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Around the World and Back to Pembrokeshire en-GB

by Aileen Oliver

Global adventures and teddy bears 

I’m 92 and originally from Edinburgh. I left when I was just 16 to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service, or WRENS, where I met my husband who was an apprentice in Arbroath at the time. I was at Bletchley Park in 1949 doing signals – Enigma – but I’m not supposed to talk about it. We were the first naval couple to get married at the church in Arbroath. Then he was drafted to Unthorn in Cumberland, then St Austell in Cornwall for another couple of years. We were stationed at Gosport when my son and daughter were born. So much has happened in 92 years! From there we went to Malta for 7 years where we lived at Birzebugga. My children went to school there and it was a great time – I really loved it. In 1961 we came back and were stationed at Brawdy, which was the naval air station at the time – that’s what brought me to Pembrokeshire.

I remember when I first went up in an aeroplane – we got to the plane and it was a two seater! I said, “I’m not going in this” and he said “Yes, you are!” I got in and said, “are you sure we’re going to be alright?” he said, “look out of the window, you’ll be fine” and while I was doing that he got up and went to back and said “I’m going to the loo” and the plane was on autopilot and I was absolutely terrified – but I’d do it again!! Now I know what’s up there – once you know it’s not so bad. It was a training plane. I’ve been on a helicopter flight too. It was amazing – it was a Sea King from Brawdy. I was scared – I said, no, don’t make it go up and the pilot said “too late, we’re up” – and we were already of the ground! I found it funny, because when I walk over a bridge I can’t look down, but in the helicopter I was fine.

When my husband’s service finished, we took over the Cambrian Hotel in Solva where I stayed for 10 years. Running the hotel – well, what fun that was! With 9 bedrooms we had the wives visiting their husbands at Brawdy staying with us, at that time it was still a naval air station. When we first moved there I did everything myself for the first 12 months – changing beds every morning and all the cleaning.  It was hard work – but I had to find out who I needed to employ. I got two local student girls in the summer and they helped me with housekeeping after that. I regularly cooked dinner for St David’s clergy.  The first time I did a dinner for them, there 9 of them and I asked them if they wanted wine, not knowing if they’d drink or not. One chap said, “What do you think – do you think we drink or not?” and I said “Well, it’s difficult to know” and he said “We’ll have 6 bottles of Blue Nun!” and they drank it all and then asked for more! So I had to stock up again.

I enjoyed running the hotel, it was great. We had a buffet bar at lunchtime and it was always busy. It’s all changed but I’ve visited since and it’s lovely. I ran it for a while with my son. We had some very interesting people to stay with us including Morecombe and Wise, Little & Large in the 70s – they were good, very funny.

After I met my second husband we lived in Chapel Cottage in Upper Solva. I went back to Gosport for a while and after he died in the hospital in Portsmouth, I came back to Wales with my daughter to Haverfordwest. And here I’ve stayed. I moved to Narbeth and I love it here – I would never go back to Scotland! I love the weather – and you can go places – Swansea and Cardiff and London and I love the people. You couldn’t find nicer people. Very accommodating and always so friendly.

I could write a book about my experiences. I love it here and I wouldn’t go anywhere else.

I’ve travelled all over the place. And I’ve been up in a helicopter from Brawdy, that was exciting in the 60’s. We go out together from here. We went to Swansea for a trip on the Swansea Jack – it was a lovely day out. And Ziggy takes me out into Narberth in my wheelchair. We have some adventures!

My lovely neighbour gave me this teddy. I love teddies. I’ve got lots of little ones in my house. You see if you can’t sleep, you’ve to take a teddy to bed and you give it a cuddle and go to sleep straight away. Ziggy, who takes me out, was in my house one day and he said he’d have to go because he needed a sleep and so I said, “well you were in bed last night weren’t you?” He said yes, but he couldn’t sleep. I told him he needed a teddy and he started laughing “I don’t want a flipping teddy!”. My big brown teddy was here so I told him to take my teddy and cuddle it tonight and you know what? He’s still got it! And he’s a biker. So this one is new – I’ll call him Twiggy – that’ll do. That alright Twiggy? I’ll get a shock if he answers, won’t I? And I’ve sat on Ziggy’s motorbike but we didn’t go anywhere. I did ride on the back of one years ago when I had a boyfriend with a bike.

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