(BA, History, 1942; Dip, Education, 1943)
Myrtle Leggett lived as a child in Portsmouth. She did very well at school, going to the local grammar school in Portsmouth.
Despite her good academic success, it was never good enough for her Mother who wanted her to be better, even though her own academic achievements were not great. Myrtle enjoyed some sports, tennis, netball and long jump, where she became Portsmouth junior champion. She hated cricket!
She went to Birmingham University during the war on a part scholarship to read history and it was here she blossomed and made more life long friends. Doris Rolley, of the same vintage is the only one left of this close knit friendship.
Despite the difficulties that the war caused it was said that the exam results were among the best achieved. Myrtle was told by her History tutor that she should have got a first had she worked a little harder, to which she replied “but I had fun!”
She told the story that most nights they had to sleep in air raid shelters. The German bombing was particularly heavy one night and she and her friends nervously chattered. A voice was heard above the bombing from a man “I say you girls could you keep the noise down some of us are trying to sleep!”
She attempted to be part of a fire watch team and the fireman laughed as the girls tried to control a hose.
She represented her university at netball and after gaining her degree stayed a further one year to train as a teacher.
During this time she became engaged to one of the boys at University.
She started a teaching job in Crewe and in 1946 she went home for half term and to bury her beloved Grandmother and was expecting a miserable time. Here she met Teddy. They had a whirlwind romance (she had broken off her previous engagement) and married in May 46. Teddy was economical with the truth about his work and his family, and Myrtle said if I had met your family first I would never have married you! To which he replied I know that’s why we got married so quickly!
Teddy had a career in the diplomatic service and they were posted to Bucharest, then Klagenfurt where her daughter, Anne Louise was born in 1951, her son Christopher was born in 55 with her returning to Portsmouth to have him, then returning to Klagenfurt. Later they were posted to Munich. Along with spells back in the Uk, they were in Berlin during the wall going up. Christopher as a very young boy thought it was great with all the tank movements going on. Myrtle had at last bought a Bendix washing machine which was huge. They wanted to evacuate all, but my she refused to leave her washing machine. The army typically suggested giving her a pram to wheel it! It must have weighed 150 lbs!
The family then went to Kuwait which Myrtle called “a living hell” it was very restrictive for women, but fortunately Myrtle made great friends with the ambassador’s wife and so kept busy.
They returned to Caterham in 1966 and moved from a bungalow in Elgin Crescent to Whyteleafe Rd,. Unfortunately her husband became ill with cancer and died in1970.
After the service the family followed the hearse to the burial site. The hearse speed up and it became a Benny Hill type moment with them trotting behind! Myrtle commented that we should win a medal which lightened the occasion for us, especially for her son, a bewildered 15 year old.
At the time of her husband’s death she was working part time at Whyteleafe School, but needed a full time job, as her husband said he would never leave her a wealthy widow, which was true! She gained a full time job at Wallington High school for girls and eventually became Head of History.
Here she again made lifetime friends who have commented how she told lively stories always with humour but never malicious. In fact a colleague teacher Pauline recounts the story of Myrtle and her in the garden while her husband Roger was gardening with his shirt off. Myrtle quickly commented “A Poor woman’s Chippendale” She loved her time at Wallington particularly teaching the 6th formers. She went on many trips with them always protecting and demanding high standards from “My girls”.
After she retired often former pupils would meet her in the street and tell her how much her positive influence helped them in their future lives. This brought great comfort to her. She also was active in the school theatre performing soliloquies. She went on to volunteer for Save the Children and the Miller centre, knitted numerous squares to make blankets and enjoyed helping the community.
She was a most generous and kind woman who did not have a mean bone in her body. She was very intelligent, a Mensa member (score 155), but never belittled people with less. All that encountered her had their lives enriched by her compassion and ready wit. She was once asked many years ago why was it that men as they got older became bad tempered and crotchety. She replied “That’s because they were like it when they were younger!”
She looked after both her Mother and Mother in law, travelling often to see them, but never complained about these extra demands on her time.She helped with all her grand children enriching all their lives.
Her son moved to Phoenix Arizona in 2009. For the remainder of the time she spent as much of her life with them, making 9 trips, only inhibited with the short length of medical cover she could acquire for each trip.
She formed a very close 7 year relationship with Amy, Christopher’s American wife, which was more than daughter in law to mother in law. to maximize her time with us. She loved Arizona and the climate and would sit in the garden and comment on the blue sky, with not a cloud in the sky. She would receite a poem (that we are so grateful for Doris Rolley her university friend, for being a non computer search engine to tell us where to find it.)
It is by Robert Southey and called After Blenheim.
Here is the first verse.
It was a summer evening
Old Kasper’s work was done
And before his cottage door,
Was sitting in the sun
And by him sported on the Green,
His little grandchild Wilhemine.
She would then say that’s the only time she had heard that name.
At the time she left Birmingham she had been asked to study further but she declined as it would have put too much of a financial burden on her parents. Just as well, as Myrtle had a very interesting and varied life. She lived in various European countries during the height of the “Cold War” and was often left alone for periods with her children.
She was resilient and resourceful and sited that her time at Birmingham during the war years formed the corner stone for her life both academically and socially. It was in fact the springboard for her fulfilled life and the hardships suffered during the war years, rather than make her bitter, lead to being a true humanitarian, passing on her values as a parent, a well loved teacher and a true friend to many.
Christopher Matthews (son) 25th November 2011