Gregory, Margaret

Gregory, Margaret

The following is an abridged version of the Address given by her son John at her funeral to whom I am particularly grateful..

Margaret was born in 1915 at Crosby, near Liverpool. After Merchant Taylors School she went on to St Andrews University (like both her parents before her) to read Modern Languages.

After graduation, she joined the Foreign Office as a bilingual secretary. She was flown out to Godesburg in Germany for Chamberlain’s second summit meeting with Hitler, when the delegation realized they had not brought a German-speaking typist with them. She was up all night typing the Official Memorandum. She was subsequently posted to the British Embassy in Brussels and was working there when Hitler invaded Belgium in May 1940. She was given thirty minutes to pack a suitcase and leave. Everything else was bundled into a trunk and left in the Embassy cellar – and she got it back at the end of the war! She caught the last train out of Brussels, which was full of refugees. They meandered across Northern France (no one was allowed out), but eventually got to the Paris Embassy and home. Back at the Foreign Office, she was posted to Bletchley Park with her boss, when the Foreign Office wanted to keep an eye on the Enigma code breaking project.

But her life was to change. She had met her future husband, Robin, at her sister Ruth’s wedding and was married to him in 1941. She had to leave the Foreign Office and moved to Hurstpierpoint College, where Robin was teaching. She had always said she did not want to teach but in those war years, and again later, she did. She first taught in the Junior School at the College for a while, and again briefly in 1955. At various times she also taught languages elsewhere.

Margaret entered enthusiastically into the swing of village life in Hurstpierpoint where she was eventually to live for some sixty years. She was on both the Mothers Union and Women’s Institute Committees (from 1945). She joined the Hurst Singers from 1950 when it was formed and remained with them until 1998. By then she was becoming deaf and – to her consternation – was told she was singing out of tune! She remembered competitions at the Lewes Festival and being terrified by the judges, often from nearby Glyndebourne – famous names like Sir Adrian Boult, Stanford Robinson and Paul Steinitz.
Mother was a Manager (what we would now call Governor) of the Village Primary School for twenty-seven years from 1950 until 1977. She was still going to hear children read the year she died. We assume she used to switch her hearing aid on for this (or perhaps she didn’t!)

Sadly, Robin, her husband, died in 1971. She was only 56 at the time, so in the end she spent longer as a widow than as a wife. Typically, despite such a very real loss, she picked up the threads of her life and redoubled her energies. She was tough in this way. She became Deputy Warden at Marle Place in 1972 and stayed there for twelve years, only retiring at 69 because she felt guilty when someone younger than her had to retire at 65. The County Council obviously had no record of her age!

Her main concern was to keep her very agile brain active. She joined NADFAS, she joined the WEA and she joined the Historical Society. She also traveled as widely as she could, both here and abroad. She was still intending to cruise with Swan Hellenic in the year she died but was too ill to do so. Crosswords were a litmus test that her brain was still working and the newspapers were a key part in this: she went to those pages first, right up until her last few weeks.
She largely organised and ran the family. There was no nonsense allowed in the household, but together with Robin, they gave them a wonderfully warm and supportive upbringing. She was not afraid to push them when they needed it. Any success achieved was celebrated – but never so that they might get big-headed. Latterly, she was a proud and interested grandparent for all her grandchildren and much more recently, an even more delighted great-grandmother. All her grandchildren adored her.
Her faith was important to her. She did not talk about it a lot but it was always there, steadfast. The church was important to her too. Indeed she was recovering from a serious illness in 1961, when it was suggested to her that the role of Parish Secretary would be therapeutic. She carried on with this work until 1994 – so it was a long convalescence. She would go out of her way to be the first to welcome newcomers to the village – and no doubt to recruit them if she could for Christian Stewardship.

Without trying at all, she became a Hurstpierpoint Character. She still cycled – or pushed her bike – into her final year – holding up the traffic as she did so. She will be greatly missed not just by her family but by all the very many friends, whether at the College or in the village, who were fortunate enough to have known her.
Reproduced blow is an Article that Margaret contributed to the Club Newsletter which presents an interesting perspective on her early life with Robin.

“A House Tutor’s Wife, 1942” Margaret Gregory Remembers
Early in 1942 it became apparent that my husband, Robin Gregory, who acted as House Tutor to Star House, which in those days was the Headmaster’s House, was not going to be called up for military service after all. There were three masters who had run the Cadet Corps – Ken Mason, Robin and George Lambert. George, being the youngest, was called up in 1940 and Robin was due to follow in 1941. So we decided to get married that summer, as then we could at least have spent his leaves together.
However, with Robin staying on at Hurst and me working at Bletchley Park, the outlook was poor. At that point. Mr. Dingwall, the Headmaster, decided to reopen the Junior School which he had closed on his arrival at Hurst in 1937. For some months a prep school, Downsend, from Leatherhead, had been evacuated to Hurst and had collected several local day boys. So, with this small number, the Junior School started up again for the summer term of 1942. I was asked to teach French, English, History and some Scripture. I had always maintained that, although I had a degree in French and German, I would not teach. However, the prospect of being able to live with Robin carried the day.

In those days the school buildings were much smaller – only the original H shape and Star with classrooms in huts where the block now stands. The Sanatorium was in the old bit of what is now the Junior School and most of the front of Star was occupied by the Headmaster. The juniors were given rooms as dormitories at the top of the building, ate in the balcony of hall and were taught in the huts. As every other window in the cloisters was permanently blacked out, it was a long, dark walk after supper from hall to Star for the little boys – only 6 or 8 of them. The question as to where I was to sleep had caused some bother. There were no lavatories in the top of Fleur de Lys where the prep school mistresses had had their rooms, so in the end I shared Robin’s small room next to Star dormitory as it had a bathroom next door – a very small bath, but a lavatory. As water in baths was only to be 5 inches deep, we were rather cross when the 5 inch line was painted on the tiny bath. We imported a double bed – the first in the college for many years. At one time there must have been one for the Provost on his visits in a room over the main door as the matron produced a double bolster for our use. Robin had not bothered with black-out but 1 was not prepared to wash without any as the bathroom was overlooked by the Chevron dormitories!
I had my breakfast and supper with the matrons in their block. Of course, then each house had a resident matron which I understand is not so nowadays. In the evenings I sat in Robin’s room at the bottom of the staircase to the right of the main door – now a day room. There was a masters’ common room, very small, now one of the offices occupied by the Bursar and his staff, unheated as everywhere was until November. There were no leave days except for Etheldreda, so on Sundays I had to be on duty sometimes and used to take the boarders for walks, and didn’t they grumble if their shoes got muddy and they had to clean them again before Chapel.

In the summer holiday that year some of the older boys went to work at a Forestry Camp, as being wartime there were no corps camps. Robin and I had a nice tent with camp beds and there was a large marquee for meals. Charlie the cook came too. I helped the Head, going to Cranbrook and Kilndown to see about food. The boys qualified for “agricultural pies” – meat pies to land workers as, of course, they had no canteens like factory workers to supplement their rations. I also had to cut up loaves for their sandwiches for midday – no cut loaves then. One day Charlie forgot to put the bread knife in and I had to made do with a pen knife. There must have been a swimming pool somewhere near as I have a note in my diary “bathed after work.” The site was at Bedgebury Park in Kent, just by the famous arboretum. We adults were able to get an occasional bath in a cottage. Another of my jobs was to measure the pit props which the boys cut. The lengths had to be added up and they were paid on piece work. For some time they worked in what they called “The Black Forest”. This was an area where there had been a forest fire and it was very dirty work.

I also did some secretarial work for the Head and biked round the various sites to cut up the lunches. We managed one evening meal at a pub in Goudhurst to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We were there for 4 weeks altogether, then cycled to Tunbridge Wells station where we caught a train for Hassocks, repacked then left for London. Of course, at that time we had no home of our own. We spent most of the rest of the holidays with my parents, then had a week in the Lake District. This caused Mr. Dingwall to remark that he couldn’t afford holidays! Apparently he forgot that we had nowhere to go.

Widow.

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