South Wootton woman, 95, looks ahead to Platinum Jubilee with namesake Queen Elizabeth
As the country prepares to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next week, for South Wootton resident Betty Scully the occasion has special significance.
For Betty was born in the same year as Her Majesty, named in her honour and has grown up reaching milestones at similar times.
Betty, 95, said: “I’m very proud that she is my Queen. I still think of her as that poor young woman landed with such huge responsibility.”
Betty was born in December 1926 – eight months after the Queen. She was named Dorothy after her mother but always known as Betty – short for her middle name Elizabeth. Betty’s year at school was full of girls named after the princess.
When they were both aged around eight, Betty saw Princess Elizabeth at a military tattoo she attended with her father, army brigadier Leslie Rogers, mother and brother Frank (known as Boy), who was eight years her senior. At the time no-one knew she’d ever be queen.
Around the same time Boy lined the streets with the Royal Military Academy, for a grand procession for the silver jubilee of King George V and Betty recalls sitting on her father’s shoulders to catch a glimpse of the King and Queen Mary.
Just a few months later, Betty was heartbroken to discover firstly that she had to leave her beloved parents to join boarding school and then, due to a Far East posting for her father, she would be separated from them for five years. The cost and difficulty of travel, which was mainly by sea then, meant there’d be no visits.
It was at boarding school that Betty recalls the event that ultimately led to Queen Elizabeth being crowned. Betty and all her classmates were taken to the school hall to listen to a radio announcement that Edward VIII (who once asked Betty’s father’s permission to dance with her mother at a military event) was to abdicate the throne to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson. Betty’s teachers were in tears at the news.
Betty attended a big party when Edward’s brother, Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI was later crowned king.
The Second World War, which began when Betty was 13, was the next major historical event she witnessed. Her father was unexpectedly brought home a year earlier than expected. Had Betty’s parents not come home they would almost certainly have ended up in Prisoner of War camps.
Sadly, her brother did not escape tragedy. Having joined the army he survived Dunkirk, but was killed in a military plane crash in 1942. Betty recalls the terrible mixed feelings when VE Day and then VJ Day came. There was great celebration mixed with such strong sadness that even when the 75th anniversary of VE Day were marked with socially distanced commemorations in South Wootton in the midst of Covid-19 in 2020, Betty almost could not bring herself to take part.
When she left school, Betty joined the Women’s Royal Naval Services aged 17-and-a-half and served at Bletchley Park. Her kinship with Princess Elizabeth was furthered when the princess served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945.
When King George VI died suddenly in February 1952 and Princess Elizabeth became queen aged 25, Betty felt great pity for all the sacrifice she’d have to make. Betty also further empathised with the young queen’s grief when she lost her own mother suddenly the following year.
In that year, Betty recalls the huge occasion of the coronation, watched on a television given to her as a wedding gift.
She said: “My father was terribly concerned the TV might not work so although there were no programmes on before the coronation, we had to have it on with a black screen for about an hour beforehand. My father stood to attention when The Queen was crowned and insisted we all stand too.
“There was a great sense of something terrific happening.”
When Queen Elizabeth left her two young children Prince Charles and Princess Anne for a six-month world tour soon after her coronation, Betty felt for her again.
A few months later Betty gave birth to her first daughter Sally, followed by Timothy and Julian. She never wanted them to experience the pain of being away from their parents as she had.
After being widowed in 1976 by the death of her husband Derrick Straker, Betty married widower Ley, inherited four step children James, Nicholas, Christopher and Veronica and moved to West Norfolk. She lost Ley in 2004.
Despite a happy career in midwifery and nursing, Betty’s family has been her greatest joy. She now has 12 grandchildren and her fourth great grandchild is on the way. She lives with daughter Sally Gaskin, 68, a retired Queen Elizabeth Hospital nurse.
Betty said: “I admire the Queen tremendously. I used to think her children aren’t much older than mine but she’s going to have a very different life.
“I feel sorry for her not envious. I hope she sees her grandchildren as much as I do mine and that everyone doesn’t wear her out with the Platinum Jubilee!”
Living in West Norfolk, the home of the Sandringham royal residence, has given Betty a further sense of closeness to the royal family. Betty occasionally bumped into the Duchess of York at Knights Hill swimming pool when princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were small and attended panto in Hunstanton when Princess Diana was there with Princes William and Harry, though she has never met The Queen.