A retired nurse who treated wounded soldiers from the Battle of Dunkirk, Holocaust survivors and Blitz casualties turns 103 tomorrow.
Great-great grandmother Hilda Richards trained as a nurse throughout WW2 and some of her first patients were allied troops from all over the world.
She even treated Holocaust survivors who found their way to Britain during her time at Alder Hey Hospital, as well as casualties of the Blitz.
Her most memorable patients were wounded soldiers from the Battle of Dunkirk, carried in on stretchers, covered in dirt, and in desperate need of help.
The globetrotting centenarian spent her retirement travelling the world – from the Taj Mahal to the North Pole – with her husband Trevor.
She’s celebrating her 103rd birthday with her friends at Gwern Alyn in Wrexham, north Wales, where she now lives.
Her son Ralph, 73, is going to visit her to say ‘happy birthday’ – via a wave through her bedroom window.
She puts her longevity down to a varied and exciting life.
Recalling her time as a WW2 nurse, she added: “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.
“It’s up to us to make our own lives good!”
Hilda grew up in the village of Ruabon, Wrexham, and 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.
She said: “Looking after gravely wounded soldiers from Dunkirk was an awful job, but one I was privileged to do.”
In 1942, Hilda visited her home in Wrexham to attend a carnival dance in the village hall, 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 a music shop, 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 has done so much in her life – I can’t imagine what she went through nursing soldiers injured at Dunkirk and civilians injured in the Blitz.
“Hearing all about her and Trevor’s travel exploits doesn’t surprise me in any way.
“She really is an incredible woman.”