Elsie Johns from South Wales has died. She was one of the treasures of our West Virginia Rosie the Riveter Project, as the first British World War II woman defense worker to come to West Virginia to help us launch our model for Rosie the Riveter Project for America.
On Wednesday, her son Major Ceryl Johns, called from North Carolina and left this message:
"Hi, Anne, this is Ceryl.
Just to let you know ... Mum passed away yesterday about 6:30 our time. She was sleeping, and her breathing had gotten slower and slower. And she slowly passed. 11:30 in the evening Wales time. Almost four years to the date she, we, lost dad. The funeral is Wednesday. I'm going on Monday.
"I just remember her singing the song to you girls, 'We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, But I know we'll meet again some sunny day.'
"She loved your Rosies, and she knew all of you loved her. The winter of her life has just turned into spring. God bless her."
So, we have one more reminder that time is almost gone to capture these precious women now, learn from them, and teach with them.
One of my fondest memories of her was when girls with St. Albans School of Dance gathered around her June 6, and she sang "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo." She said defense workers were told not to talk about any aspect of their work, so they would laugh amongst each other and say "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo." Just after the war, a song of that title became famous.
She was born in London in 1920, with a Scottish father and a Polish Jewish mother. Her father died when she was 8 from complications from a World War I wound. There were no antibiotics at that time. During World War II, she worked in a munitions factory, and one day she had to help her sick friend home. Neither girl knew until the next day that the plant was bombed and many of their co-workers were killed.
We are the only state that has organized an effort to find, know and teach with Rosies. Also, the Greater Kanawha Valley is the First Rosie the Riveter Community in America, funded, in part, by the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation. Thus, on one hand, we are attracting wide respect for notable work to help Rosies shape how their own legacy will be passed on to the future. Yet, we are seriously understaffed and underfunded.
I cannot help but cry because we never got a full interview of Elsie Johns, because our recording equipment failed. As far as I know, we do not have her voice on a recording or her own words about now she loved West Virginia and how much it meant to her that she and Rosies learned from each other about their common fight for freedom.
Montague lives in Charleston.