This week my amazing Mum celebrates her 100th birthday with two champagne tea parties. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
Whether driving her Jeep across the deserts of Libya, sailing on a tall ship, or just manning the cash register at the Red Cross shop in Lewes, Sussex, my Mother, Lush Napier-Andrews, has always believed it was important for a woman to have her lipstick properly applied, the result of early training as a beautician at Elizabeth Arden.
As Elizabeth Taylor said: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”
Doreen M. Lush was born in London on October 13, 1917, and schooled at St. Mary’s College, Brighton, where she was first called ‘Lush,’ a nickname that has stuck with her through the ensuing decades. She worked at Arden’s on Bond Street before WW II, joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y.s) in 1935 as a volunteer, and was married to R.A.S.C. Captain Ken Napier-Andrews, during a brief leave on August 8, 1941. When war was declared, she first served with the 8th London, and then the 21st London Regiments and the 4th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, as an ambulance driver and despatch rider.
During the Dunkirk evacuations, she worked to receive soldiers at a depot at Olympia: “I can smell them now,” she recalls of the gravely wounded men. “We’d been working for hours without rest or water and I stopped to put on some fresh lipstick. I was reprimanded by an officer and demoted from sergeant to corporal.” She was finally awarded the War Medal in November 2016, and wears H.M. Armed Forces Veterans’ Badge daily.
With her husband missing at Singapore, she gave birth to her son Nigel (your humble writer) in 1942, and returned to work at Arden’s. Ken was eventually reported to be a POW enslaved on the Burma Railway and finally came home in 1946. They lived on the Cannizaro estate in Wimbledon, and in 1947, her daughter Nina was born. The family escaped post-war Britain to a position with the British American Tobacco Co. in Cairo. Ken and Lush moved to Libya after the Suez Canal crisis led to an emergency evacuation with her two children. “I loved Benghazi, where we restored a WW II Willy’s Jeep and Ken became Commodore of the sailing club.”
They kept on the move to Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. “Driving back from Johannesburg to Nairobi in a tiny Ford Anglia on really terrible roads was a grand adventure,” she remembers. Although she had been a Red Cross blood donor since the war years, this was when Lush first began volunteering for the organization.
She had an office, staff and a uniform, she recalls, and on many occasions, drove out to local villages to make sure women were receiving the treatment they needed. She co-opted Ken to act as her driver. The Red Cross even flew her to Zanzibar to liaise with colleagues there. Her daughter Nina was one of the uniformed school girls she organized in a massed parade for independence celebrations in 1963.
After Ken retired from BAT, they lived in Notting Hill. Here, she organized Red Cross fund raising and collections from boxes. Then in 1968 they moved to Grand Canary, where for a decade or more they lived on the 48-foot ketch Tina Louise. In 1984, they bought a flat in Lewes, as a pied à terre, and finally moved into Waterloo Place in 1993, where Lush has lived ever since. They travelled the world and after Ken’s death in 1996, she visited Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China, among other destinations. “My one regret is never visiting Russia,” she said.
She has continued to volunteer all her life, and one achievement was the work she completed on the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s wooden tall ship Tenacious, which Ken had started. “I sailed on an early voyage and Ken’s ashes were scattered from the poop deck when we were off the Canary Islands, our home for many years,” she said. “They gave me a large whisky after the ceremony.” (Mum and Dad’s lifelong love of good whisky has been passed on and the tradition continues.)
Lush will be recognized by the Red Cross this week for 55 years’ service. In her 99th year she still works a few days a week at the Red Cross and St. Peter and St. James Hospice shops in Lewes, and, yes, her lipstick is always perfect.