Anna Cecilia (Cecil) Western

Cecil was born in Gerrards Cross on 28th July 1917, the youngest of six children. She died peacefully at her home in Brightwell-cum Sotwell on 4th May 2017 a few months before her 100th birthday.

During World War Two Cecil was a radar mechanic for the REME. She obtained a BA in History at London University in 1955 and in 1969 a BSc in Biological Sciences at Oxford. She was involved in many archaeological excavations and conservation projects in this country locally in Cirencester and Dorchester and in Jordan and Jerusalem. Her expertise was in ancient wood and charcoal. In 1957, after working in Museums in Manchester and London, she was appointed Chief Conservator at the Ashmoleum Museum.

She moved into Holly Lodge (The Old Rectory) in Brightwell with her friend Nancy in 1957 and in 1982 they moved to Wongalee (named after the place in Queensland, Australia where Nancy was born). Cecil was very knowledgeable about plants, having obtained a certificate from the RHS in 1937, so her garden was always a delight.

In 1955 Cecil and Nancy embarked on a road trip in a long wheel base Land-Rover from London through Europe and Asia including Afghanistan to the tip of India then by ship to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Here they boarded another ship and continued their travels across Australia. Many in the village will have been told about her reminiscences of this epic journey, including how she nearly ended up in prison having knocked a camel off the road.

She had friends in and out of the village and lots of visitors. The church was very important to Cecil and she was PCC secretary for many years. When well enough she attended the 8am service at St James’ every Sunday, and was instrumental in there being a BCP (Book of Common Prayer) communion service once a month. Cecil willingly supported church related activities, helping with the bottle stall at the Church Fair and signing in those who arrived at St James on the Ride and Stride. She also supported the weekly Coffee Morning and always brought a contribution for the Food Bank box. The flowerbed near St James’ door was designed and planted by Cecil.

Cecil joined the Art Club when it started up in 1994 and was still attending regularly in her wheelchair right to the end. She enjoyed painting, watercolours being her preference, and while she mainly did landscapes or buildings, these sometimes reflected her career and travels as an archaeologist. She could never be persuaded that her work would appeal to others, always downplaying her own talents. Thus it always came as a complete surprise to her when her paintings sold at the Annual Exhibition!

At one meeting of the WI where Cecil was a long-time member she was persuaded to talk of her memories of her work as an archaeologist and tales of digs in the middle-east. The last time Cecil attended a meeting was at last summer’s party in the Pavilion. It was not very warm and Cecil arrived well wrapped up and sat at the back drinking Pimms and enjoying crowd watching.

For over 30 years Cecil was involved with The Villager. The team got together to make up the magazine every 2 months. Cecil only missed a couple of issues, in all those years. When she was going to be awayshe firmly but politely advised on who should replace her. About six years ago Cecil retired. A while later she asked if she might be reinstated,as she missed it and would like to keep going a little longer. She finally did retire a few years ago.

She also tried her hand at Keep Fit, when she was younger, in her eighties! She did the class with her stick. Health and safety issues and risk assessments were abandoned as she knew her limitations,and was just given plenty of room to swing her arms up to clap.

Cecil was one of the founders of the Environment Group, serving on the Committee until 2004. She took part in a number of surveys, such as the Garden Bird Survey and the Traffic Survey and she contributed to the First Edition of the Parish Conservation Plan published in 1998. When the Group managed the area where the community orchard now flourishes, Cecil helped plan where there would be glades and then assisted with their maintenance.

For years she was a helper at the WI/Local Producers Friday market.Cecil was also a member of the History Group and most definitely the most qualified. She was a stickler for accuracy and provenance and spent hours deciphering local ancient wills for the group. She would grasp our attention with ‘it’s a fake you know, most museum pieces are!’ There was no time for the World Wide Web; in her view it was a source of unreliable information and would shortly become totally constipated!

She was an amazingly intrepid person with a ‘can do’ attitude. One snowy winter when she was in her 90s her pipes froze and because the plumber could not get to her till the next day instead of asking her friends for help she went outside, filled buckets with snow and used the resulting water for cooking and washing!

Cecil always had an enormous zest for life and an ever present twinkle in her eye. She had a wonderful sense of humour and a ‘tongue in cheek way’ of expressing herself. One always left after visiting her feeling uplifted. Cecil was an inspiring, interesting, wonderful, generous and kind person who has now become an invaluable piece of Village History and will always be remembered with love.

Jill Brooks. May 2017

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