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Wishing Wendene a happy 100th Birthday at Brooke House


The great-grandmother’s lifetime of extraordinary memories, all recorded in a journal she completed prior to moving to Brooke House care home, in Brooke, near Norwich in 2015, was celebrated at her 100th birthday party on Friday She was joined by staff, residents and family, including her daughter Sarah who lives nearby, and decorations included large cut-out elephants.   Wendene, born in Surrey, was only four when her father Ernest Dawson joined the Indian Forest Engineering Service and was posted to Abbatobad on India’s North-West Frontier.  

In her life story, she recalls that the family lived in a rest house in the jungle where her father was building a bridge to access the teak forest. This was a remote post and everything came in by foot. Wendene and her sister Molly had pets that included a mongoose and a green monkey Her father was later posted to south India and it was in her teenage years that Wendene enjoyed getting up at 4am to watch working elephants feed on large balls of rice.  

Then, mounted on straw filled canvas palliasses, she would go off on the elephants into the jungle to see the jungle come to life. She describes in her journal that this was an “unforgettable experience” as they got to see bison, buffalo, many varieties of deer and occasional leopard, as well as many exotic birds, monkeys and wild elephants. She recalls helping to bathe the elephants in the rivers using halves of coconut shell. Wendene returned to England in 1938 and trained as a physiotherapist, working at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, in Guilford, until the end of the Second World War. It was in 1945 that she joined the Nigerian Medical Service and set sail for Africa, meeting her future husband who already had a job in the Colonial Service.   Wendene was later posted to the Igbobi orthopaedic hospital a few miles out of Lagos and with the help of another physio set up a physiotherapy department and small school to train African students as physios.

Roy joined Wendene in Lagos and they lived next to Lagos yacht club which they joined. The family were later posted to Idiroko, a bush station about 100 miles from Lagos, where they lived in a rest house, but spent most of their time on a boat house. The couple’s first daughter Sarah and their cat would travel in a high sided wicker basket placed in the centre of a canoe. After a brief return to England when Wendene gave birth to their second daughter, Briony, they returned to Nigeria until 1961, a year after its independence. The family settled in Poole, Dorset on their return to England with Wendene and Roy both retraining as teachers; they enjoyed sailing and golf at Parkstone Golf Club where they both became captains.  

Wendene’s five grandchildren have happy memories of their childhood days with her, learning to ride their bikes, making bonfires, making dens in the Rhododendrons and fun in the snow or at the beach. Her ninth great-grandchild was born in the week before her 100th birthday.  

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