Friends for 83 years and counting in Haywards Heath

Betty and Joan
Betty and Joan

The bond of friendship is a strong one, and it doesn’t come much stronger than between two mischievous great grandmas who have known each other for 83 years.

92-year-olds Betty James and Joan Ellis, who live at the Hanover Court retirement housing estate on Amberley Close, Haywards Heath, first met in 1931 at the age of 11 whilst studying at the Intermediate School in Brighton.

But, though they both lived in Scaynes Hill for the majority of their lives, they lost contact after school and only rekindled their friendship more than 60 years after they left school.

Joan remembered a moment she was sitting in the kitchen of the retirement home in 2000.

“She was walking past the kitchen window and I recognised her walking past, I thought that’s Betty,” she said.

She was shocked to see Betty, and the two soon caught up on old times.

“It’s taken us over 80 years to get there but we have now become really good friends,” Joan said.

Reminiscing about times at school, they remembered one teacher in particular who took a disliking to them.

The geography teacher may have found Joan a difficult student as she admits she ‘wasn’t any good’ at the subject.

“We used to get up to mischief,” Joan said.

“I remember one day I thought I’m going to be good today, and when I walked in he slung me out. He said ‘you can take that grin with you!’”

And Betty wasn’t much better.

“We were always getting into trouble,” she explained.

“I was told I acted like a first year when I was much older.

“I had to go and stand at the front of assembly with the first years, you can imagine how embarrassed I was.

“And I got in trouble for chewing gum, I had to stick it on the end of my nose.”

Keen for a joke, Betty added: “Can you imagine what that was like on the end of my nose?!”

During the Second World War Betty joined the land army and worked as a market gardener.

She married Alec in August 1944.

In 1943 Joan was called to a munitions factory where she worked as a welder until the war ended in 1945.

During her two years service she married Reg in 1944.

Although the former classmates were not close after school, they shared a number of similarities over the years.

Betty and Joan were born in the same year, live at Hanover Court, had two children born in 1947 and 1949 and moved to Scaynes Hill in the 50s.

Betty said: “It’s incredible that we have shared so many coincidences. Each time we meet we seem to share something new.”

After the war Betty and her husband owned a carpentry business in Brighton whilst Joan’s husband Reg managed a saw mill.

Following the death of her husband Betty decided to down size from her two bedroom house in Scaynes Hill to her one bedroom flat at Hanover Court.

The two former classmates ennjoy nothing more than reminiscing about school and war days in Hanover Court’s communal lounge.

They have four children, eight grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.