Elizabeth Carter (Bet) - 1925-2010

An obituary (about his/our mum), written by Brian Carter, following her death on December 22, 2010.


Elizabeth - almost always known as Bet or Betty - was born at 88 Radnor Street, Swindon, on August 1, 1925.

Her father, Joseph Weeks, was born just around the corner, in Clifton Street, but her mother, Margaret (sometimes called Maggie or Annie) Wilson, originated from Gateshead, County Durham.

They met after Bet's father finished his apprenticeship in Swindon's GWR works and found employment at a shipyard in the north-east. They married in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on October 31, 1914, where they lived for a time before moving to Chepstow, then back to Swindon.

Bet's full name was Elizabeth Ann Evaline Weeks - Elizabeth being in honour of her mother's sister, Lizzie. She was the fifth of six children (including an older sister, Evaline, who was stillborn).

The Weekses were a close family, and Bet often recounted her many fond memories of her two older brothers, 'Our John' and 'Our Joe' (who, she always reminded us, had been a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy); and her sisters Margaret (always known as Madge) and Eileen.

Bet's very early life was difficult. Her father was a boilermaker in the GWR works in Swindon and suffered a head injury in an accident there, not long before Bet's birth. The wound became infected and he very nearly died of septicaemia as a result. That led to a long convalescence, which caused them to lose their home in Radnor Street. In the days before proper social care, the family found themselves out on the street.

Bet's mother temporarily took the family to Newcastle, but returned to Swindon and other temporary accommodation - in Dean Street, 1 Faringdon Road and then at Bet's grandmother's home at 8 Ashford Road, Old Town. Serious illness also befell Bet during childhood, and she was lucky to survive scarlet fever at about the time she was due to start junior school.

The family had moved to 5 Chestnut Avenue when Bet was aged about five, and she attended Ferndale Road School. Then, after recovering from the scarlet fever, she went to the brand new (but now demolished) Pinehurst School.

It would be fair to say that Bet wasn't a natural scholar and certainly didn't like school. She seems to have avoided going there at all whenever possible, but was still proud to have won a school prize - a book, Anne of Green Gables, which still exists.

At about the same time she was involved in an accident that was the source of great amusement to her and the family forever afterwards - being knocked down by a 'Stop me and buy one' ice cream vendor on a bike.

The family remained in Chestnut Avenue for five or six years, before moving to 249 Cricklade Road briefly in 1938. Her abiding memory of living there was being invited to dinner with some local gypies and refusing their offer when she was told that hedgehog was on the menu. As the Second World War approached, the family moved to 22 Okus Grove - the house which Bet always considered to be her true childhood home.

In 1939 she left school, aged 14, and started work. Later, she would always say that she enjoyed going to work. Her first part-time job was at the draper's shop opposite the Moonrakers. She then briefly worked at Compton's, a factory making servicemen's uniforms for the war effort.

Her first full-time job was with the Co-op. She worked in several of their shops around Swindon - most notably in Broad Street, and in 'the kiosk' in Fleet Street where one of her workmates was the grandmother of her future daughter-in-law, Julie.

During the War she met her future husband, Eric Carter. Bet knew his cousins, Iris and Eunice Hawkes, and it was they who introduced the couple - at a wartime dance at Kingsdown School. Eric had been in the army, doing basic training and carrying out duties as a motorcycle despatch rider. But he was involved in a serious road accident in which he badly broke both his legs. This lead to several weeks in hospital, then convalescence, and he was eventually 'invalided out'.

Not surprisingly, the War brought many memorable experiences and Bet often told the story of being machine-gunned by an enemy aircraft en-route to the Isle of Wight, where her sister Madge spent the war with her husband Stan who worked on the manufacture of flying boats. Bet and Eric married at St Philip's Church, Upper Stratton, on August 9, 1947, followed by a reception at the little Labour Hall at The Circle, Pinehurst.

They briefly moved in with Bet's parents in Okus Grove, then lived with her sister and husband, Madge and Stan, at 3 St Margaret's Green, Lower Stratton. And it was there that Bet and Eric's first son, Ronald, was born on September 7, 1948.

They all then moved to 16 Meadowcroft, Upper Stratton, where Bet gave birth to a daughter, Carol, on March 25, 1951.

Soon afterwards, Bet and Eric set up their own home - just a short walk away - at 34 Meadowcroft. This was to become their permanent family home, and there was soon another addition to the family, Maurice - born on September 8, 1952.

For a while, Eric's sister, Joyce, and her husband and young family shared the house with them. Family was always the most important part of Bet's life. She always had fond memories of life with her parents and siblings and was always fiercely loyal to them. After she married and gave birth to the next generation, those sentiments were multiplied. To her, her family was her life. That family grew quite suddenly with the birth of twin sons, Brian and Graham, on July 9, 1961. Bet had been forced to spend the last few weeks of the pregnancy in the Kingshill Maternity Hospital where they were born (or 'The Home' as she always called it). Characteristically, she wasn't happy with the enforced rest.

Later, out of necessity, she returned to work - a night shift with her sister, Madge in what was originally the NAAFI but later became Plessey's canteen in Kembrey Street. It was undoubtedly tiring, working at night but still having to look after the family during the day. Eric worked shifts and so wasn't always there to help out.

But she had lots of happy memories from her time at the canteen and later kept the grandchildren entertained with stories of 'recycling' any sausages left on plates, which they were instructed to rinse off under the tap and re-sell the following night. She was well known to the workers as the provider of singalong music in the canteen - thanks to her own bulky reel-to-reel Grundig tape recorder.

She always enjoyed music. She had (sort of) learned to play the piano, although only seemed to play two tunes - Santa Lucia and Home Sweet Home. But she loved listening to music. Never a fan of what she called 'mournful' music, she preferred anything jolly. Glenn Miller, Max Bygraves, Bing Crosby, James Last - anything you could sing and/or dance to, or upbeat piano music by the likes of Liberace, Russ Conway and Mrs Mills.

In her younger days, she enjoyed dancing. And she always enjoyed a party. Home in Meadowcroft was the venue for legendary annual Christmas parties when the house took on Tardis-like properties in order to accommodate what seemed like hundreds of guests - the whole family and all their friends. And all the neighbours were invited too, so there could be no complaints about the noise, while everyone sang and danced to songs such as On Mother Kelly's Doorstep, Simon Says, Here Comes Summer, and sang the hokey-cokey.

Later in the evening, Eric would lead the singing of something like Two Little Boys and everyone would do the conga up and down the street.

For the rest of the year, Bet was happy in the company of her married siblings and spent many a Friday evening nattering while the children played with their cousins at one or other of their homes.

Her taste in film and television was similar to her musical favourites. She preferred to be entertained rather than informed, so she enjoyed variety shows and musicals, including The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music and her all-time favourite, Oliver!

On television she liked to watch Coronation Street and Emmerdale Farm, but her real favourite was Columbo. She always enjoyed a good murder story, especially reading about real life ones - and the grislier the better.

Family holidays were always a great source of pleasure for Bet. In the early days, she and Eric and the children enjoyed camping in various places, but Great Yarmouth was always the family favourite. The rule for holidays was always 'the more the merrier', so the children would each bring along a cousin, friend or both.

With five children of their own, and all those other guests, a 'normal' car wouldn't suffice, and so they had a Bedford van for transport. It was an old cake van that had belonged to Wise's, which Eric fitted out with bench seats. They later progressed to a beautiful Bedford Dormobile, which provided more luxury for holidays but had to double as everyday transport.

Eric worked as a fireman and ambulanceman in Swindon Railway Works. This entitled the family to a certain number of free passes on the trains, which were put to use in visits to Eric's sister and her family at Putney. And they, in turn, would join the family in Swindon for Christmas.

Eric was also entitled to discounted fares ('privs'), including on foreign railways, so Bet, Eric and the children holidayed abroad several times.

This even included Yugoslavia, but Italy became the new favourite destination - Rimini and Diano Marina. They also went to Menton in the South of France, and one of the highlights of all of Bet's holidays was a day trip to Monte Carlo.

As always, these experiences were always shared with wider family.

Unusually, Bet and Eric once went away without the children - in celebration of their silver wedding anniversary. They toured the tulip fields of Holland, but still didn't go alone - preferring to travel with Madge and Stan and some friends.

In the early 1970s, with their children and nieces and nephews all growing up, there were countless family weddings, and yet more reasons to party. Bet and Eric welcomed daughters-in-law and a son-in-law: Jenny, Jacky and Dave.

And soon there was a whole new generation of the family to enjoy - grandchildren, starting with Stuart and Trevor in 1972 and 1974.

But Bet's darkest day was, unfortunately, just around the corner. On March 31, 1977, Eric died of cancer, aged just 53. It was a devastating blow, and she had to call on the support of the still-expanding family. Two more grandchildren were already on their way, with Richard and Mark being born later in the same year as Eric's death.

Bet was a typical, much-loved grandmother, known to all her grandchildren as Nan. They always knew they would receive sweets and other treats with every visit, and for several the highlight of visits was her willingness to find things to burn on a bonfire.

Bet herself had a legendary sweet tooth - the amount of sugar she took in her tea being a constant source of humour and wonderment to everyone, and especially her grandchildren. She always had four or five heaped spoonfuls and a spoon of sticky Nestle's Milk per cup, so if you took a sip of her tea by mistake, you soon knew it!

Visitors to Meadowcroft were usually greeted with: "Look at you all poshed up and I haven't even done my hair yet."

Memories of family life are also enhanced by the taste and smell of Bet's cooking. She never liked exotic food, but was an expert when it came to traditional British cooking. Her pasties, mince and dumplings and 'chip pancake' (chip omelette) are legendary, and she made the best chips in the world. And no-one who ever experienced it would be able to forget her home-made bread. But probably the best of all was her lardy cake.

Younger members of the family found Bet's own culinary preferences difficult to comprehend - especially her fondness for things like elvers, tripe and pigs' feet, and she covered everything with an unbelievable quantity of salt.

Bet was also famous for her knitting and crocheting. In the days before she could afford to simply buy such things, she would churn out jumpers, gloves, hats, scarves and especially baby clothes and blankets at an amazing rate. She also produced a line of very expertly-knitted two-feet-high clowns and other characters.

The baby clothes and blankets were for more grandchildren, who also soon looked forward to visits to Nan's: Claire, Glyn and Gary taking the count to seven.

Bet could turn her hand to most creative things, and she always said she was happier working with her hands than her head. So, although she was an expert hand-knitter, she got into a tangle when she tried to use a knitting machine.

Another thing she never mastered was driving. She only tried it once, and that brief experience behind the wheel of Eric's car was enough to convince her that that was a skill she could live without.

Two more daughters-in-law, Sarah and Julie, produced four more grandchildren - Sean, Lucy, Holly and James - bringing the final count to eleven.

All of them will be able to recount special memories. And they will all be able to testify that Bet was never a materialistic person. Anything she owned she was always happy to give away. In fact, it was almost impossible to buy her a present which she would keep for herself - not because she was ungrateful, but because she would always think of someone else in the family she thought would benefit more from it. And when she went shopping, she was much more concerned about buying things for others, rather than for herself.

After Eric's death, she continued to travel, but always with family. She visited her niece, Janet, in Spain, several times, and went to Jersey on a holiday with another niece, Pat. She enjoyed visiting Eileen and her husband Ted when they lived in Cornwall, and she and Eileen later went on a Mediterranean cruise together.

In 1990 she fulfilled a lifetime's ambition she thought would never happen when she went to America - a special trip to Florida with Maurice and Graham and their families.

There weren't many dark clouds, apart from the obvious ones concerning the loss of family members. The death of her sister, Madge, was particularly distressing, especially as Bet had nursed her through the final weeks of illness and she died at a relatively young age.

Something that she shared with Madge was a fear of thunderstorms. The first rumblings would set off a chain reaction in the family, which would lead to someone having to collect her from home. Typically, once she was with the family, her fear subsided.

Bet was never an early morning person; instead, she liked to stay up late. She would often use the time to keep up-to-date with news from the wider family, and would enjoy very long late-night chats on the phone with her sister Eileen.

If you had to describe Bet's character in a few words, then you would certainly use the word 'stubborn'. It seems to be something she inherited from her mother's side of the family, and has passed on through her children. Perhaps she was so single-minded because of a difficult start in life. But it was also a bi-product of her sense of loyalty and defensiveness for her family.

She was always most defensive and supportive of any member of the family disadvantaged by accident or illness. The arrival of her first great-grandchild, Millie, was a typical indication of what she valued most in life. She was desperately concerned at Millie's unbelievably premature entry into the world, but proud and happy that even a tiny newly-born Carter possessed the stubbornness to overcome the odds.

Sadly, soon afterwards, Bet began to show signs of Alzheimer's, which tragically not only gradually robbed her of the memories of happier times, but also prevented her from fully appreciating the birth of three more great-grandchildren - Amber, Henry and Isabel - although she fortunately met and held them all.

Equally, she didn't fully appreciate the massive achievement of two of her sons in overcoming very serious illnesses - even though their inheritance of her famous stubbornness, transformed into resilience, that was a major factor in their victories.

In-between childhood and elderly ill health, Bet herself generally enjoyed good health, despite smoking for most of her life. She gave it up, overnight, despite smoking for more than 60 years, after a serious bout of pneumonia put her in hospital in 2002.

It was her first stay in a (non-maternity) hospital in the whole of her adult life. Despite a grave prognosis, she overcame that and returned to an independent life at home, and still very much enjoyed her twice-weekly shopping trips into town on the bus.

She contracted pneumonia again in 2008 and had to go into hospital, but - against all the odds - she overcame it again. By now, however, the Alzheimer's was really taking its toll.

She was unable to live on her own, so went to live at Downs View Care Home in Badbury, where she lived surprisingly happily, despite her declining health, for 21 months.

She died there, peacefully, on the evening of December 22, 2010.