Oldest WW2 female veteran Ena Collymore-Woodstock says she didn't come to England 'just to type!'

·3-min read

Ena Collymore-Woodstock OBE is believed to be the oldest surviving female veteran of the British Army.

The Jamaican-born 103-year-old left her home country aged 26 to join the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War.

The Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC) Association discovered she was living in the Caribbean while searching for former female military personnel as part of this year's Remembrance Day commemorations.

Collymore-Woodstock was born in 1917 in Jamaica's Spanish Town. Both her parents died when she was young.

Her journey into the British Army began after she responded to local calls for women to join the women's wing.

She wanted to play her part in the fight against fascism.

"There weren't many women in the army at that time, and very few women of colour.

"I wanted to do my part and I felt special.

"We all knew we were doing things for the first time."

Collymore-Woodstock revealed she was not one to sit down quietly: "When I got to England, they offered me an office role typing, but I told them that I hadn't joined up just to type!"

After being evaluated, she was soon dispatched as one of the first women to join the Anti-Aircraft Service.

She served from 1943-1946 in both the UK and Belgium as the first West Indian to become a radar operator.

"When I joined up, Jamaica wasn't independent yet, we were still a colony, so locals weren't given the top jobs," she said.

"My generation of local women were determined to prove we were capable."

She added: "I helped show what women could achieve, despite there being no female role models at senior level of society at the time."

Upon returning to Jamaica, Collymore-Woodstock embarked on a legal career of many firsts.

In 1946 she was the first woman of colour to train at Gray's Inn in London and was the first - and only - female to join its debating society.

After being called to the Bar in England in January 1948, she returned to Jamaica and served as clerk of courts for St James' Parish - the first woman to hold the post.

Not long afterwards in 1953 she was appointed as the first assistant crown solicitor.

In the following six years Collymore-Woodstock became Jamaica's first woman to hold judicial office when she was appointed as a resident magistrate.

Her daughter, Marguerite Woodstock-Riley, followed in her mother's legal footsteps and is a QC in Barbados.

Reflecting on her mother's achievements, she said leaving the Caribbean to join the British Army all those decades ago must have been a "culture shock".

"It is only as adults that we've begun to understand the enormity of our mother's achievements and the inspiring effect she had on us.

"As a black female, entering Britain (...) must have been a real culture shock.

"Not surprisingly, her determination, strength and pioneering attitude enabled her to succeed whilst serving in the British Army, and then in the legal profession.

"We're incredibly proud of her, and hope she'll continue to inspire generations of women to come."

The WRAC Association - the only charity supporting women who served in the British Army - launched a campaign to find its oldest alive members, following the death of 108-year-old Anne Robson.

Alison Brown, vice president of the charity, says the group was "happy" to have found Ena.

"We cannot describe how happy we are to have found Ena.

"We were determined to find our oldest surviving female veteran.

"We wanted to thank her, tell her story and reflect on her achievements, plus, those of other pioneering women of WW2, who pushed aside gender bias and spearheaded roles for women in society as a whole.

"Ena is an inspiration to us all!"

Collymore-Woodstock now lives with her family between Jamaica and Barbados, is said to be in good health and exercises three times a week.