Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Eileen Dorothea Reder
1916 - 2010

Grandma passed away on 12 March 2010 after three months in nursing homes. Until then she'd lived independently on her own, rightly proud of the fact that even at 93 she still had all her marbles. But finally her body started to give up on her, her legs stopped working and she could no longer look after herself alone.

The funeral was yesterday. It was lovely, very emotional, but old fashioned and totally fitting. I want to put the tribute here, which was written and read by Dad, her son in law. It's a really brief summary of her life, but as you can see she packed a lot in. I'll be writing more about Grandma in the next few months.

I’m very grateful to Eileen for leaving us some wonderful notes, nay memoirs,that describe large parts of a varied and colourful life.

Eileen was born in 1916 in Leeds, Yorkshire. Her father, Revd. Percy Sturdy moved frequently with his job and by the age of 11 Eileen had attended 13 different schools before finally arriving in Gloucester. Movement and travelling were to be a large part of her life, with spells in Tanga (Tanganyika) Gloucester, Dar es Salaam, Moshi, Ashford (Kent), Lusaka (Zambia), Maidstone, Cape Town and Durban before finally settling in Tunbridge Wells, where she lived for the last 21 years.

Eileen was not a strong child but resolute. At the age of 3 her family was invited to a tea party with the Bishop, whose sisters were prim and proper but thought that they should force this little girl to eat a cake. Eileen responded by throwing it at them! She was also tough enough to survive a tonsillectomy, as she noted, “performed on the kitchen table”.

With the family settled in Gloucester, Eileen flourished at school. She “did well at learning” as she put it and also yearned to be captain of hockey, a post that she didn’t quite achieve but she was House Captain and during her spell her team won the Hockey Cup and three other trophies.

During the holidays she was often packed off to see her Grandmother (Grandie) in Leeds. She would be put on the train with a label, luggage and sandwiches. At each stop the porter & guard would check on her and arriving at Leeds, Aunt Eva would take her by tram and on foot to see Grandie. “The summers were good and we had lots of fun,” she wrote.

Eileen found out in later life that, after school, she was supposed to have become a teacher and marry a curate. However, she opted instead for a job in the accounts office of a ladies’ department store. Although this was a start she was soon studying typing and shorthand at night classes. This led to a job for a firm of solicitors and a further offer of work in East Africa. It was there in Tanga, in 1948, that she met and married Paul. After the reception they set off for Mombasa for a pukka night in the Mombasa hotel. Unfortunately, it was the rainy season and the car slithered on the unmade road, leaving one wheel over the edge of a precipice. There were no other cars and no passers-by, so they returned on foot to Tanga drenched from head to foot, to an empty house. Luckily the telephone was working so they sent the garage staff out for the car and a friend brought round eggs, bacon, baked beans and beer for supper. Not quite what they had anticipated.

After Pauline was born in Tanga in 1950, Paul was posted to Nairobi; but that being a potential troublespot, Eileen had to return to UK with Pauline, only returning when Paul gave up his job to be back with the family. It was 1953. Life was slightly more settled and William was born in Dar es Salaam in 1954. They moved to Tanga and Eileen made news in two ways : first she began to write a column for the Tanganika Standard and occasionally for the East Africa Standard and then she made news herself by becoming the first woman Town Councillor. As she herself wrote, “I could see the tremendous efforts being made to educate the young men and prepare them for independence, whereas hardly anything was being done for the women……this I considered to be shortsighted and was in the habit of discussing it at parties….so it served me right when I was summoned to the Provisional Commissioners office and was told that I was to be nominated as Town Councillor!”

She continued her public duties after the move to Moshi, working on Public Health and Building Works and Highways, later helping to host the opening of the New Town Hall by President Nyerere. She also worked for the British Council, Chamber of Commerce and UN Development Fund.

It was during her periods in office that she and Paul were recognised by the Chagga tribe and became honorary Chaggas. Some years later at an eye appointment at Pembury hospital the nurses were alarmed to hear this strange woman gabbling away to their doctor in Swahili – two Chaggas together in Tunbridge Wells!!

While in Moshi, Eileen also found time to run a shop selling women’s fashionwear (her hats were particularly famous), raise a family and continue her newspaper reporting. She made two scoops – the first when a plane crashed into Mount Kilamanjaro, the second when a French parachute team landed on the summit. The latter was an exclusive and enjoyed front-page coverage, for which Eileen earned the title “Here comes the Newshound” and enough money to buy a piano – a much treasured possession and one that many visitors admired, especially after it had been blessed by the nimble fingers of none other than the late Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong.

Music and singing were sources of great joy to Eileen. Her family were musical and almost every occasion was marked by songs together around the piano. From school choir, Eileen graduated to local operatic society but it was in Africa that her talent really came to fruition. She helped the Tanga Music and Drama Society and was producer of their first-ever production, “Aladdin”. She noted later, “It was an enormous amount of work. How did I manage to do it? Every detail covered, even down to the girls selling chocolates from trays (ice creams would have melted!)”. She recorded “like the A-team, I love it when a plan comes together!” She also co-produced the Coronation Revue, a daring production with a multi-racial cast, Indian dancers and African singers, which went to several towns to great reviews. They even added in an extra verse at the 11th hour because somebody arrived with the news that Hillary and Hunt had conquered Everest!

In Moshi, she teamed up with a superb soprano, Margaret Morphew and, as the Moshi Singers, they toured much of East Africa to great acclaim.

After returning to England, Eileen moved to Kennington, Ashford and joined the W.I.. She sang in their rather special choir and received accolades at The Canterbury Music Festival and at the W.I. Choral competition at the Albert Hall. She also sang with the Saint Nicholas Singers at Wye and on returning to Africa in 1970, for the Lusaka Cathedral choir, an experience that she recorded as “very uplifting”.

Not only that, she was a virtually self-taught organist. In Moshi, the organist had to leave and the plea went out “can anybody play or try to play the organ?” Eileen was coerced and found herself at an old organ that required pedalling at just the right pressure and speed and at the same time controlling two side flaps with one’s knees. The stops were all labelled in German, which wasn’t much help. Practise was on a Saturday afternoon when not too many people were about. One Saturday, the organ was playing up a little and she could not get a sound from one stop. Suddenly there was a swooshing sound. Eileen backed away and then slowly lifted the lid. There was a rapid scurrying and a large striped lizard darted out and away!

Eileen and Paul were in Maidstone for Pauline’s marriage in 1973, then Paul was offered a good job in Zambia and Eileen subsequently joined him there.

From Lusaka, Paul and Eileen moved to Cape Town where Paul died in 1982. Eileen thought of staying on, but fortunately for us all, she returned here in 1988 settling in Sherborne Close, Hawkenbury. Still active in mind and body, she became immersed in Hawkenbury life becoming involved with church, giving talks on her African experiences, writing as local correspondent for the Courier Newspaper and the Kent Messenger (I hate it when those junior editors chop my articles about!), helping raise the profile of Dunorlan Park, flower arranging and enjoying her tiny garden and our rather bigger untidy one, which she would tut-tut over and attack with her trusty secateurs.

I must just mention cats. Eileen loved cats and cats loved her. She had cats in Africa and cats over here. Sadly she couldn’t have one in the flat but when she visited our farm, the cats used to treat her like royalty. There was such empathy.

Above all, Eileen loved her family. She was immensely proud of Pauline and William, her grandchildren Katie and Peter, and her little great grandson Rory. She also kept in touch by card or letter with many of the far-flung family members. She was never more happy than on family occasions, where she could catch up on the latest family news, berate us for something silly that we had done (that was “daft” or you mucky pup) and be teased in turn for her lingering Yorkshire dialect (it wasalways 'bath' not 'barth' and 'plant' not 'plahnt').

Kind, decent, honest, thoughtful, patient, calm, resolute, forgiving, loving – words can only begin to describe her. We were so so lucky to have known such a wonderful friend, mother, grandmother and greatgrandmother.