Hilary: the ‘ray of sunshine’ homesick Americans called ‘Mum’

'She was everything you’d think a mother should be. She’s a huge loss…' Picture: CATTERMOLE FAMILY

'She was everything youd think a mother should be. Shes a huge loss' Picture: CATTERMOLE FAMILY - Credit: Archant

‘Mum was nothing but laughter and happiness.’ Ex-RAF Bentwaters worker Hilary Cattermole is mourned on both sides of the Atlantic

Hilary and Wally Cattermole at Campsea Ashe village hall, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary

Hilary and Wally Cattermole at Campsea Ashe village hall, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008 Picture: CATTERMOLE FAMILY - Credit: Archant

In cold war Suffolk, Hilary Cattermole and husband Wally offered lonely United States Air Force personnel a warm welcome and the hand of friendship. No wonder Americans who found themselves thousands of miles from home dubbed the couple Mum and Dad.

Wally had become a civilian employee at RAF Bentwaters, near Woodbridge, in the 1970s and Hilary started there in the ’80s. She worked behind the snack bar of the base’s bowling centre and he was a janitor at the 18-lane alley.

It meant they met lots of service personnel, befriended many, and became surrogate parents to some of the lonelier. They’d be invited to the Cattermole home on occasion, including Christmas, to enjoy a bit of regular family life.

The couple had eight children of their own; but as Sarah Walker, their youngest, says, “In reality, they probably had hundreds of ‘kids’.”

Sarah’s sister Debbie Jackson says of her mum: “Some of the Americans still ring today. They’re heartbroken. One of her friends, when my dad died, made her a memory quilt, with pictures of my dad and the children with my dad.”

That family has now lost Hilary too – happy and jolly minutes before falling ill at a pub where she’d gone for lunch with relatives. It seems a clot on the lung was to blame.

Hilary Cattermole: 'Mum was nothing but laughter and happiness. It was never very often she wasn’t w

Hilary Cattermole: 'Mum was nothing but laughter and happiness. It was never very often she wasnt wearing a smile' Picture: CATTERMOLE FAMILY - Credit: Archant

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The funeral was at All Saints church, Eyke – with the white horses and carriage that she wanted. The wake was held at the pub where she died. It was one of her favourites.

I sit in Hilary’s chair in the living room – essentials such as paper and pens, phone, medication and the TV remote control close to hand – while the family tells me tales of a very sociable woman who relished banter.

Hilary loved her “cluttered corner”. “Seriously, she didn’t have to move from that chair,” says Sarah.

Sister Trisha says: “Mum was nothing but laughter and happiness. It was never very often she wasn’t wearing a smile. She was a ray of sunshine.”

Hilary Daldry was born on March 17, 1939 – at the maternity home in Wingfield Street, Ipswich, her family thinks. She was a twin, with brother Michael (who died in 1999).

Wally and Hilary Cattermole on their wedding day in 1958 Picture: CATTERMOLE FAMILY/ARCHANT

Wally and Hilary Cattermole on their wedding day in 1958 Picture: CATTERMOLE FAMILY/ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Hilary’s early years were spent in the Stoke neighbourhood of Ipswich, in the Station Street area off Wherstead Road. The family moved when she was about 10, to Priory Heath. She went to secondary school there.

Jobs after leaving school included one at William Pretty & Son, the corsets and underwear manufacturer in Ipswich town centre, and at Churchman’s cigarette and cigar factory next to the Ipswich Town football ground.

When her parents left Ipswich for Woodbridge, Hilary went with them. One of the places she worked was the canning factory that stood where the town centre car park is, behind the Co-op.

It’s in Woodbridge she met the man to whom she’d spend nearly 60 years of marriage.

The story goes that Hilary came across Walter Cattermole near the Red Lion pub in the Thoroughfare. It was probably 1957 and he was either still in or just out of military service, for he was in uniform.

And he’d rather over-indulged, apparently. Was in a bush, in fact. “All she could see was his bottom and his legs!” says Sarah. “She took him out to take care of him.”

It proved the start of something good and they married on August 2, 1958.

Wally worked on the railways and the couple spent much of their life in Campsea Ashe, near Wickham Market – generally moving house around the village as their family grew: Railway Cottages… Hembling Terrace… Ullswater Road…

They had eight children, more or less a year apart: Charles, Paul, Deborah, Richard, Robert, Patricia, Linda and Sarah. There are 18 grandchildren, too, and 22 great-grandchildren.

Hilary’s family remembers childhood as a time of fun, with neighbours keeping an eye on each other’s youngsters and coming round to have their hair cut by their mum. She wasn’t a qualified hairdresser, but was skilled enough to do a good job.

The couple loved Saturday country and western nights at the village hall, and Hilary would sit for hours with Wally when he went fishing.

Her children remember mum winning the Miss Heineken of the Year personality contest at Butlin’s holiday camp in Clacton-on-Sea in the 1970s – joking that she took the crown because she managed, somehow, to tear the compère’s tights.

Hilary also claimed a glamorous grandmother title somewhere – possibly at Vauxhall Holiday Park, Great Yarmouth.

After the railways, Wally’s jobs included working on trawlers – members of the family remember him bringing fish home and the cat getting its head stuck in one – with Balfour Beatty on Orfordness, and with a farmer at Campsea Ashe, doing beet harvesting and suchlike.

After the children grew up and left home, he and Hilary moved to a bungalow in Eyke in the early 1990s.

Wally was very ill in his later years, with various cancers (skin, prostate, lung), heart bypass surgery, diabetes and osteoarthritis. His wife nursed him through the difficult times. Wally died in the summer of 2016.

The family remembers Hilary as a lively 79-year-old: a well-loved lady with whom many people enjoyed a laugh. She was something of a comedian – and she and Wally often teased each other.

She liked going on holiday – Vauxhall Holiday Park and Pontin’s among her favourites – and her children chuckle at the memory of her in Benidorm, racing a clown on electric scooters.

Hilary also loved shopping, craftwork and bingo (Tuesdays in Wickham Market was a firm date in her diary for that).

“And she loved secondhand shops,” says Sarah. “She couldn’t pass one, could she? Dad used to say ‘What have you bought now?’ This house (the bungalow) was brilliant, because she could hide things in the bedroom before coming in here with no bags!”

The family also smiles about her forgetfulness. Hilary would regularly be a few steps up the road before realising she’d left her keys or phones behind, and have to go back to get them. Once, she left her case in Kessingland after a short break there.

Hilary loved her TV soaps – Emmerdale, Coronation Street, EastEnders – and enjoyed some innocent flirting with waiters and her young relatives’ boyfriends!

The family shows me a snippet of video: Hilary trying to play Swingball in the garden, at one of the big family gatherings she so enjoyed. Walking stick in one hand and bat in the other, she tries gamely – but without success – to strike the ball. And dissolves into giggles. The family are spot on when they say she had “a contagious laugh”.

“She was,” says Sarah, “a true mum till the end. She was everything you’d think a mother should be. She always looked after us; we were never short, even though at one stage she had six kids under six years old. She’s a huge loss… you can’t imagine.”

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