter from the King for her 100th birthday, she waved it off, saying “I’ve got friends who are over 100, it isn’t as uncommon these days. 70 was once old, my darling dad went at 70. We’re doing something right living longer aren’t we?”
While age has slowed Eddi physically, she hasn’t slowed down mentally, making a point of regularly challenging herself.
“I find it very hard to believe I’m the age I am. I know I’m fortunate, I’ve got my own teeth, most of them, and a sense of humour!
“I do crosswords and cryptic puzzles. They sometimes baffle me but I like the challenge.
“I also like reading, especially whodunits by Donna Leon. They’re very clever books, so you learn from them. They are set in Venice and Italy and I’ve read some of her books twice. I like them so much one dropped on my foot the other day! Blood everywhere! But I’ve forgiven her. “She writes knowing that whoever is reading it is sensible enough to know what she’s saying. She’s very human, not hoity toity.”
“I have a lovely room here at Capecare surrounded by my pictures – Julia’s paintings of Leeds, an English bluebell wood, and of Italy. I love northern Italy around the lakes on the border of Switzerland, Lago Maggiore.”
Eddi says she has enjoyed a good life. “Yes I would say I’ve had a very happy life so far, I’ve had my ups and downs and emotional rollercoasters, but I try to see the other person’s point of view, we’re not always right.”
“I’m not very good at giving out advice, we’re all very different, aren’t we? We all have different values. But you’ve got to try and keep an open mind and a sense of humour and keep your mind active.
“Make the most of life all the time and travel. Meet people, and if you have an ambition try to follow it. Don’t take offence quickly and be prepared to listen to people.
Happy 100th Birthday Eddi from everyone at Capecare, we love your sense of humour, warmth and positive attitude.