A retired nurse who treated soldiers injured in the Battle of Dunkirk has revealed the secret of her long life as she celebrated her 103rd birthday – a small tot of whisky in her cup of tea in the morning.
Staff and residents at Pendine Park’s Gwern Alyn care home, where Hilda Richards now lives, tucked into an afternoon tea and a birthday cake to mark the momentous milestone.
At the party, she explained her recipe for longevity. She said: “The secret is a tot of Bell’s whisky in my morning cup of tea. I always had that.”
Pointing skywards with a mischievous glint in her eye, Hilda also joked that another reason was that “He doesn’t want me up there. I’m too wicked!”
Hilda was born in Ruabon on November 10, 1917, almost exactly a year before the First World War ended.
After attending grammar school she moved to Liverpool aged 18 to train as a nurse at Alder Hey hospital.
She completed her training in 1940 and treated people injured by the war and in the Blitz, as well as Jewish doctors who escaped the Nazis.
Hilda recalled: “Looking after gravely wounded soldiers from Dunkirk was an awful job, but one I was privileged to do.”
“These boats came in carrying all these wounded soldiers on stretchers who had come straight from Dunkirk.
“They were all soaking wet and filthy.
“They looked like old men when they came in, but once we’d washed their faces and cleaned them up, we could see they were just boys, some as young as 20.
“We were doing that for two whole days, just cleaning them all up.
“I’ll tell you something, we nurses were crying as we were doing it.”
She added: “I’ve had a very varied life, but I’ve never had a dull job. I’ve enjoyed my life, and I have no regrets.
In 1942, Hilda attended a carnival dance and met her future husband Trevor.
She watched the dancers from a balcony with her friend and spotted a young man leaning on the railings.
She said: “There was an empty seat next to mine on the balcony, so I offered him the seat next to me.
“We got talking and he told me he’d just come back from Blackpool with his brother and their friend, who were downstairs dancing.
“But, like me, he couldn’t dance, so he came upstairs to watch.
“That’s how we met, and he started writing letters to me while I was at Alder Hey.”
Trevor worked at the Cranes music shop in Wrexham, as a pianist and a salesman, before he served in France in the Tank Regiment.
They married later that year during one of his leave weeks – which he got every four months – and she moved to Wrexham Infirmary, where she continued to treat soldiers.
“We weren’t just treating British soldiers – there were Polish, Canadian, French and American,” said Hilda, who had three sons, Ralph, now 73, Derek, 70, and Clive, 54.
Hilda later worked as a laboratory assistant and a first aid nurse at a school, before retiring aged 59.
The couple travelled the world, from North America to India, Russia and even the North Pole.
Her travel highlight is visiting the Taj Mahal and sitting in the same spot made famous by Princess Diana in later years.
She said: “Any money we had left over of our weekly pension would go in our travel savings box.
“When we had enough, we’d decide where to go, and off we went.
“Mine and Trevor’s motto was ‘memories are better than dreams.’ That’s what we used to say.
“Sitting by the fire when you’re old, you don’t want to see a place on the TV and think ‘I wish I had been there.’
“You want to be able to say, ‘Oh, I remember when I went there.’”
Trevor died ten years ago and Hilda, who has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, moved into the care home earlier this year.
Gwern Alyn manager Cindy Clutton said: “Hilda is a truly remarkable woman and has a real zest for life.
“She is very popular with the staff and residents alike, not least because she still has a mischievous sense of humour.
“It is really humbling to hear about all she has done particularly during time working as a nurse.
“Hilda is a real inspiration to all of us and it is a real privilege to be able to look after her.”