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At home driving trucks at 89
7:30am Thursday 10th January 2013 in News
A FEW years ago, a young man from the BBC had the temerity to ring Joan Newell before eight o’clock in the morning. Not that she wasn’t used to getting up early, far from it, but at 82, the mental and physical sides needed a bit of warming up first thing.
The reason for the call was to enquire whether or not Joan had passed her driving test the afternoon before. Her advanced driving test that was. The sort of examination petrolheads and police pursuit officers tend to take.
“It was a good job I’d passed,” she said. “Or I might have told him where to go.”
Actually no one who has ever encountered Joan Newell could be in any doubt she would pass. She has, after all, driven everything from tanks to sports cars, articulated lorries to buses on skid pans.
She’s now 89 and although there is a cover over a Morgan in the garage, she’s still perfectly at home behind the wheel of her 4x4 with her ever-faithful companion Lucy the springer spaniel.
Friends have been on to Joan for years to write her life story and now she’s at last got round to it.
Horsing About With Dogs and Lorries covers a range of jobs and skills that Joan mastered during the days of the Second World War.
She has also played a leading part in the rise of a little plant nursery, which began life on her family farm at Guarlford, near Malvern, and now regularly wins top prizes competing against the cognoscenti at Royal Horticultural Society events.
“I suppose I wrote the book for a particular purpose,” she said. “Younger people, particularly women who today have so much freedom and autonomy, will not be aware of the struggle life was in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some men thought that after the war, women should crawl back into their shells and keep quiet. However, I am pleased to say they had a nasty shock.”
And Joan Newell has most definitely done her own thing.
Dad Tom Newell was a butcher and his daughter began her lifelong love of horses by hugging the one that pulled his cart. By the time she was in her early teens, the family had moved to Malvern and Joan worked for a while as a milliner’s assistant in the town’s department store Warwick House.
For her 17th birthday in 1940, her father treated her to a course of driving lessons and that’s what really started it all. “This was quite a wonderful present in those days,”
said Joan. “Because before the war girls didn’t drive.”
As soon as she was old enough – 18 in 1941 – she joined the ATS as a volunteer driver. She arrived at the military camp at Harlescott near Shrewsbury to be faced by a row of expensive sports cars, including a Lagonda and a Bentley. “Oh gosh, look at those,” exclaimed Joan. “Are they the officers’ cars?” The reply came: “No. Those belong to the drivers.”
With both HGV and PSV licences, she drove staff cars, trucks, lorries, scout cars, Bren gun carriers, even tanks, from vehicle reserve depots all over the country to wherever they needed to go.
After the war, Joan drove for the Aviation Ministry at the former RRE at Malvern, as well as tractors and lorries on the family dairy farm.
Although as the sands shifted in agriculture, the holding became Grange Farm Nurseries.
Joan, however, has kept on driving. She finally took her advanced test in 2005: “It was something I’d been thinking about for years, but hadn’t had time until then.”
- Horsing About With Dogs and Lorries is available from Grange Farm Nurseries, Malvern Co-operative Bookshop on St Ann’s Road and by mail order from Courtyard Books, Bishop's Cleeve.