Audrey Bourne

16 April 2020 by Nick Hood

Please note that I am adding to this page in the weeks following Audrey’s death, as I review family papers and photographs. Audrey was born in Letchworth on the 7th June 1930 to Norah and George Bourne. During her life, she lived mostly in Letchworth but traveled well, developing a good list of favourite places such as York and especially the Thames Valley around Henley. She wrote a number of novels and published a book of poetry. Audrey had a keen intellect and read extensively, most especially the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.

Early Life

She went
Audrey in the Land Army, 1948.
to Norton School, becoming Head Girl before leaving at 14 years old to begin working life during the final year of the Second World War at the Hertfordshire Rubber Company. According to Grace’s Guide, this business made parts for the De Havilland Mosquito as part of the War Effort. At the age of around 18, Audrey served in the Land Army. She told the story of how, having unexpectedly returned to the farmhouse the girls were billeted in, she caught two of them in bed together. When she mentioned this to other girls, she was told, “Don’t worry, Audrey, they’re Lezzies”, to which she replied, “Who’s Les?”

Audrey loved to swim and frequented the Art Deco Letchworth Lido all of her life, in recent years as part of a “gang” of Letchworth folk who met to chat, enjoy the atmosphere and swap memories of this great town institution. She worked there as a cashier there during the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Family

Audrey was married briefly to David Austin but bore her only child, Nicholas, to her second husband, Richard Neal Hood, a Staff Sergeant in the USAF. She was married four times to three husbands: twice to the rough diamond, charmer and criminal that was “Frank” Finlayson.

Health

Audrey became paralysed in her late twentiesAugust 1958. The paralysis was identified as Transverse Myelitis and later attributed to Multiple Sclerosis. During her time in Wiesbaden, she received spinal injections, perhaps myelin, to which she attributed much of her spinal pain and mobility difficulties later in life. Interestingly, the study of how the myelin sheath repairs itself is now being considered as a clue to potential treatment for MS. She tried for years to unearth her medical records from the US National Records Office, but no such record of her treatment or attendance was ever found, with the suggestion that many such records were destroyed by a fire in a Seattle office. and was flown in a B-51 to the US military hospital at Wiesbaden, where she was told she would never walk again. In her own words, writing in 1994:

“Those months [in Wiesbaden] were the most traumatic, and memorable of my young life. I was known as "The Duchess", because once I had reached the wheelchair stage of my recovery some of the more mobile patients and I "held court" in the canteen during our coffee and tea breaks. No rude jokes were allowed. Major Turpin (the neurosurgeon) said they had closed the psychiatric department because of the stress-release effected during "court" sessions, where we confided all our problems to one another.”

Audrey recovered enough to walk without a stick and returned to America to be with her son and husband, but this was short-lived and she became ill again, returning to England, so she thought, to die. She did not, and recovered at the hands of English doctors following the removal of a kidney. Her marriage to Ric did not survive this challenge, however, and they were eventually divorced in 1965. In time, she defied many medical and other challenges in her life, including the loss of an eye to a stupid man with a shoe horn.

Music

Music followed her all of her life: she sang for pennies from her grandmother as a little girl, performed in “The Wotsnames” and sang from the roof of Letchworth fire station on VE day. With her friend, Brian Satterthwaite, she recorded a few tracks of favourite songs in a local studio.

Here is one of those: "Till we meet again".

Another one, a favourite of her mother's, "We'll gather lilacs", was played at her funeral on 14th April 2020 in Luton.

Almost home


Audrey, at home, July 2019, aged 89.
Audrey almost made it to her 90th birthday which would have been on the 7th June, 2020. On Christmas Eve, 2019, she was admitted to hospital following a series of falls resulting from chronic pain and weakness in her knees, exacerbated by a viral infection she had picked up (or so she said) from a neighbour. Her stay became extended and required periods in rehab working with therapists on a bold plan to get her living semi-independently in her beloved home in Letchworth. She almost made it again: on the day she was due to be discharged, she was admitted again to A&E with sepsis from an infection. She passed away on the morning of 20th March 2020 at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. Her ashesOne of the last things she said to me was, “I want my mummy”. were scattered with her mother’s in the grounds of Luton Crematorium.

Notes

Name DoB PoB DoD PoD
Audrey Joyce BOURNE 7th June 1930 Letchworth 20th March 2020 Harlow

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George Alfred Bourne - April 2020
Audrey Bourne - April 16, 2020 - Nick Hood