Mrs Florence Van Stockum

Orwell's oldest ever inhabitant?

The following article first appeared in the December 2002 edition of the Orwell Bulletin

born in Orwell in 1894

Mrs Florence Van Stockum (nee Freestone), aunt of Mrs Olive Krueger of Leaden Hill, was born in Orwell in 1894 and celebrated her 108th birthday in October 2002 in Shelbyville, Kentucky, USA.

Photo:Florence van Stockum and her son Ronald in 2002

Florence van Stockum and her son Ronald in 2002

She is a remarkable lady as you can tell, not only from the photograph opposite, taken on her 108th birthday with her son Ronnie, but also from the fact that recently (2002) she has written several letters to the Bulletin editor in a clear, legible hand, reminiscing about Orwell in the early 20th Century.

Florence's early life was a mix of happiness and tragedy. She has described in her letters how she spent her childhood wandering among the “meadows, gentle fragrant lanes and gardens of Orwell” as a “gloriously happy little girl”. “On leaving school she did secretarial work for a while at Cundall's Folding Machine Co. at Orwell Grange in New Wimpole, but then met and married Reginald Bareham of Newton.

first husband killed in action in July 1916

Reggie enlisted when the First World War broke out and was killed in action in July 1916 – just one week before their son Ronald was born. Inspired perhaps by a wish to serve as her husband had done, Florence volunteered for the Women's Royal Air Force and drove ambulances for cadets flying their first solos at the Training station at Fowlmere. She believes she joined up late in 1916, so she may initially have joined the Women's Legion motor drivers, who joined with other women's organisations in 1918 to form the Women's Royal Air Force. The photo below shows her in WRAF uniform with her son.

Photo:Florence and Ronald 1918

Florence and Ronald 1918

met her second husband while cycling through Duxford

Florence met her second husband, Lt.Col A W Van Stockum, while cycling through Duxford. He was an American airman, presumably stationed either at Duxford or Fowlmere. When he went overseas they continued to correspond and after the War she decided to visit him in America, with her small son who he adopted, and they were married in May 1920. Florence seems to have had a very happy life in America, living 40 years in “the beautiful city of San Diego” before retiring to “the rural and very English state of Kentucky.” Her son married a French lady descended from the Bourbon Royal family, became a Brigadier General in the US Marine Corps and was later Vice President of the University of Louisville, Kentucky – a far cry from Orwell!

 Sue Miller

[additional comment, beyond the original article:  Florence Van Stockum died in 2005 at the age of 110, and was one of the few super centenarians worldwide to have been verified by the Gerontology Research Group.Her letters and memories can be seen by appointment at 55 High Street Orwell (Phone 01223 207328.)


This page was added by Martin Grigor on 04/01/2013.

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