Anne Robson woke up on Friday to a clutch of birthday cards from friends and family but it was the gilt-edged card from the Queen that especially tickled her.
At 107, and the oldest women in the UK, Anne is on her fourth personalised birthday greeting from the Sovereign having received the royal seal on her 100th, 105th and 106th celebrations.
Younger sister Elizabeth Farquharson, a sprightly 103 years old, was there to wish her sibling a very happy birthday along with niece Katharine Trotter, 67, and nephew-in-law Simon Trotter, from Trinity, who were there to mark the big day with staff at Strachan House Retirement Home. Elizabeth said: “It’s good fun spending her birthday all together.”
Anne said: “I didn’t bargain for all this. I’m feeling very ancient.”
The centenarian sisters may have slowed down somewhat but they remain sharp as tacks, with Elizabeth still living independently and despite sight and hearing issues, Anne completing a crossword a day with the help of carers.
Gladys Anne MacWatt was born on September 14, 1911 in Duns. She has borne witness to radical changes in the world: woman’s suffrage, 20 prime ministers, four monarchs, two world wars, the first space launch, the advent of rapidly advancing technology and so much more has unfolded in her 107 years.
She said: “Things advanced very rapidly after the war. Young people were very sheltered before but after the war girls wanted freedom to travel.
“War hastened women’s freedom”, she said. “I’m past travelling. I can’t read anymore and can’t listen to music – it’s a great handicap. I shall have to be content with being helped a great deal – which I don’t like but I accept.”
Her most enduring memories are of her falling “head over heels” while riding her horse in the Borders and scuttling under the kitchen table as a girl during the First World War: “Hoping I might survive. Well, here I am.”
She thinks she was in London working at a teacher training college when Elizabeth II was crowned but she can’t be certain: “It’s funny how quickly these things fade,” she said.
Anne trained as a physiotherapist in 1933 before turning her talents to teaching later that year. She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1942 where she became the training sergeant at Dunblane Physical Training School then a staff officer in London, Devon and Aldershot. She remained in service for another two years after the war ended when she became a senior lecturer at the Avery Hill College of Education in London.
She married primary school headmaster Jack Robson in 1953, when she was 42, before they moved to Newcastle where Anne took a position as deputy head at the Longhenton Secondary Modern School. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage until he died in 1972.
Anne also managed to fit in serving as a Justice of the Peace in Blaydon and Penrith during her working life before retiring to St Andrews.
Sister Elizabeth followed in her brother, father and grandfather’s footsteps to train as a doctor. The line of medical practitioners is still thriving with her daughter and grandson carrying on the family tradition.
Anne and Elizabeth’s brother David was a doctor in the airforce who relocated to Canada. One of his daughters made the journey to Scotland to see her aunt over her birthday.
Elizabeth turned 103 two weeks ago and marked it by touring the forest trails in Speyside on a mobility scooter. “My sister and I tried to keep up on our bikes,” said Katharine.
As the oldest resident of the care home, Anne holds court at Christmas with a speech over dinner. She is reserved, say staff, but fiercely independent and has a great sense of humour.
Every morning since she moved from her home in St Andrews to Edinburgh to be closer to her family, Anne has walked two laps of Strachan House’s beautifully manicured gardens with a physiotherapist. She takes her time, taking in the flowers and enjoying the fresh air.
A harpist and a homemade cake greeted Anne as she entered the dining room for a tea-party held in her honour and Lord Provost Frank Ross popped in to wish her many happy returns.
The secret behind the sisters’ long lives is down to good genes according to Anne. She said: “I’ve been blessed with good genes. That answers it all and I have been fit my whole life.”
Niece Katharine says that they both enjoyed lives of moderation – enjoying food and drink but never over-indulging. If she is as fit as her elders, she said, she hopes the good genes prevail.