Berry, Winifred

Berry, Winifred

Win arrived at Hurst in 1942 during a crisis in the sanatorium when the Sister was striving to cope with a double epidemic of measles and chicken-pox. Wartime restrictions and the inevitable relaxations consequent upon reduced staffing levels meant that the medical service offered by the College was in some disarray.

Luckily, Win’s temporary appointment became a permanent one and she soon assumed sole charge in the old san – that part of the present Junior School which fronts the road and from which all the subsequent accretions were to spring – and set about introducing some order and much needed discipline into the running of both san and surgery. She retired in 1980 having devoted the better part of her life to caring for sick boys and masters. Not only was she a skilful nurse but, as a mother of two, she had an understanding of the problems of growing up and frequently found herself in the position of counsellor and comforter, a quality which many OJs will remember with gratitude. She entered fully into the life of the school, her support being never more welcome than at the time of the play when, for two decades, she was on Robert Bury’s production staff as dresser and maker-up of the female characters.

Her generous hospitality was a legend. The various Sister’s quarters she occupied and, after retirement, the cosy kitchen-dining room in 5 Manor Cottages, were frequently the venues for gatherings of OJs, masters and friends, and the exercise of her culinary art which was justly famous. Win had a great love of books, theatre in all its forms and music, particularly opera. She had an almost spiritual attachment to Glyndeboume which she was ever at pains to share. In the days when the Sussex Opera House was still affordable to ordinary folk, she organised many a trip, occasionally inviting to join her those who were experiencing opera for the first time. Mozart was her favourite and when Glyndeboume became more socially elitist than ever and the price of seats rocketed beyond reach, she made the best of the Glynde Touring Opera and the much mourned Kent Opera (which were not bad replacements anyway) and whatever else was going. I took her once during a Brighton Festival to hear a Polish Company singing Cosi Fan Tutte. The staging was basic but their Italian was passable and, although the tenor was rather nasal, the quality of the singing was generally high. Win was in raptures. She was given a reminder of warm summer evenings in a fold of the downs beyond Lewes.

The period at Manor Cottages came to a sad and abrupt end in the summer of 1987 when she underwent major surgery. This was followed by five months in Cuckfield Hospital, whence she was admitted to the hospice and home of Saint Peter and Saint James, near Wivelsfield Green. Win was there until she died in April 1991. The mobility which had become more and more of a problem in the years of her retirement was soon to desert her altogether, though she had at her disposal an automatic wheelchair which enabled her to visit her friends in the home, go to meals under her own steam and even, on occasions, venture into the grounds. In her second year at St.Peter and St.James, she suffered a series of strokes which affected her speech, making normal conversation frustratingly difficult. But Win was no stranger to misfortune. Life dealt her a number of cruel blows which she faced with a dignity and stoicism which drew from those near her unstinting admiration. She never sank into a state of self-pity, she never lost her ready sense of humour and she drew enormous strength from her family and friends. In the home, she loved to hear from the College and village gossip and, although she stopped reading novels which had always been a great and consuming hobby, she scoured the Telegraph daily, and showed a thorough understanding of current issues.

In the last four weeks of her life, when the aim of doctors and nurses was to keep her as comfortable as possible, her room was filled with flowers which gave her the greatest joy. Win had been an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener and as her paternal grandfather had occupied an important position at Kew it was hardly surprising that she took pleasure in flowers. When she was buried on the 12 April in the cemetery at Hurstpierpoint, roses were dropped severally into the open grave. Paula, her daughter, had organised this very significant gesture. To Win, the rose was the ultimate in the floral world. For years she had been a member of the Rose Society. How apt that at this solemn moment when we were bidding her farewell we could see the heart-charging sight of this unusual tribute bedecking her coffin.

Contributed by Bill Alban

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