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Farewells said to one of war's last WAAF heroines; 'wonderful woman was independent to the end'.

ONE of Tyneside's last surviving WAAFs - who kept a secret map which saved men's lives - has died at the age of 95.

The silk map, showing the locations of enemy troops in France, was issued to Allied parachutists to help them evade enemy fire or capture.

Priscilla Smailes, of Ryton, Gateshead, treasured the map after being given it by a Canadian airman in 1943 when she was in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

Priscilla, who was also a prolific contributor to The Chronicle, was still living independently in Ryton, Gateshead, up to her death.

Her grandaughter Deborah Anderson, 49, said: "Sadly, my gran passed away last month, just days before her 96th birthday.

"On sorting through her things we discovered a scrapbook filled with cuttings and many that The Chronicle had printed on a variety of topics - she was a very prolific writer.

"Sometimes the way she looked at things was very different from other people's because she had the benefit of so much experience. She always got The Chronicle and wrote letters to the paper for 30 or 40 years.

"She was a wonderful woman and independent till the end - still cleaning the stairs by riding up on her stairlift one step at a time with her dustpan and brush."

Deborah's mum Sylvia Jude, 68, of Ryton, said: "She was as bright as a button. She always used to watch University Challenge and she always said, 'I'm Mrs Parker (as she then was) and I'm reading The Evening Chronicle!' "As a WAAF in the Second World War she worked on the ballast balloons, sending them up, then worked on instrument repair and drove a Land Rover. She was billeted at Wylam."

Sylvia said: "She had her own opinions and sometimes felt she should comment. She also entered lots of competitions and won a fridge-freezer for the advice she had been given as a little girl: 'It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.' It came with a year's supply of pork faggots, which weren't so popular!

"Her first husband died in an industrial accident when she was pregnant and living in Sheffield, so she came back to her home town for the support of her family. She had three children, aged 14, 12, and 10, and then the baby to support. She always worked, and had trained as a midwife."

She worked at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary for many years, as a matron at Axwell Park and nursing at Prudhoe Hospital.

In her 60s she joined Pathfinders and went up every mountain in the Lake District. She was also part of Ryton Heritage Group and was very knowledgeable about the history of Newcastle. She also wrote poetry.

Priscilla, who had seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, was remarried in 1994 but husband Jimmy Smailes died in 2002. She enjoyed living independently, with the help of her family, and the 95-year-old would tell visitors: "I'm fine - I've just been for a jog round The Willows!" Priscilla, known as Scilla, told The Chronicle about her map in 2009 and said: "It has a lot of sentimental value for me. It's an important part of history and I am a part of it. It's a very special thing to have."


Priscilla Smailes at 19 as a WAAF, and in later life

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 7, 2017
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