Betty Cooper, aged 96, has just published the sparkling ‘A Run Ashore’, chronicling a life well-travelled. Her adventures take her from the age of 9 in the ’Villa Azur’ in the French Riviera, to working and living in India, Singapore, Cairo, in the war and then Greece and South Africa in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Writing the book
Betty says; “I did not want to write an autobiography, but a travel book. I wanted something to do, in retirement; I’ve always worked. I’m very fond of travel; always love to get up and go, so I thought this is what I’ll write about. It has taken me exactly one year to write.”
‘A Run Ashore’
She explains the title of her book: “When I was bad tempered at Haslar in Gosport, at home with a very small child my husband said: ‘What you need is a run ashore, we’ll work on it.’ It is a naval term for stressed sailors far from home who are given some shore leave to revitalise them.”
Betty studied social science at Bedford College, University of London and was evacuated to finish her studies at Cambridge, which she describes as “intoxicating!” She continued to train at the Institute of Personnel Management and worked in Tyneside, Hull, London and Birmingham.
In 1945 she joined Red Cross to become a ‘Service Hospitals Welfare Officer’ and prepared to serve in India. She was warned by Dame Beryl Oliver:
‘remember that on your travels you will meet men and face many temptations. One glass of sherry may be most enjoyable, but too many and a Gel may forget herself.’
“I was sent to Bombay and then in to deeper India and Bangalore, where I was Quarter-Master of a convalescent hospital. I went to a tea plantation and to a hill station in Ootacamund where there was a Hunt Ball at the Ooti Club. We ate well and there were dances but many simple folk looked at me with fear in their eyes… I was an Intruder.”
Next, she was sent to Singapore to locate Japanese-held prisoners of war to send home for rehabilitation. Living in Raffles Hotel was ‘marvellous, especially from the boyfriend point of view. The hotel was dowdy, but it was so exciting – we had the time of our lives as there were so few girls there. However, I did become engaged to a married man…’
Her next posting was Cairo. ‘I’ve always liked the Middle East. Cairo was a fascinating and often evil city.” She travelled widely in Syria and Lebanon.
In 1948 she returned to England to work at the British Council, meeting Anthony Blunt and Roberto Rossellini among others. She also met and married her husband, John. “We were a very happy couple,” she says. Betty travelled with him to Greece when he was posted to the British Naval Mission in Athens, and then to Simons Town, South Africa.
Betty says of her daughters Judith and Sarie: “My two daughters have both been looking after me so well. They are both exceptionally nice people and I’m very proud of them. They are very well-travelled and have lived abroad a lot.”
“Bridgemead is a marvellous place, absolutely splendid. I can only speak highly of it. It’s terrific and I’m all in favour of it – it’s quite wonderful.”
It was a great pleasure to meet Betty and hear and read about glittering travels. She was very pleased to have her book published and is delighted with the cover designed by her god-daughter.
Her book is on sale in Oldfield Park Bookshop and at the Holburne Museum.