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Covid-19: Time to Reflect: Daughter remembers WWII veteran mum who died during first lockdown

Betty Dawson served in the WAAF between 1942-1945. She died at Royal Star & Garter in Surbiton in April 2020. As the nation commemorates the anniversary of the first lockdown with a National Day of Reflection, her daughter Pauline Dain pays tribute to Betty, and discusses how hard it was to lose her Mum at the height of the pandemic.

Betty was a “warm and thoughtful person”

Mum was a warm and thoughtful person, she was always interested in what her family was doing, even when she was 97. The fact she was known to her granddaughters as ‘Supergran’ says it all!


She was also an adventurer. She lived up north and loved walking and climbing hills in the Lake District. She was also very competitive, as anyone who saw her play scrabble at Royal Star & Garter will testify to. If she went swimming she would have to swim one length more than her friends. If she went for a walk, she’d have to walk furthest.


Mum was visited at Royal Star & Garter by her daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters. The staff quickly learnt all our names and shared mum’s joy from these visits.

Betty in uniform

Mum had served in the WAAF during the war, and moved into Royal Star & Garter in 2016, when she was 93. She loved her time there. She really enjoyed physiotherapy, it appealed to her competitive nature, she always wanted to do more. A volunteer would come in every week to play scrabble with her, and that was a real highlight. She loved the music, the exercise groups, the many volunteers she got to know and all the entertainment that was organised. She made new friends.


Nobody wants to put their mum into a home if I’m honest, but it was amazing. It gives you your relationship with your parent back. Instead of being her carer, I could be Mum’s daughter again, and that was amazing. You could tell she was loved by the staff.


I last visited mum on 13 March. A few days later the Home had to close its doors (due to Covid-19) and she died on 8 April. She had a respiratory condition and issues with her chest. We used to have window visits and speak over the phone, but these were very stressful and distressing for both my mum and me. I could see she was deteriorating.


I got to sit with her in her room the day before she died, on 7 April. I think she knew I was there. I wasn’t there when she died, but a nurse she was very fond of was, and that meant the world to me. She died at around 6.30pm, and that evening staff called to say the funeral directors would be coming that night, if we wanted to be in the car park. So at 2am we were outside the Home to say goodbye to Mum. I’m grateful we were able to do that.


Betty with her family on her 90th birthday. She was known as ‘Supergran’

You’re never ready to say goodbye to your mum, and not being with her as a family when she died was incredibly hard. But I feel the Home did everything it possibly could for Mum and me. I couldn’t ask for more.


I don’t know how I’ll be on the Day of Reflection. We’re not going to be able to spend it together as a family. But we have to hang on to fact that as a family we have been fortunate. We have been well. Mum has a new great grandchild who was born after she died, and the baby is flourishing. You have to look at it in perspective.


As much as I miss Mum, I miss my time up at Royal Star & Garter, because I would visit three or four times a week and made friends there. Thinking how happy Mum was at the Home makes losing her a lot easier.