100-year-old WRAF veteran meets friend from Telephone Friendship Group for first time in charity get-together

Two Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) veterans, who have been friends for many years through Blind Veterans UK, met for the first time thanks to the Community Engagement Team at the RAF Benevolent Fund, who set up a get-together.

Queenie Hall and Heather Lawson have been members of Blind Veterans UK for many years and share a military history as they spent many happy years in the WRAF during World War II. The duo also share the challenge of sight loss, which has helped them bond even further.

Queenie turned 100-years-old this year and still lives in Stowmarket where she grew up. One of nine children, Queenie followed her cousin into service and although she was a few months underage, she joined the WRAF and served from 1940 until 1946 when she was demobbed.

During the war years, Queenie became engaged to a young Airman, Frank, who was the rear gunner on a Lancaster and was tragically killed on his 23rd mission over Germany. Spending the rest of the war in service,

Queenie eventually married but had no children and now lives alone.

Despite her age, she is fiercely independent; taking walks to the local supermarket, Queenie does all her own shopping, cooking, and gardening. Queenie’s sight has deteriorated over the years; she has some peripheral vision but has struggled with having to relinquish hobbies she previously enjoyed such as sewing and reading.

Heather is, to Queenie, a youngster at 81-years-old, but several years ago went completely blind very suddenly.

Heather, like Queenie, also served in the WRAF and was married to a Red Arrows pilot who was killed in a training exercise, leaving her with two small children. She now has a son living in the Netherlands and another son who has passed away.

Heather was struggling with isolation and felt totally overwhelmed at the idea of going out by herself. Heather found eating in public became problematic and embarrassing, so she sought support from Blind Veterans UK.

The Blind Veterans Link Up call started a weekly telephone group during the pandemic, which Heather joined and thoroughly enjoyed, largely because of the conversations she had with Queenie.

Heather and Queenie looked forward to their regular chats but could not imagine ever meeting in the flesh. Earlier this year, Heather was introduced to the Fund’s Veterans Breakfast in Lowestoft and said it would be her dearest wish to meet Queenie in person.

Heather, the Fund Community Engagement Workers and the team at Blind Veterans UK discussed ways to make this happen safely – as the ladies live at opposite ends of Suffolk, both with the challenges of sight loss and other health problems.

However, Heather was delighted to learn she had been allocated a befriender, Emma, by Blind Veterans UK, who helps Heather to get out and about in the community, enabling her to feel less anxious, including eating out in public.

The meet was arranged for the two women at the Waveney House Hotel in Beccles – an accessible and friendly establishment, with a large conservatory overlooking the river and no steps for the ladies to negotiate.

It was a very hot and lovely day as the ladies were delighted to finally meet and shared an emotional hug in the car park. Conversation flowed as the ladies’ shared anecdotes and photos with each other; Queenie was proud to describe her recent trip to Buckingham Palace.

The pair chuckled over the exploits of some of the other members of their phone group, and fondly remembered other members who have sadly passed away.

Nicola Russell, Community Engagement Worker for Suffolk at the Fund said:

“The afternoon passed very quickly, and we agreed to do something else again before Christmas.

“It was a real privilege to spend time with these extraordinary and inspirational ladies, and it was wonderful to witness their joy at being together after so many years. Emma and I were very moved and are keen to facilitate another meeting if possible.”

Emma added:

“It was a real joy to help enable this meeting between such lovely, special ladies. I really hope we can do it again!”

Queenie reflected on the day, saying:

“I had really been looking forward to meet; I have been speaking to Heather for years and never dreamed we would get to meet each other! It is really wonderful of the RAF Benevolent Fund to help us to meet after all this time.”

Heather also shared:

“This has really made my year; I’ve been so looking forward to it. It is a dream come true to meet Queenie.”

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By @Cobseo 54 years ago

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