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A lifetime's worth of fond memories and yet still going strong - just like our Queen

As the Queen marks her historic birthday, Kerry McKittrick talks to three people, also in their 90th year, about reaching the same landmark as the monarch

Published 21/04/2016

Public adoration: the Queen out and about yesterday ahead of her big day
Public adoration: the Queen out and about yesterday ahead of her big day
Public adoration: the Queen out and about yesterday ahead of her big day
Public adoration: the Queen out and about yesterday ahead of her big day
Peggy Waters will celebrate her own 90th birthday in May
Active life: Alice wants to continue dancing after her hip operation
Lost love: Ernie holds a picture of late wife Jean who he was married to for 67 years ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

Today the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday, making her the UK's oldest ever monarch. Reaching the grand old age of 90 is an incredible feat for anyone, but it seems extraordinary for a head of state to still be working in her 10th decade.

During her long life she has lived through some of the most dramatic decades of the 20th century and served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War.

She's had an enduring marriage to Prince Philip of nearly 70 years, which has produced four children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Having celebrated her silver, gold and diamond jubilees, the Queen is one of the most popular monarchs in the world.

We speak to three people in Northern Ireland who are also in their 90th year to find out what it's like to live your life in parallel to the Queen's.

Peggy: 'I saw her and Princess Margaret in a big procession down Royal Avenue'

Peggy Waters (89), from east Belfast, was married to John who passed away 10 years ago. She has three grown-up children, Maureen, Janice and John. She says:

M y father raised us as he had been badly wounded in the First World War and couldn't work very much. So, my mother worked at the mill. I was born on May 3, 1926, and grew up on the Shankill Road, the middle child of two sisters and one brother.

After I left school, I worked in Gallaher's tobacco factory for about six years and then I went on to be a stitcher.

During the Blitz, my father was working as a caretaker in one of the big buildings in town - it might have been the labour exchange on York Street.

My mother didn't know what to do so she took us all up the Glencairn Road with other families. It's built up now, but back then it was all countryside. We took blankets with us and all we could do was watch.

My mother was so worried because from where we were it looked as if the whole city was in flames and my father was somewhere in the middle of it as he was doing firewatch. He was on the roof of one of the buildings and we didn't know if it was one of the ones on fire. Thank goodness he was okay, though.

I remember the Blitz vividly - you don't forget things like that.

My husband John was a soldier stationed in Burma during the war, but we didn't meet until afterwards. I was introduced to him by a friend. He asked me out and that was that. We got married when I was 22 and lived with his friend for about six weeks. Then we rented a kitchen house - two up and two down.

When I met him he worked in a Belfast library as a caretaker, but we moved out to Canada for a year. My sister really wanted to go so I wanted to go, too, but we didn't settle.

I read in the paper that there were lots of jobs in England so we moved there for about 15 years, returning here in the Sixties. I wanted to go to Holywood, but we couldn't afford it so we moved to east Belfast and I've lived here ever since.

We came back here just in time for the Troubles. I can remember sitting in a cafe with my daughter when there was an explosion and I just ran. My daughter had to call me back because I had forgotten to pay.

There was another time when I was with my husband and a bomb went off. I tried to climb the shutters of a nearby shop - I was so scared. All I wanted to do was get away from it.

My birthday is quite close to the Queen's. Really and truly I think she's a lovely girl. I never met her, but I did see her and Princess Margaret sitting in a car in a big procession down Royal Avenue. She had such beautiful skin.

I always thought she had a lovely husband, too. Sometimes he's not very popular, but he was good for her. I thought she had great parents and they all worked very hard after her father had to step in to take the crown.

I think the Queen is strong, probably stronger than me and she does a great job.

These days I go to a day centre a couple of days a week and my granddaughter, Emma, who lives nearby, also takes me out shopping."

Alice: 'I remember the Blitz well... we hid under the stairs when bombs rained down'

Alice Massey (90) lives in Belfast and was married to Samuel who passed away nine years ago. She has two grown-up children, Linda and Paul. She says:

I was born in Belfast on March 28, 1926, just off the Shankill Road. I was the oldest and had three brothers — they’ve all gone now, too. My father was a labourer and my mother was a stitcher. I went to school at Hemsworth Square and then left to get a job at the age of 14 — everybody worked in those days.

I got a job in Gallaher’s Tobacco factory ... but not for very long. The Blitz came and they decided to move the machinery to Ballymena. I thought I would have to go with it so I left — as it turned out that wouldn’t have been the case after all.

I went on to be a stitcher for a while and then before I retired, joined the civil service.

I remember the war in Belfast very well. The Blitz in particular as I was in the house with my brother and he was still a babe in arms. My other two brothers were evacuated to live on a farm in Ballymoney with some lovely people, but I was too old and my brother was too young to go. We hid under the stairs when the bombs rained down.

At the time we were living in a house in Langford Street and it was just a short way away from Percy Street. There was a direct hit on the shelter there that killed everyone — it put a crack in the wall we shared with our neighbour that ran from floor to ceiling.

I met my husband, Samuel, outside the stadium cinema when I was 16 — there’s a community centre there now. He chatted me up, but it was years later before we went out and there were a few boys in between that. Samuel worked in Mackies during the war and we got married in 1953. After the war he went to work in the shipyard.

A lot of people moved away from Northern Ireland during the Troubles, but I would never have left my mother.

Then we moved over to the Crumlin area and I had a grocer shop behind Crumlin Road Courthouse for 10 years. I remember there were always lots of cars queuing outside with people going into trials.

There were a lot of places being burned back then — cars and such-like. On one occasion all the pubs on the former Old Lodge Road were burnt during night-long rioting.

You see people rioting today and wonder how much we’ve advanced — if we’ve advanced at all.

I was somewhere in my 60s when I retired, although, I did work for a couple of years after my retirement age. My birthday is very close to the Queen’s. I think she’s fantastic, but I never got to see her on any of her visits here. I can recall the abdication and then her father becoming king. It was a hard time for the family, but I think she has done a wonderful job. Prince Phillip is just a figure head, but they seem to be very happy together and that’s the main thing.

I have grandchildren as my son and daughter have two children each — I’m hoping I live long enough to see the great-grand children grow up.

Nowadays, I like going to dances ... but I’m waiting for a hip replacement so I can’t dance at the moment. On Wednesday I go to a lunch club, meet friends for lunch on a Thursday and go to another club on a Saturday.

I keep on the go while I can, but I never thought that the Queen or I would be still going at 90. These last 10 years have gone by so quickly that I have hardly noticed them.

Thank God that, apart from my hip and not being able to get about too much because of that, I’m not too bad at all.”

Ernie: 'There's no other crown in the world now that’s like the English kings and queens'

Ernie Ferguson (90) lives in north Belfast. He has five grown-up children, Rosemary, Jean, Raymond, David and Gordon, and was married to Jean, who died nine years ago. He says:

I was born on August 5, 1925, just off the Crumlin Road in Belfast. I’m the youngest of eight — I had five brothers and two sisters. When I was growing up my father worked in the linen trade. I’ve lived in Ardoyne all my life and went to Holy Cross Primary School.

Back then you couldn’t be cheeky to your parents — if you were, an elder would have taken you outside. I got the worst of it though because I was the youngest. It never did me any harm, though, and I loved all my brothers and sisters.

I went to school until I was 13 and my brother told me there was a job going in a barber’s shop. They called it a soap boy in those days — I would lather the men up for a shave before I learned how to do the job. My dad promised me if I kept at it he would help me get my own business one day. I didn’t like it, though, as it was hard work and long hours so I gave it up. For the next few years I would do wee bits here and there — helping out at my uncle and sister’s shops.

During the war I joined the army with three of my best friends.

But we were only 17 then so, of course, we were told ‘no’ and became air raid wardens instead. The night of the Blitz I ended up at the scout hall in Bruce Street. I got blown away by a bomb and the left side of my face was covered in cuts and scratches. All of the air raid posts were blown away, too, so Bruce Street was being used to treat casualties.

My future wife Jean, who was a Red Cross Nurse, treated me there and I wasn’t allowed to go back out again as I was in shock. Our house was destroyed that night, too, so we were evacuated to a farm in the country. I returned to Belfast not long afterwards as the house had been fixed and my brothers and sisters were still there.

The war was a marvellous time for companionship. People pulled together to help each other out. They didn’t care who you were or where you came from. When I came home, Jean was still at the post, but she was dating an RAF fellow so I didn’t think any more of that.

The nurses came up to give the Air Raid Wardens a bit of first aid training and muggins here was the one they choose to give a demonstration on. Jean was in charge of the nurses and as soon as I looked at her I fell in love with her — at 17 and a half.

The next thing I knew she asked me if I would like to take her out.

I was too shy to ask her so she had to take the initiative. We were married for 67 years. Jean served as a nurse until the end of the war, joining the Wrens after working for the Red Cross. Afterwards she went back to a job in the office of the Albion Clothing company.

During the war my two brothers worked in Shorts and then I joined them as a riveter, where I worked for 45 years.

The Troubles were very bad up here. But, you just had to put up with it.

I think people are starting to get together again now. I’ve been in this house for over 60 years and I can see the change.

The  Queen has had a good life and I think if I had her life then I would still be running about the way she is. Her family have worked hard, though — her grandmother Queen Mary helped Ireland an awful lot in her day, too. But she was born into her role. There’s no other crown in the world now that is like the English kings and queens. I used to go out to lunch clubs, but my health means I can’t do that now. I still look after myself and my family comes to see me a lot.

I’ve had a good life, a beautiful wife and good children.”

Belfast Telegraph

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