Thursday, March 28, 2013

Come What May!

M’Lady is about to jump! At 91 years of age, a grandmother of 12, great-grandmother of 4 (going on 5), Nancy Sinclair is prepared to hurl herself from the fuselage of a plane, just as her twin brother, her husband, and both her older brothers did before her. Only, they were in the Second World War; Nancy is about to jump by choice. And unlike them Nancy will be wearing the famed Caterpillar Badge when she jumps. The Caterpillar is an award given to those who needed to use their silk parachutes to save their lives. Her husband as well as her twin brother had to bale from damaged aircraft, and both ended up in the dread Stalag Luft 111 Prisoner of War camp. In her brother’s case, the Caterpillar was awarded posthumously. He was one of the 50 shot in The Great Escape. In Nancy’s case, she wears it with pride.

There was a sparkle to her bright blue eyes when she was told that her wish to jump from a plane was about to be granted. A 91st birthday present from her daughter and son-in-law, Linda and David, Nancy immediately set about getting the proper outfit to wear. A recent medical check up has pronounced her fit. “I want to experience what it might’ve been like for my three brothers and for my husband,” Nancy affirms. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but now I get to have a dream come true! Yes, I know it’ll have to be tandem, but it’ll be as close as I can get to sensing what they felt.”

Nancy’s eldest brother, Colonel Douglas Street, had to bail out over the Belgian Congo. Her older brother, Pat Street, was with the Parachute Regiment. Nancy’s twin brother Denys Street was the pilot of a Lancaster Bomber on the raid over Berlin, 1943. Caught in a crossfire, Denys had to bail out. Nancy’s husband (yet-to-meet,) Mosquito pilot Denys Sinclair, was also downed. His navigator caught a bullet in the head. And both Denys Sinclair and Denys Street were on the same Prisoner of War train to Stalag Luft 111. The two of them soon became firm friends. They helped dig the now famous escape tunnels. But Denys Sinclair did not draw the short straw; he played the gramophone to hide the noise as the escapees went into the tight squeeze of the escape route; never to see Denys Street again.

After release from prison Denys Sinclair went to London to seek out the family of his dead friend, Denys Street. Nancy’s father, Sir Arthur Street, Permanent Secretary for the Air Ministry, was already famous. And he was most impressed with this young man, Denys Sinclair. So was his daughter! During their courtship they both had official duties first to focus on, Nancy as a war-time nurse, Denys as a pilot, but by 1945, after several proposals, Nancy and Denys were married.

The couple established a market garden farm in Surrey, had five children, and made a vital life for themselves. But with the fiscal realities of the post-war depression era, they began to look abroad for a new life. In 1959 they emigrated to Western Australia. Denys eventually found a job as a Flying Instructor. Nancy created a Kindergarten in the local Nedlands community. And their five children grew up, got married, and had children of their own. But the disasters in Nancy’s life were not over.

She’d lost her twin brother to the war. Her father, Sir Arthur, died at the age of 58, and now Nancy lost both her grown up sons, her husband, and one of her three daughters, all in quick succession. Yet with her two remaining daughters, Linda and Fiona, and a host of friends and family and neighbours who love and support Nancy Sinclair, a most remarkable and multi-talented woman, life remains worth jumping for!  She hurtles not so much into the past as she takes on the present and the future, come what may!  

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