Evelyn Watts 1916-2008

Eve Watts led an extraordinary and fulfilling life. Indeed, such is the depth and breadth of her experiences that in this short time I can only offer glimpses into the story of this most remarkable lady.

Born into a teaching family, Eve’s early values and beliefs were formed through worldly-wise parents, a good education, and proving herself in a boys’ world, which included playing games such as ‘bicycle polo’. At the age of 14, she was sent to a girls’ boarding college in Malvern to be honed for Oxbridge. Eve, however, loved sports and became a key player in the hockey, swimming and cricket teams.

Her love affair with France began in 1934, when she was sent to live with a retired headmistress near Lake Geneva, whom Eve described as ‘very strict’. A year later, back in England, she took up secretarial work before outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Already a volunteer in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, she was immediately drafted, and there followed a series of Army postings during the War years, with Eve eventually being seconded to Secret Wireless Communications at Bletchley Park. Even as the war was ending, she was restless and in a letter to her parents, explained how she asked her boss to be ‘sent somewhere where there’s still a war going on’. Despite his advice against it, Eve volunteered for a tour of duty in Calcutta.

Returning to England, Eve trained as an Almoner at the Middlesex Hospital, helping patients overcome the trauma and practical difficulties associated with their illness, but it wasn’t long before her old friend Anne opened the next chapter in her life.

Anne had an ambitious project for a ‘Children’s Village’ in Provence. The idea was to promote the physical and emotional healing of children who had suffered during the German Occupation of France, by giving them sanctuary in a mountain village with pure air, a world away from the deprivation of war-torn cities. Against all the odds and with little money to support them, Anne and Eve breathed new vitality into the almost abandoned village and gave children a helping hand towards a better life.

Within a few years, it had to end, and Eve was forced to decide between staying in France and making a new life without the children she cared for, or returning to England, taking Simone and Bertie with her. This was the pivotal choice she made, and ultimately explains how we have all come to be here today.

Once resettled in England, Eve resumed her hospital career, and became mother to the girls, along with Mark, son of her beloved friend Esme. In civilian life, Eve continued to show boundless energy, enthusiasm and determination to see things through, championing causes right through her distinguished career.

But life was not all about seriousness. Eve loved poetry, music and nature. She also had a great sense of humour with a mischievous chuckle, and the ability to laugh at her own occasional dottiness, such as forgetting to remove an alarm clock from her handbag before an important meeting…

In later life, Eve was once more drawn to Provence, back to the place which she held so close to her heart. She was welcomed once more into the community which had such affinity for her, and spent many joyful summers there, allowed at last, to savour its treasures. Her many friends there will be thinking of her today, with tenderness and love.

The last time I saw Eve, she was pretty much confined to the chair in her flat, the body giving up on her agile mind. Feeling sorry, I asked her how she felt about not being able to do things, having always been so active. ‘I have everything I need,’ she said, without a hint of bitterness or frustration. And gesturing lightly to the walls around her, she explained; ‘a lifetime of memories, pictures and books. Visitors and helpers come and go. Letters and cards arrive. I am surrounded by the things I love and the people who love me.’

Such was the humility and wisdom of Eve.

Eve’s love of humanity, the natural world and simple pleasures, made her life rich beyond material wealth. She embraced challenges, the likes of which many of us will never encounter, and moulded them with her positive energy. But the energy is not spent now that she has passed. It lives on in our hearts, and the pages of her diaries and poetry, to warm and comfort Us.

Chris Gage, 3 April 2008