As panic surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies, elderly women like Anne Oldland – who is turning 92 in May – say people need to take stock, help where they can, and most of all “calm down”.
Anne, who lives in Melbourne, grew up in the in the United Kingdom where her father was a police officer. She was born to parents who had experienced first-hand the ruthless impact of World War 1, economic recession and depression and then World War 2.
Anne admits that while the COVID-19 pandemic “is not good, and will most likely get worse before it gets better”, the world has been through epidemics before and focusing on “helping each other and remaining calm” is crucial.
Anne is not particularly concerned about her own health at this time, saying she has had almost 92 “good years” and is “living on borrowed time anyway”. However she wants to impart some of her experience with young women and families currently feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the current situation.
“I think in times like this staying calm is very important. Don’t panic…treat each other kindly. Focus on helping where you can, if that is something you can do,” she says. “I think people are going a bit crazy right now.”
During WW2 Anne’s father was Head of Police in Dover – an area that played a crucial role in the war effort. At the age of 11 she and her whole school were evacuated to South Wales – where she spent four years separated from her parents and brother, who was sent to another area.
“It was a very hard time for everyone. As a child, I probably didn’t take it all to seriously, but my parents certainly did. We had no choice but to get on with it,” she says.
“As a result my parents were always very careful, their whole lives. They had lived through the toughest recession…there was no money, no furniture to buy. Everything you could imagine was rationed, from food and clothes down to how much water you used in your bath.”
People today have “never had it so good”, Anne says.
They have never experienced rationing or “making do” with the bare necessities. During her early years clothes would be worn until they were thread bare and items always re-used.
“People need to be sensible. Not greedy. There is enough for everyone if we just take what we need,” she says. “Times will be different. You might not have what you once did, but things will be ok.”
People in their 90s have experienced many years of stress and uncertainty over their lifetime. In Anne’s case, when she returned from South Wales to be reunited with her family after four years away, the uncertainty continued. She remembers, at the age of 16, sitting in an exam in her school in Kent, when a German “doodlebug” – a self-propelled rocket hit the classroom, causing the windows to smash in.
“It was an art exam – my worst subject – and the glass from the window flew across the room and cut my picture in half,” she says. “Hiding under our desks when a bomb or a doodlebug came in was a common thing for us to have to do.”
Anne says her Christian values have helped to guide her in her decisions about “what to do next”. While her family are encouraging her to remain at home, she is kept busy with reading some of the 20 books she borrows a month from the library and watching her new smart TV. She is sorting through her possessions and those of her late husband, who died just five months ago.
“I am trying to give away things that I don’t need and use that might help other people,” she said. “It’s practical to sort these things out now…there hasn’t been a better time to do it.”
As for how this crisis will play out, Anne wants to remind people that: “epidemics have happened before and they will happen again. Life is a big circle. Be kind to one another.”
Anne Oldland is related to the author of this piece.