My heart went out to hard working Betty, she faced many knocks in life, being brought up by a strict, cold father who made her life a misery. Her unhappiness at home was so great that she tried to sign up for the ATS on her 17th birthday – but was refused on the grounds that she was six months too young.
When she walked out of her house at 17 ½ her father didn’t glance up to say goodbye. Betty’s life in the ATS were among her happiest, but after a short lived unhappy marriage after the war, she was forced to return home with her young baby daughter. Life under her father’s roof was only made bearable by the love and support she had from her mother who doted on young Jennifer.
Betty struck up a friendship with another young mum in the neighbourhood, Irene, who worked at Heyworth’s. One day Irene mentioned there was a vacancy at the elegant ladies department store in the millinery department, and Betty applied for the position, even though she didn’t like wearing hats herself. It was an era when all smart ladies wore hats and Heyworth’s had its own thriving millinery department where they made them to order, believed to be the only store in Cambridge offering this tailor made service.
Betty devoted her life to her work and daughter, rising to the ranks of millinery buyer at Heyworth’s, where her elegant customers included the Marchioness of Cambridge, related by marriage to the royal family, who one day ordered five new hats to be made, one for every race day at Ascot where she sat in the royal box.
Betty’s life was one of knocks, disappointments and hard work, but she took them all in her stride, knowing she had to make a living to keep herself and her daughter.
“Who wants to know my story, nobody will be interested in it,” Betty told me repeatedly when I interviewed her for this book. I found them enthralling and very moving, and hope you enjoy them too, they are fabulous anecdotes of a bygone era which will touch many lives.
To discover if Betty’s story has a happy ending, you will need to read The Shop Girls, the answer is in the epilogue at the end of her final chapter.