A blessed life for Bess

A blessed life for Bess

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It was a special moment for the Kelmscott Mercy Care staff, who don’t often get to celebrate a 100th birthday.

“When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, ‘What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?’ Here’s what she said to me.”

While the future might still be as opaque as ever, Bess Trevena is clear-sighted about her well-lived past.

Her beautiful Welsh voice rang out above the festive hubbub at Kelmscott’s MercyCare last Thursday. All were there to celebrate her on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

“I deserve getting there,” she said. “I’ve had a good life and done all the right things.

“I’ve been here, there and everywhere.

“And I’ve had many jobs over my lifetime, but they’ve always been worthwhile, useful jobs.”

Bess Trevena has had a remarkable century.

Bess was born on the fifth of May, 1924, to Mary Elizabeth and Taliesin Jones in Cefn Forest in Monmouthshire, South Wales.

She took on her first job at age 14, when she moved to London to take care of her older sister’s children. But war broke out a year later, and her nieces were sent to Wales for protection.

Three months before her 18th birthday Bess joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a proactive move to beat conscription and have a say over her own destiny.

“I had the wonderful role of being a barrage balloon operator,” she said. “Great big elephants floating around – that’s what they looked like.

“They were there to stop enemy aircraft getting through – they’d get caught in the cables and come crashing down.”

There were around 1400 barrage balloons deployed all over England to defend major ports, quays and cities.

The balloons were lifted to a height of 1500 metres and were credited with bringing down over two hundred V-1 flying bombs during the war.

“It was a hard job because you were on duty around the clock, no matter the weather. But it was a good life,” she said.

“And it was so exciting when you saw a plane come down that had been caught.”

Bess also enlisted with the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corp in 1956 where she worked as a coder at the Perth headquarters.

But it was in 1964 where she took on the most rewarding role of her life – as an officer at HM Prison Holloway.

She was tasked with escorting prisoners to and from the courts and spending the day with them sitting in the docks.

“I loved that because you travelled all over England with prisoners. You could be up the north of England today and down the south tomorrow,” she said.

But it wasn’t all roses. Holloway housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Moors murderess Myra Hindley, and Kim Newell – the woman at the centre of the Red Mini murder.

In fact, shortly after starting as an officer, Bess found herself face to face with a prisoner who threatened to slit Bess’ throat.

“I said ‘do it!’, and exposed my neck which had a recent scar from a thyroid surgery,” she said.

The prisoner was flummoxed and never tried anything with Bess again.

In 1970, Bess decided to join her brother and sister-in-law in Western Australia, where they were seeking female prison officers.

Shortly after arriving in Australia, she met her husband, Keith Trevena.

Bess became one of the first officers stationed at the new Bandyup Prison.

“I used to call it the holiday camp,” she said.

“They worked, and they were disciplined. But after a while they had a swimming pool put in for them.

“And if they finished their work for the day, they were able to sunbathe.

“To me it was a good way of treating them – trying to bring them up out of the mess they were in.

“And it really lifted them.”

Bess said she often bumped into ex-prisoners while out and about running errands and shopping.

“It gave me a real lift knowing they were doing well,” she said.

After 16 years working for the department of prisons, Bess retired to Bridgetown to operate a small apple orchard with her husband.

When coddling moth decimated their trees, they moved to Cunderdin to race trotting horses.

A few years before relocating to Perth to be around family, Bess was asked to march in the Northam RSL’s ANZAC commemoration, as one of the few remaining WWII veterans.

“They said they’d provide me with a wheelchair and I said ‘no! If I’m going to be in a march I’ll march!’,” she said, determinedly as ever.

Bess became the first woman in Northam to carry the RAF flag in an ANZAC march.

Bess Trevena and her family celebrated her birthday at the Byford and Districts Country Club on May 5.

At 100 years of age, Bess Trevena is whip-smart, quick with a quip, and would be charging through life as fiercely independently as ever if it wasn’t for her failing eyesight.

She still can’t quite believe she’s clocked up a whole century – she doesn’t feel that old, she says.

Though, she was glad to receive her milestone letter from the King – having outlived the Queen.