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EXTRAORDINARY LIVES: The mum who adored Spitfires as a nurse in WWII

We’re used to reading obituaries of the rich and famous. But the Mail believes Britain is full of unsung heroes and heroines who also deserve recognition. So we’ve launched a weekly obituary column with a difference — in which the moving and inspirational stories of ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives are told by their loved ones . . .

She adored Spitfires and soldiers — no wonder mum said her war was ‘marvellous!’ 

My mum Joan

by Elizabeth Harding

Joan Emily Boughton, born July 25, 1920, died December 28, 2017, aged 97

My wonderful mum Joan had many strengths — she was feisty, daring and crazy. But she was also incredibly naughty and appalling at taking orders.

At her convent school in Pinner, Middlesex, with her younger sister Betty, she spent most of her time kneeling — not in prayer, but in punishment.

As a teenager, her first job as a Civil Service clerk in the Midlands lasted barely a week. She knew her mind and no one could change it.

And her five (extremely eventful and frequently raucous) years of nursing in World War II were fraught with run-ins with the Sisters and Matrons, usually after she was caught squeezing back in through a dorm window having missed curfew, again.

For years, she talked on and on about her ‘marvellous war’. Partly, she loved it because she adored nursing — she was ferociously strict, but worshipped by her patients, who wrote her endless love poems.

But not quite as much as she loved Spitfire planes and handsome officers — both of which could make her go weak at the knees.

She used to say breezily: ‘It was the war, you didn’t waste time!’

She certainly didn’t. She lapped up every minute: dancing with the officers at Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom to Glenn Miller; train rides sitting on handsome soldiers’ laps; and ice-creams on the seafront.

There were many boyfriends, including the nice Polish chap who asked if she’d look after his radio but, unfortunately, turned out to be a German spy. That came to an abrupt halt when she was summoned to London by MI5 and asked a few sharp questions.

Towards the end of the war, she met my dad — a dark and handsome engineer in the Home Guard. They fell for (and on top of) each other on the ice rink at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. He was wearing a dashing blue overcoat, which he kept for the next 50 years. She was breathless with pink cheeks. Again, she wasn’t one to hang about and they were married soon after, on April 14, 1945.

My brother Roger arrived in spring 1946. I followed two years later and our sister Sally was born in 1955.

Mum gave up nursing when she married, but some things, such as Milk of Magnesia, were embedded for life.

She was obsessed with the stuff. She’d dose us up for any ailment — sore throat, cold, cut knee, anything — and used to chase us round the garden with a bottle in one hand and a spoon in the other.

She even took a vast stock of it wherever she went —holidays, family reunions and day trips, ‘just in case of emergency’. Hospital corners on bedclothes were also embraced with a passion. Beds had to be correct, or else. And very, very tight. So tight that for years when we were young, we’d be tucked in so firmly we’d have to shout from our bedrooms: ‘Can I turn over, please?’

My parents weren’t an obvious match. They adored each other, quietly, but weren’t good at showing it.

Mum was extrovert, a force of nature and terribly impatient; Dad was an introvert who worked in the motor trade, spent every hour he could playing golf and was prone to depression.

She ran everything (other than the family finances) and was in charge of us, our dad —particularly during his 80s when his sight failed — her grandchildren, but most of all herself. Any spare time was spent gardening (she prided herself on being green-fingered and, when it came to taking cuttings from public gardens, light-fingered), doing tapestries and driving.

She was a wonderful driver. She only stopped when she was 94 and her legs weren’t strong enough for the emergency stop and we physically wrenched the car keys from her.

She was furious, of course.

A month before she died, she was still supervising all bed-making at home, still rejecting the walker and the hearing aid and still very much the boss.

JOAN EMILY BOUGHTON, born July 25, 1920, died December 28, 2017, aged 97.

Time was so precious and she filled it with cuddles    

My daughter Emma

by Billie Hall

When Emma realised she was going to die, her whole life became about her boys, Joshua, seven, and Ben, five.

Propped up on pillows, she’d paint with them, read to them and cuddle them for hours. She bought all the classic children’s books she’d loved as a child — such as The Secret Garden and Gulliver’s Travels — wrote special messages in them and put them away for future birthdays when she’d be gone.

But most of all, she put on a happy face — smiling, warm, kind and fun — never showing how desperate she must really have been feeling inside.

Even as a little girl, Emma was exceptional — sensitive, artistic, clever and musical. Aged five, she’d watch her big brother Simon have piano lessons and then sit down and play his Grade 2 pieces herself.

A year later, she performed in a school concert without ever having had a lesson.

Emma Taggart, born October 8, 1974, died September 17, 2017, aged 42

Emma Taggart, born October 8, 1974, died September 17, 2017, aged 42

She loved camping, animals, nature and reading. She was good at everything she did. By the time she was ten she was top of her class and danced through the 11-plus.

Secondary school was harder. She loved the work, but found the social side trickier with girls who weren’t always friendly. It took two moves before she settled, but when she did, she flew.

After A-levels came university in London, where she studied drama and musical theatre. Emma could be shy, but she loved performing and had a beautiful voice, and for a while she joined a travelling theatre group and an Abba tribute band.

But the money was terrible and would never pay the rent, so she applied for teacher training and settled in a lovely junior school in Herne Bay, Kent.

Teaching came naturally. She produced the annual school show and loved being able to make a difference for the children — to protect them, nurture them and make sure that no one was bullied as she had been.

But she yearned for children of her own. Eventually, after kissing a few frogs, she met Darren, an IT specialist for a bank, through an internet dating site.

At the age of 35, she didn’t dare wait any longer and, in December 2010, after a difficult pregnancy and a traumatic birth, her first son, Joshua, was born.

Emma and Darren were married the following year with six-month-old Joshua the guest of honour in a teeny morning suit. Ben arrived a year later.

Finally, Emma’s life was complete, and she loved her young family so much.

The cancer came in early 2015. She battled fiercely and bravely — a double mastectomy, endless procedures. But it spread and spread — to her ovaries, spine, lymph glands and brain.

She didn’t want to die — it had taken her so long to meet the man of her dreams and have her beloved babies. They’d had so little time together. The worst part was seeing her anguish at having to leave them — not being able to stay, wipe their tears, protect them and see their lovely faces when they opened their birthday presents.

But she didn’t complain, she didn’t despair. Instead, she crammed as much as she could into the time she had left. Between operations, she raised money for charity and ran the Race For Life in the pouring rain.

Even when she was bedridden, she read reams of books, took up new languages and created an entire portfolio of art.

But most of all, she cuddled her boys and showed them how to squeeze life dry.

EMMA TAGGART, born October 8, 1974, died September 17, 2017, aged 42.

Dermot Robert McCulloch, born July 2, 1942, died November 15, 2017, aged 75

Dermot Robert McCulloch, born July 2, 1942, died November 15, 2017, aged 75

Dad, the fun-loving singing postman  

My dad Dermot 

by Sharon McLellan

MY dad was one of life’s great personalities. Funny, energetic and charming, he loved good whisky, cigarettes and Elvis Presley. But most of all, he loved my mum.

He was born in Dumfries — a huge, 10lb baby — and grew to 6ft 2in, even though his parents were barely 5ft 4in

Naturally musical, he sang in the cathedral choir, but soon swapped Mozart for Elvis and rock ’n’ roll.

By 18, his dark, good looks and fancy footwork were turning heads at the Dumfries Drill Hall each week. Including that of my mum, Catherine — or ‘Lady Catherine’, as he always called her — a beautiful, blonde telephonist who, at 22, was four years his senior and a good deal more mature.

Love blossomed and they married in the cold snap of February 1963 — the snow was so deep he had to carry his new bride to the wedding car.

We children came thick and fast. I was born that July, followed by Dermot in June 1965 and Corinne in 1969. Meanwhile, Dad juggled work as a travelling salesman with singing in pubs and clubs.

He was good. Decca Records offered him a contract — about the same time they took on Tom Jones — but he turned it down. It would have meant leaving his wife and children to go to London. Imagine if he’d accepted!

Instead, he took a job as a postman, and started a part-time career as an MC and singer in bands to help pay the bills.

His stage name was Danny Dee and he soon became ‘Danny the singing postie’.

He was a walking party. Our house was full of family and friends, of singing and drinking. At any opportunity he’d whip out his guitar and teach us silly songs, despite only knowing three chords.

Behind all the fun, he had his share of health scares. In his 20s working as a travelling salesman and driving home from Brighton to Dumfries, he hit a post box — oh, the irony — and was in hospital for months. Later, a fall left him with a fractured jaw and hearing loss in one ear. And at 59, a CT scan revealed a brain malformation that he’d had since birth, which had caused epilepsy.

Instead of moping and moaning he threw himself into retirement. He and mum travelled the world. He watched his beloved Celtic, whisky and lemonade in one hand, cigarette in the other. He adored his grandchildren and they adored him. He’d ask them: ‘How does it feel to be as good-looking as your granddad?’

He could be irascible and impatient and more than a bit of a rascal. But all his flaws were easily outshone by his kindness, generosity of spirit and sense of fairness. His epitaph summed him up — ‘I’ve had a good life. I did it my way.’

DERMOT ROBERT McCULLOCH, born July 2, 1942, died November 15, 2017, aged 75.

Tanya Suzanne Chalkin, born July 28, 1974, died January 13, 2017, aged 42

Tanya Suzanne Chalkin, born July 28, 1974, died January 13, 2017, aged 42

A ray of sunshine, she was a poster girl for the Olympics

My daughter Tanya

by Jill Chalkin

Tanya was an only child. She was beautiful, sporty, arty and popular at home and at boarding school.

She was brilliant at having fun (if not the greatest academic — there were a lot of rows over homework!) and, at 5ft 10in and with amazing curly golden hair, was like a ray of sunshine when she walked into a room.

She found her calling in photography — studying a BA honours degree at Chelsea School of Art and then the London College of Printing.

Tanya loved her work and was very talented, jetting round the world to do big fashion shoots for GQ magazine, the Sunday Times, Cosmopolitan and Esquire as well as taking portraits of everyone from ballerina Darcey Bussell to actor Jamie Dornan.

In 2002 she produced Kiss, an iconic photograph of two girls kissing that was put up on one of the largest billboards in London and ended up on bedroom walls all around the world.

But her proudest moment came in 2012 when she created three of the official posters for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games —the only unknown alongside well-known artists such as Tracey Emin.

If her life sounded glamorous, her head was never turned. She worked hard, travelled, played tennis and basketball, walked her dog eight miles every day and remained rounded and grounded.

Sadly, while she loved the thrill of seeing her work published, she was never as confident as she should have been about her amazing talents.

Recently, she’d started to branch out. She set up a company making bespoke mugs that was beginning to take off. Spurred on by all the Brexit discussions, she joined the Young Conservatives and was beginning to get involved in politics. She campaigned for animal rights and was always interested in what was going on in the world.

After a couple of disastrous relationships, Tanya was single, but was far too busy living and having fun to worry too much about meeting someone and settling down. Her biggest love was her blue roan cocker spaniel, Romeo, who went everywhere with her.

The day before she died, we’d been together walking Romeo on Primrose Hill in London, chatting, laughing and catching up. But suddenly she’d felt a bit ‘off’, somehow — grotty, with a tummy ache and cold feet. It worried us. She’d never been ill in her life — she didn’t drink or smoke and was incredibly healthy — so we called out a doctor. He prescribed paracetamol and a good night’s sleep.

But the next morning I went in to check on her and, as she tried to get up, she died in my arms.

She had suffered from hepatic sarcoidosis, an incredibly rare illness that doctors said was ‘like a bomb going off in her body’.

Friends and colleagues travelled from all round the world for her funeral. If only she’d known how popular and well respected she was. If only my exceptional daughter was still here. 

TANYA SUZANNE CHALKIN, born July 28, 1974, died January 13, 2017, aged 42.

My son was beautiful inside and out

My son Eamon

by Joan Thompson

Eamon Kieron Karim, born July 5, 1994, died October 27, 2017, aged 23

Eamon Kieron Karim, born July 5, 1994, died October 27, 2017, aged 23

I knew Eamon was special even before he could walk. He was inquisitive and happy, with an amazing energy and was so very beautiful, inside and out.

Everywhere he went near our home in Lytham St Annes, Lancs, people gravitated to him. It was as if he were a magnet.

As a baby, they’d crowd round him. All through school, college and later travelling through the U.S., Bulgaria, Spain and Luxembourg, he collected people. He was always surrounded by friends — and so loved.

Eamon’s energy was extraordinary. He could put his hand to anything — school work, art, guitar — was the most wonderfully loving big brother and always wanted to know: ‘What’s next? What’s tomorrow?’

When his father Nabil died in 2016 following a short battle with leukaemia, Eamon took over his barber’s shop in Penge, South-East London, and was a natural, with dozens of loyal customers and a flair for creative styles.

Most of all, he loved motorbikes. We had a bit of family land and, from the age of five, he and his brother Logan and sister Ciara had been riding off-road bikes. He loved the freedom, the excitement. Everything he did in life was done in a hurry, at top speed.

He died on the first anniversary of his father’s death. He was on his way to meet a friend for lunch. He’d never had an accident before. But somehow, in a quiet residential street, he overtook a van and lost control.

Afterwards, tributes started coming, hundreds and hundreds and from all over, many from people he’d met for just a few hours but had loved him. 

EAMON KEIRON KARIM, born July 5, 1994, died October 27, 2017, aged 23.

Another moving tribute by Joan to her son.