Jeannie Kathleen Gillanders, known as Aunt Jean was my godmother. When I left Ireland in 1970 to work in London, she was very kind to me. I was living, at that time, in a boarding house, homesick and lonely. Aunt Jean was retired, living some ten miles north of Brighton and so she ‘took me under her wing’. I used to travel and stay with her at weekends when she spoilt me. She was a generous host and very amusing company with a wealth of stories of her time in the Navy.
Aunt Jean had an illustrious career in the nursing service. She trained at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and the Leeds Maternity Hospital, joining the Queens Alexandra Royal Naval Nursing Service aged 28 years. She rose through the ranks, being appointed the Matron at the Royal Naval Haslar Hospital in 1944 and subsequently reaching the pinnacle of the service on being appointed Matron-in-Chief. She held that post until 1953 when she retired. On her retirement, she was awarded the CBE. Incidentally her name appeared in ‘Who’s Who’ until her death in 1971
During her time in the service she was appointed the nursing sister to King George VI and after his death, nursing sister to the Queen.
She was a close friend of Lord Louis and Lady Edwina Mountbatten, particularly Lady Mountbatten, spending many holidays with them. Aunt Jean and Lady Mountbatten maintained a long running correspondence over many years. Unfortunately the whereabouts of those letters are unknown, having been stolen from her home.
I recall that her club in London was the Naval and Military at St James Square near Piccadilly where she took me for lunch on a number of occasions. She seemed completely at ease in the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of a services club, full of high ranking military and naval officers.
When my father died in September 1971, she was very upset and took his death badly. She died unexpectedly some two months later. On the weekend before her death, she told me in detail her wishes regarding her funeral as if she then had a premonition of her death.
Aunt Jean was a large, quite a formidable lady (very much the image of a hospital matron) but beneath that intimidating exterior, was a warm and very generous person. But then of course she was a Gillanders.
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