Val's high-tech 100th birthday

St George resident Val May has seen many changes over the past 100 years.

As a girl in the 1930s Val was treated to a flight with aviation pioneer Arthur Butler.

She lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

So she wasn't going to let the current lockdown spoil her 100th birthday celebrations today.

There was a big family gathering for her 99th birthday and Val was looking forward to an even bigger celebration for her centenary milestone.

But with the current lockdown conditions, the family gathering has been put on hold.

Instead, each of her ten grandchildren and their families are going to have their own celebration and will join Val in a TV link-up on Zoom today to sing her happy birthday and watch her blow out the candles on her birthday cake.

Valma Elizabeth May (nee Coleman) was born on April 4, 1920.

Her father Aubrey Coleman fought at Gallipoli and survived but was severely wounded in the Somme in November 1916.

He was repatriated to Australia in May 1917 and despite his war wound, he joined the NSW Mounted Police.

His first appointment was to Gunnedah where Val was born and the family lived in Pockataroo, Bellata and Maitland.

Val's father organised landing strips for aviation pioneer Arthur Butler to trial his first planes in country areas of NSW and was able to organise a flight for Val.

In 1935 the family moved to Sydney when her father was assigned to light duties because of his war injury and was appointed to Police Headquarters in Sydney.

After she left school, Val got a job at a dressmaking company called Feineware, upstairs in the Strand Arcade.

"She had no formal training in dressmaking but she was not only an excellent dressmaker, but also modelled the company's samples when buyers came in to select styles they wanted to sell in their shops," her daughter, Lesley said.

Val met her husband, Charlie when she was 16 at St Nicolas' Anglican Church, Coogee where they both sang in the choir.

Charlie and Val were married on March 21, 1942.

Petrol was rationed because of the war so they were married at St John's Anglican Church at Campsie, rather than at Kingsgrove where Val's family lived, because the reception was nearby.

After the reception, Val and Charlie walked to Campsie station and caught the train into the city where they spent the night at the Australia Hotel, paid for by one of Charlie's wealthy mates in the Army.

The following morning Val and Charlie boarded the train for Goulburn where Charlie went back to his army regiment and Val found herself accommodation in the town.

After the war, Val and Charlie bought a small mixed business on Burwood Road, Enfield where their eldest daughter, Dianne was born.

They moved to Peakhurst in 1950, just before the birth of their second daughter, Lesley.

Charlie got a job as a truck driver for the Aeroplane Jelly Company, delivering jellies in the city and in country areas.

Val and the girls often travelled with him but by the time their son Colin was born in 1954, Charlie had completed a course in sign-writing and became interested in the advertising side of the business.

He became the advertising manager and later, the General Director of Aeroplane Jellies.

Val and Charlie were very involved in their children's schools at Peakhurst Primary School, Beverly Hills Girls' High School and St Andrew's Cathedral School in the city, where Colin was a chorister.

Val and Charlie were heavily involved in the P&C and Val was also in the Ladies' Auxiliary and the canteen.

They were also involved in their local Anglican Church, Holy Trinity at Peakhurst.

Val and Charlie bought land in Redgum Drive, Lugarno, overlooking the Georges River and moved into their new house in January 1969.

Charlie died in July 1974 and Val stayed in the house and still lives there today with her daughter, Lesley.

Val remained very involved with Holy Trinity Church at Peakhurst until it closed and then she joined St Andrews church at Riverwood.

Val went on her first overseas trip in 1978 and from then on, travelled quite extensively to many countries including UK, Europe, USA, Canada, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Scandinavia, Africa, China and Japan.

However, much of Val's time has been devoted to her family. Her family are the most important thing in her life and she loves to spend time with all of them.

She has adapted to the current social distancing rules while still being able to see her family.

Recently her great-granddaughter Emily, three, visited.

While she couldn't give Val a hug, Emily sat on the other side of the glass door and sang her songs and told her a story.

"Mum thought it was marvellous," Lesley said.

Val now has 10 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren and with spouses included, her family gathering for her 100th birthday would have numbered 47 immediate family members.

These days Val enjoys singing her favourite hymns and songs and she loved playing the drums at Music Therapy which she attended until this time last year.

She also enjoys watching DVDs and YouTube videos of Songs of Praise (which is on Channel 2 every Sunday morning) especially those featuring her favourite singer, the Welsh baritone, Aled Jones.

Her family takes her to his concerts whenever he is in Australia and she has also enjoyed productions such as 'My Fair Lady', 'Sound of Music', 'Aladdin' and 'Puttin' On The Ritz'.

Val's key to her longevity? Her love of her family and her love of fresh fruit and vegetables, and plenty of them.

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