Inspirational Generation – flying solo and being a good neighbour

Here we tell the wonderfully colourful stories of two retirees who both have inspiring stories to share.

I learnt to fly solo

Jean Hall is 91 and has lived at a McCarthy Stone development for over a year. Her passion for flying started in a WWII Mosquito Plane. After years in the Navy, she later took her first solo flight.

‘A lot of my life has been connected with flying, and that has really been my chief interest. Soon after I left school when I was seventeen, I joined the Women’s Royal Navy service and was eventually posted to the Fleet Air Arm.

I was allowed to go up on test flights and that sparked my first real interest in flying. I’d longed to go on a test flight in a fast aeroplane and at last an occasion came, and I was asked to go to the squadron and take a flight in a Mosquito which I enjoyed beyond belief. From that moment my interest in flying was kindled, and it has been my chief interest in life.

Later on I had more Mosquito flights, and eventually a Mosquito pilot became my fiancé and then my husband. Just before I left Broadleigh Naval Station I was selected to represent Ford in the great victory parade march in London, where we marched for five miles past the King, the Queen, the Princesses and all the Royal Family. That was an occasion I shall always remember.

Soon after that my husband and I both left the Navy. My husband took the commercial licenses he needed to become an airline pilot. I was approached by an elderly and then famous aviator, called Sir Alan Cobham, who was developing for the first time, as far as I know in history, a process for refuelling aeroplanes in-flight. It was at a very early stage and he was carrying out a number of trials for re-fuelling with converted Lancaster Bombers, one of which acted as the tanker and provided large capacity for fuel, and the other aircraft to receive the transferred fuel.

My last time in a little aeroplane was many years ago. I learnt to fly at a flying club and went solo, and occasionally had a flight. My husband more or less challenged me to learn to fly and go solo in 12 hours, which I did.’

My community work was recognised by the Queen

Jean Peasley is 86, and has spent over 40 years supporting vulnerable people in her community. What started as a Good Neighbour Scheme later led to recognition from Her Majesty.

‘When I was quite a young person, I felt a very strong bond with the elderly and people who were under-privileged. As soon as I had the chance, I became a member of a very, very exciting organisation where I lived in Bourne End.

It started as a Good Neighbour Scheme and ended up being Wye Valley Volunteers, incorporating Good Neighbours. What that means is we try to support people in our community in every way we can. I’ve now been doing this for over 40 years.

As the years rolled by, people started to realise how many years I’d been working in the community. I hasten to add that all of our volunteers have never taken anything. It’s all been voluntary and I’ve loved every moment of it. I felt like the organisation was a small acorn, growing into a large oak tree.

When I got to my eighties, people started to think I should be acknowledged for the work that I’ve done. I’m very proud and privileged to have had the Queen recognise the work I’ve done here in her Birthday Honours List. I was awarded the 2015 British Empire Medal, which I received by the Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire in 2016. I never expected, as an ordinary housewife, to receive such a high accolade and I feel very humbled by it. I’ve worked with all these wonderful volunteers who took part in my life.’

Are you a member of the inspirational generation? Watch our video starring Jean and Jean: