Joyce Murgatroyd of Rodbourne Cheney became a centenarian last Thursday. Swindon mayor Eric Shaw was among the people who paid tribute to the former teacher during a celebration at Rodbourne Cheney Baptist Church.

JOYCE Murgatroyd first drew breath at her parents’ home in Church Walk South on October 20, 1916.

Her mother was Agnes Bezer, née Simpkins, and her father was Reginald Ewart Deacon Bezer, a chargeman painter in the Railway Works.

Reginald was not in the house when Joyce was born, or even in the country. A member of the Wiltshire Regiment, he had pressing business in France.

“He was called up overseas,” said Joyce. “He was fighting for his life. I was a wartime baby.”

Father and daughter would not meet until December of that year. Joyce is one of the few remaining wartime babies whose war was World War One.

A sister, Beryl, was born seven years later. A photograph of the proud elder sister and the baby survives. Beryl died in the mid-1990s.

The family later moved to a house her parents commissioned in Whitworth Road. At the time Rodbourne Cheney wasn’t all that different from the collection of hamlets it had originally been.

“The north and the south areas were muddy tracks. They weren’t made-up roads. I think it was about 1927 before they took us in to Swindon and we were considered part of the town.

“Whitworth Road? There was nothing up there, just a few buildings here and there. The Post Office was down at the bottom of the road.”

Childhood memories include some of a great-grandmother who was born in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne.

“She hadn’t been to school – there was no school to go to. I remember trying to get her to read and write.”

Another memory is from her days at Rodbourne Cheney Junior School. The young Joyce and her friends had a close-up look at an aeroplane barely 20 years after the invention of powered flight.

“We were coming out of school when we heard this noise. So of course, all the kids got together and we rushed out and we ended up at Moredon Road, where this plane had come down in a field.

“The pilot had run out of fuel.”

Joyce first suggested that he buy paraffin from a local shop, but when the pilot explained that he needed petrol she suggested he borrow some from a local man who had a motorcycle.

The pilot duly took off again, leaving the farmer’s cornfield quite a mess.

“He wasn’t happy. Us kids were though!”

Joyce also remembers the age of airships, when the huge machines would sometimes pass slowly overhead.

School was followed by Swindon College, where Joyce studied art and trained to be a teacher. She still has some fine pen-and-ink drawings of street scenes and a still life showing apples grown in her grandfather’s garden.

Joyce also learned the piano and developed a talent as a poet. And after college?

“I just about got on with life, I think!”

Joyce taught at Sanford Street School and in Pinehurst, and has especially happy memories of teaching piano and singing.

She was married to Harry, an engineer, in 1938, and the couple were together for 58 years. They had three children. The two were known in Swindon as vintage car enthusiasts, and a cortege of them formed part of Harry’s funeral in 1996.

Joyce has taken part in many community activities over the years, and became a stalwart member of the local residents’ association. She was among the people who lobbied for a library in Moredon, and more recently protested against the demolition of The Rodbourne Arms.

Joyce also began a long association with the Swindon Society, delivering talks and ensuring first-hand knowledge of the past was preserved.

Her advice to those who hope to follow her example and live a long life is not to become obsessed – and to keep the mind active.

“I shouldn’t advise them to go too much ahead, because some people go crazy with it. Take each day as it comes.

“You’ve got to keep the brain going even if the hands don’t do it!”