Eileen Mary Baylis
|Father||Robert William Baylis (1897-1944)|
|Mother||Hilda Mary Pickett (1896-1987)|
Eileen emigrated from England to Australia in 1964.
Eileen Mary Harrison
by her granddaughter, Rev. Suzie Ray.
Of all her many qualities, one that stands out for me is her incredible persistence and perseverance. They say you can't keep a good woman down. Well Eileen was a perfect example of that saying. When life presented challenges, she "just got on with it".
She demonstrated this in the very moment of her birth. You see, when Eileen was born at home, on 12 June 1923, the midwife thought she was stillborn. She put Eileen under the bed and focused her attention instead on Eileen's mother.
The doctor then arrived, feeling somewhat guilty that he'd finished his game of golf before coming, only to discover the birth hadn't gone as planned.
He asked to see the body and exclaimed that she wasn't dead – yet! That heart of hers was beating. He spent 45 minutes intensively getting Eileen breathing and keeping her going. He then called for the priest, not expecting her to live for more than a short while. Thus Eileen was also baptised at home at only 1 day old.
She sure proved them wrong – you couldn't keep this good woman down!
During Eileen's childhood she struggled with various sicknesses. She didn't seem to have a very strong constitution. Still, there was nothing to be done. She "just got on with it". The way she describes it, she hit her 20s, shook off the ill health, and was strong as an ox through most of the rest of her adult life!
Eileen's father spent much of her childhood working in India, and her mother too went on some of these trips, so Eileen spent many years in boarding school, and many school holidays with her grandparents. At boarding school she recalled competitions in music, gymnastics and – deportment. They had a bath twice a week, and their hair was washed once a month.
Eileen persisted and persevered through every challenge, becoming Vice Captain of her house.
It was probably from Eileen's grandparents that she first learned her love of gardening. She recalls their large and well-tended garden and how well they lived in retirement, in part because of the amount of food they grew there. When her parents were in India she stayed with her grandparents in the holidays, and when her parents were in England she visited her grandparents every week. The habit of growing one's own food stayed with Eileen life long.
The delight of fresh food ran deep in Eileen – whilst at boarding school, on a student's birthday they could choose a group of friends for a special afternoon tea that included cake. For her 14th birthday Eileen asked for strawberries and cream instead of a cake! They must have been good strawberries because she never forgot that birthday. Her great-grandchildren today still have fond memories of picking blackberries from Eileen's garden, so the love of fresh berries has also been passed on.
Throughout her life, Eileen kept fit and active through gardening, not just in her own garden but in particular also in Jill's beautiful garden, at the entrance to her home and business in Margate. While Kellie and Perry were young, she would look after them regularly as well, growing both flowers and grandchildren!
Eileen's persistence, perseverance and adventurous spirit were also nurtured in her post-school years. Her secretarial studies were at Queens College. She proudly said that "Queen's College was the first institution in the world to award academic qualifications to women. Based on the principles of its founder in the 1840s, it had a non-competitive spirit yet produced confident and open-minded young women". Eileen proudly maintained her membership to the "Old Queens" association.
In 1942 many children in England were returning from their initial countryside evacuations and Eileen was asked to start a Girl Guide company in her area. She had been a Guide for a short while in her school years, and felt a bit ill-equipped, but of course got down to the job with skill and dedication. The 27th Ilford Guides was founded, and with it the beginning of a lifetime of commitment to the Guides movement.
War shaped Eileen's formative years. Her father had suffered terrible injury in WW1, and had had his face substantially reconstructed in France. Eileen in upper high school was evacuated to the countryside, away from the bombing. She then moved on to secretarial studies. Her 21st birthday is remembered as the day the first doodle bug missile, the V1, fell. Although Eileen remembers that these were nothing compared to the 2nd generation of these missiles that came some months later, landing without warning and leaving massive craters.
During the war, while working for a bank, Eileen worked in a vault deep underground, sometimes while the bombings happened overhead. When above ground there were air raid shelters, gas masks, blacked-out living and ration cards. As part of Eileen's Girl Guides role she had undertaken a lot of First Aid training. Her conscripted War Work was to spend evening shifts with the Light Rescue Teams after bombing raids. Not all her friends survived, as more than just buildings were lost to the bombs. This war time lifestyle is one most of her descendants are blessed to never have known.
As a young adult Eileen and a friend had the opportunity to go on a bicycling holiday for a week. The war was on, and so street signs had been removed and maps were hard to come by, but neither lack daunted their adventurous spirit. On one occasion the fog was so thick she decided to follow a bus on her bicycle, as its lights gave her more sense of direction. The fog got so thick, and the windscreen so dirty from the smog, that the bus driver couldn't tell where the curb was any more. He asked Eileen to ride in front of the bus, to show HIM the way – and she did! That plucky and tenacious spirit shone through again. As always, she got on with what needing doing, without a moment's hesitation.
Eileen can't remember learning to knit – it's a skill she literally had had for as long as she could remember! Her knitting was a huge practical help in the war years and rationing years. Clothing was rationed but that wasn't going to stop Eileen. She got her hands on crochet cotton and knitting silk and wool and set to work. She later made dresses out of discarded wartime parachutes.
Just a few years ago I was in Tasmania with my children to visit Eileen. We were in a cafe, enjoying a cup of tea, when my youngest piped up with an interesting question. She said "Nanny, what is your favourite thing to do?" My ears pricked up. I was curious to know the answer. She was living at Hawthorn Village by this stage, so her leisure pursuits were more limited than they had been. What was her favourite thing to do nowadays? Would it be jigsaw puzzles? Knitting? Reading? Scrabble? Her answer has stuck with me ever since. She replied: "My favourite thing to do is making warm clothes for children". You can't keep a good woman down.
Eileen was also musical, enjoying singing, playing the piano, and having had some lessons on her father's violin. She fondly remembered singing in a by-audition choir in her young adulthood, singing greats such as Messiah, Elijah and The Creation. She used her musical gift in churches, too, for many years of her life.
Eileen married in 1947 and they had 4 children, all born in England: Brian, Gwen, Sheila and Jill. For the last 10 years in England they lived on a small farm in the Lakes District. Eileen spent 12 months mostly alone on the farm with the children while her husband was away at College, upgrading his qualifications. There was no electricity and no running water to the house. It was incredibly hard work but it put food on the table and a roof over their head. There were many challenges: from a breed of sheep that turned out to be fence-jumpers, to a bull that make quite a dint in her forehead, but through it all she persevered.
I find it moving to reflect that in the Bible reading Eileen chose for today we heard: where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.
In 1964 an opportunity came to relocate to Australia for a better life, and in January of 1964 Eileen and her family arrived here in Tasmania. When her eldest daughter, Gwen, joined Guides it didn't take long for Eileen to be asked to become a District Commissioner, which she did and maintained continuous service in Guides for many decades.
My first job after university was working for a bank. I recall Eileen telling me somewhat wistfully that she had worked for a bank after finishing school, but that in the 1940s it just wasn't permitted for a married woman to work for a bank, so she had had to leave upon marrying. She had also wished she had the opportunity for a profession that used her brain, ideally something mathematical. She was pleased to see changing times bringing greater choices for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Since Eileen couldn't pursue a professional career she did what was open to women of her generation – she put those excellent skills, those skills and capacities that could have made for a fine banking career – into a life of voluntary service. Eileen served so many different community groups, include Girl Guides, National Council of Women and Tasmanian Association of Superannuants (who both granted her life membership for her service), Legacy and Legacy Widows, Kingborough Women's Club, the Society of Growing Australian Plants, the Taroona ex-servicemen's club, using those First Aid skills again with St John's Ambulance, Sunday School teaching and playing the organ and piano in churches, being a guide at the historic Penitentiary in Campbell St, supporting charities including the City Mission and the Heart Foundation and more. She was Secretary of the Continuing Congregational Association for 28 years, and was recently presented with her Certificate of Thanks for 60 years of adult membership and service to Girl Guides. She applied herself with such dedication and generosity that she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.
Taking my daughters on a tour of the Cascade Female Factory was very poignant for me: both as an important part of Australian history, and also knowing that my Grandmother had, through the National Council of Women, been one of those persistent and persevering women of today who recognised that history as one needing to be preserved and shared with future generations.
Eileen's perseverance, persistence and sense of adventure continued into her older age. In 2005 the recently-widowed Eileen decided her adventurous streak was not to be daunted and set off on her own to visit son Brian in Sydney, then by train through Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin, a tour of Kakadu and off to Cairns. There she went snorkeling for the first time ever at age 82. Yes, you couldn't tell Eileen to slow down in older age! From facing her fear of heights by flying in a light plane over Stanley Chasm in Central Australia, to riding a horse in her late 80s, to taking weekly classes at the University of the Third Age to keep her mind active, and being on many, many voluntary committees, she made the most of the opportunities of later life.
Eileen's trips were not just about places and experiences, but also about people. She maintained friendships over many, many decades through written letters and visits when possible. She visited children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other extended family in places like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. To make her last trip to the UK possible, in 2009, she travelled with daughter Sheila to see many friends and family one last time and research family history.
After a stroke in her 90s landed her in hospital she was given the option of accepting her new limitations or going to rehab. There was no doubt in her mind – off to rehab it was. She was determined that she would walk out of there. I remember visiting with her as she worked out in the gym as one of the physios came over and said she'd worked really hard this session. Was it time to stop? "No", she said, she'd do three more sets of exercises before she stopped. And she did.
Then later on, once she was unable to walk safely on her own, she took opportunities to take herself around in her wheelchair to still join friends, meet people and get out and about. At each new stage, she never let limitations get the better of her but persevered, persisted, and looked for the best.
A key source of Eileen's perseverance, and generosity, was her Christian faith. She was a long time member of the Richmond Congregational Church, and in more recent years Margate One-Way Church and Bay Church Blackman's Bay. I'll never forget talking with Nanny after one of her mini-strokes, when things weren't looking too great. (She rallied completely, as she so often did! It took more than a stroke or two to keep Eileen down!). On this occasion, as we weren't sure yet how her recovery would pan out, she told me this. She told me to pray for "health or heaven". Health or heaven.
Death was not a fear for her. She knew her destiny. For 96 years she made the most of her health, and then it was time for heaven.
But Eileen's legacy lives on. She was in many ways an entrepreneur, forging ahead to start new things, whether a Guide Group, a Guild, a farming business, a productive garden. And in her descendants that entrepreneurial gift lives on. She had this incredible perseverance and persistence, and in some of the hardships and challenges faced by different descendants we see that "just get on with it" spirit live on.
She kept her mind active, even when society in her generation told her that her mind was not needed. Her love of puzzles, word games, mathematics and problem solving lives on. She loved her garden, and this lives on right through children, grandchildren and even keen gardeners in her great-grandchildren. And her volunteer work leaves a legacy that will also last for generations.
Truly, you can't keep a good woman down. Gone, but not forgotten. She has entered her heavenly rest. Eileen – Nanny – we miss you, we love you, we give thanks for you.
|Sackett line||10th great-granddaughter of Thomas Sackett the elder|
|See also||Benjamin Sackett (1834–1900) gallery & descendant chart|
|Charts||Descendants of Benjamin Sackett|
Notes & Citations
- Website England & Wales Birth Index (GRO Civil Registration Index) (Ancestry.com) (http://search.ancestry.co.uk/), "Sep qtr 1923. Baylis, Eileen M. Mother: Pickett. Romford. 4a:908."
- Email from Sheila Phythian to Chris Sackett, 23 July 2007.
- Email from Sheila Phythian to Sackett mailing list, Jan 2020.
- "England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index", database, Ancestry.com, "Dec qtr 1947. Baylis, Eileen M. Spouse: Harrison. Ilford. 5a:979."
"Dec qtr 1947. Harrison, Arthur. Spouse: Baylis. Ilford. 5a:979."
|Last Edited||30 January 2020|