As a young woman Nance Watson was a World War II anti-aircraft gunner, protecting Cape Town’s shores from enemy planes and U-boats. On Sunday, she celebrated her 100th birthday.
Ms Watson, who stays at Huis Nuweland old-age home in Claremont, celebrated the day with special messages, cake and loved ones.
She was born in Sea Point on May 17 1920, but her family later moved to Plumstead, where she completed her schooling at Wynberg Girls’ High School. At the age of 22 she, along with her one sister and three brothers, joined the army.
“We decided to join the army because we believed it was the right thing to do,” she said.
Dennis, an accountant, was sent to Nairobi in the beginning of the war, then later brought back to South Africa and stationed at the Castle. Jim went to Egypt, where he fought in the Battle of El Alamien. Bill was in the air force and fought in Italy. Bubbles worked as a nurse in the field hospital tents in the Egyptian desert.
“I was the one that shouted ‘fire’ for anti-aircraft and enemy naval ships and U-boats,” said Ms Watson.
“During 1942 and 1943, we were stationed on the Milnerton Beach.”
She recalled the day a U-boat surfaced in the bay.
“It was in the early hours of the morning. We went to the guns, but the U-boat went back under again and sailed away.”
Ms Watson said she was glad the world had not become fascist but sad about how many lives the war took.
After the war, she worked in the record office at UCT for a year and later did general office work at Caltex until she retired at the age of 60 in 1980.
In 2000 she decided to join her sister at Huis Nuweland and has been there ever since. “It had a nice ambience and was in a beautiful area with many trees and a lovely garden in the front. I later became responsible for the garden and did that for a long time. From my room, I have a lovely view of Table Mountain and of the trees inside our premises and in Alma Road. I often, when my eyesight was still better, watched the birds coming and going. My favourite was the pin-tailed whydah,” she said.
Asked what her secret to a long life was, she said: “I have no idea. One wonders why sometimes, but it is not ours to wonder.”
She keeps busy by knitting, walking around, chatting to the other residents and attending lectures and book readings.
Huis Nuweland manager Pieter Swanepoel said Ms Watson was kind, caring, a good listener, who was not shy to voice her opinion, and confident in her own quiet way.
“She is interesting and good value in any type of conversation. Her laughter is something that we all like very much,” he said.
“We are all richer for knowing and loving Nance Watson.”
He added that the Huis Nuweland art group had made a card for
Ms Watson with messages from all the residents and staff.
“We had a huge banner and many cards from friends and family. We served cake and everybody enjoyed the occasion. Her family gathered outside the home to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and shared some special messages.”