Sonia Benton, 91 years young, is just one of the fascinating people who live at Sundial Care Home in Tipton St. John who value the importance of Remembrance Day.
The former Loughborough and Dundee University Lecturer was one of the many who grew up during World War II and later became involved in the Women’s Voluntary Service, that played such a fundamental role in the wartime effort.
On the 3rd September 1939, Sonia, 11 years old and living in Brighton, excited as she had just had her offer for high school, recalls “I was stood at the top of a farmer’s field on this day when I heard shouting and wondered what it was all about”.
The shouting Sonia could hear was the news spreading that war had started, little did she or anyone else know that day the true cost of human life that was to follow.
As with many of the children at the time, Sonia was evacuated to Yorkshire where it was deemed to be safer and further from the reaches of war. Her memory of this is somewhat sweet.
“We were given a small bag of chocolates for the train journey which of course were eaten within the first half an hour of the journey,” she says.
Although not an experience shared by everyone, Sonia’s memories of being evacuated are ones that she looks back fondly on. Moving in with a family who were involved in the Huddersfield Choral Society meant that the house, and Sonia’s ears, were filled with joyous music. Sonia reflects that during this time she lived with relative ease.
This ease wasn’t to last, before the war was over, Sonia made the move back south to Brighton to live with her parents and she had a role to play in the remaining part of the war.
Sonia’s father was in police service at the time, specifically lecturing on gases in the Air Raid Protection Service. As a 16-year-old, Sonia volunteered firstly as a messenger and then also as a fire watcher, which is how Sonia spent the last night of the war.
This wasn’t to be Sonia’s last voluntary engagement, some years later, upon retirement at the age of 66 she was desperate to find a way to fill her newly found time. Starting by volunteering with ‘Books on Wheels’ with her husband she would visit the community and offer those that needed it both company and entertainment.
Sonia’s good work didn’t go unnoticed and it wasn’t long before she was asked to offer her support to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). The voluntary service that played an important role during the Second World War in supporting the welfare of many families.
“I was dubious about joining but I was bored to tears, so I said yes”. It was small and intimate to begin with. The ‘Meals on Wheels’ service run by the WRVS was more important at that time than it is now, as people wouldn’t have eaten without the service.”
Sonia continued to volunteer within the community for some years, and as the service grew, her position became more prominent within the service and she led the WRVS.
Although Sonia is no longer involved in the voluntary service, her friend Enid brings ‘Books on Wheels’ into Sundial Care Home providing her and other family members the same joy she once gave to others.
Sonia requested that a box of poppies be placed within Sundial Care Home so that all those who live at and visit the home can pay their respects to all those who gave their lives during war.
Sonia is adamant in her belief of remembering the sacrifice of so many and the importance for modern society doing so and honouring what many gave during the war.
“I worry that the values learnt from war have been lost within modern society, the deaths of so many men, leaving families with no husband or father, society mustn’t forget of what they gave.” she says solemnly.
Sundial Care Home, rated ‘Outstanding’ by regulator CQC, along with much of the wider community across the nation work to ensure that Sonia’s fears are never realised. Sonia joined the family members and care team at Sundial Care Home in remembering the sacrifice of the armed forces community on Armistice Day by observing two minutes silence at the home.
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