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From WWII parachute packer to proud parkie – tributes are paid to Rotherhithe girl Nora

Tributes have been paid to a 97-year-old Rotherhithe woman who, rather than ‘wait to be bombed’ during WWII, joined the Air Force to pack parachutes.

Nora Lawrence, who was born in Adams Gardens Estate in April 1918, passed away on October 4 following a short illness. She was due to be seen off on Wednesday at a special service in St Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe, where the Royal British Legion were set to provide standard bearers in recognition of her wartime efforts.

Geraldine White  told the News of her friend’s long and storied journey that encompassed everything from World War 2 to park-keeping.

She said: “Nora left school at fourteen and worked in a tin factory, where she always had bleeding fingers from cutting the tin. One day she walked too close to the machine and gashed her leg. She got a real rollicking from her boss!”

When the war began, Nora decided that she was “not going to just sit around waiting to be bombed.” Instead, she joined the war effort with the Women’s Royal Air Force.

Geraldine said: “Her job was to fold and pack the parachutes for the soldiers and supply drops. It was a very skilful job and I’m not sure it’s something anybody could do. You can’t afford to mess up a parachute.

“She loved the job because she got to travel all over, from Norfolk to Kent – although she found the north of England very cold. She was only about 4”11’, quite tiny, and she used to work with these huge parachutes in huge hangars. It must have looked quite funny.”

After the war, Nora worked first on the London Underground, helping commuters on the platforms, and then in a butchers. She found her real passion, however, as a park keeper.

Geraldine said: “She was very proud of her parks. She worked in Spa Gardens and Southwark Park, planting bulbs and that type of thing. She was very protective though, and was always chasing off children who she thought was messing up her parks just like fallen leaves.

“That didn’t always go down well and she sometimes had bottles thrown at her.

“In her later life, people were always stopping her and saying ‘I remember when you were a park-keeper, you were always chasing me away and telling me to go home!’”

Even as she neared the end of her life, Nora stayed sharp and sociable.

Geraldine said: “Everyone always says you need to join clubs and do crosswords to keep your mind going. She did none of them, but her mind was still as strong as ever.

“Even when she was dying she took it on the chin. I told her that her life is going to change, that she won’t be able to clean the house or go shopping as usual.

“She just said ‘Do you mean I’m going to be stuck in this poxy bed for the rest of my life?!’ and then started organising someone to do her shopping and cleaning for her.”

During her last few days, Geraldine said, Nora was still full of life. Even after everything she had achieved and experienced, the nonagenarian told her: “I would’ve liked to have lived a little longer.”

Nora’s funeral was due to be held at St Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe, yesterday, Wednesday, October 28.

Nora "doing aerobics" in her later years.
Nora “doing aerobics” in her later years.
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