Tributes have been paid to a remarkable globe-trotting former nurse who cared for soldiers injured in the 1940 Battle of Dunkirk after she passed away at the age of 103.
Travel pioneer Hilda Richards, a resident of Pendine Park’s Gwern Alyn Care Home in Wrexham, died at the town’s Maelor Hospital where she had been a patient for the past couple of months after being admitted with breathing difficulties.
She leaves three sons, Derek, Clive and Ralph, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Gwern Alyn manager Cindy Clutton said: “We are all heartbroken to lose Hilda who was hugely popular with all the other residents and staff.
“She was a wonderful woman who lived a full and incredible life and was an unforgettable character who had get up and go in spades.
“It was an absolute privilege to provide care for Hilda in the twilight of her life and her memory will remain as an inspiration to us all at Gwern Alyn.”
Until 2019, Hilda had enjoyed regular coach trips and went unaccompanied on holidays to Llandudno and Eastbourne.
She and her late husband Trevor took to travelling the world after she retired in the 1980s.
The redoubtable couple rented cabins on cargo ships at a time when the cruise industry was in its infancy and prohibitively expensive.
On one memorable voyage they sailed inside the Iron Curtain and into the Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War was just starting to thaw.
Their travels also took them to America, South America, Canada, Africa and even to India when they had their picture taken on the same bench that would become famous when Princess Diana sat on it many years later.
After Trevor died 10 years ago, Hilda lived alone until February of last year when she moved to Gwern Alyn where she was “very happy”.
She was born in Ruabon on November 10 in 1917, almost a year to the day before the end of the First World War.
Fast forward to World War 2 and Hilda was a 23-year-old State Registered Nurse working at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital when soldiers injured at Dunkirk were ferried around the coast and up the Mersey to be treated there.
Hilda vividly remembered the injured soldiers, many in battle dress torn to shreds and having suffered horrific burns, being brought in on stretchers and laid out in rows.
It was a real eyeopener for Hilda who was born and brought up in a cottage on the Wynnstay Estate, Ruabon.
During an interview last year, Hilda said: “My grandfather was head coachman on the estate while my father, George Griffiths worked in the Hafod Coal Mine in Ruabon. My mother, Elizabeth, kept house. I had two brothers, Walter and Albert and two sisters Ada and Evelyn.
“The Dowager allowed my family to buy the cottage and it has now been in my family for 200 years.
“I went to the local primary school and then went to Ruabon Grammar School. My husband Trevor Richards also went there but we didn’t meet until years later as boys and girls were kept very much separate.
“I left school at 18 at Christmas and in the January, I started at Alder Hey as a student nurse.”
“It was three years of hard training but in the first year you never got to see a patient it was all about mopping and cleaning floors and bathrooms.”
“Looking after gravely wounded soldiers from Dunkirk was an awful job but one I was privileged to do.
“It was so sad. The state many were in was horrible, especially the burns.
“I then transferred to Wrexham General Emergency Hospital in 1942 when she married Trevor who was serving in France.
“We had children from Alder Hey Hospital sent across the Mersey to us to escape the bombing.
“We also had two Jewish doctors who had escaped the Holocaust and found their way to Britain. We treated soldiers from all the Allies, Americans and Canadians, not just British.”
“Before the war Trevor worked at Cranes, the music shop, as a pianist and a salesman before he was called up to the Tank Regiment.
“Trevor and I had three sons, and I stayed at home after having my boys and only went back to work after they started at school.
“I got a job as a laboratory assistant and school nurse at Ruabon Grammar School where I worked until I retired.
“Trevor and I took up travelling as a hobby. We ended up going all around the world.
“They didn’t have massive cruise ships like you get now and it was way too expensive and out of our reach.
“But I found out you could go on cargo ships if they had space and rent a cabin as a guest of the captain if he’d agree. We went behind the Iron Curtain to Russia on the first trip and were treated like royalty on board.
“We went all over the world, America, South America, Canada, Africa and even India. Trevor and I had our picture taken at the Taj Mahal sat on the seat the same seat that would become famous when Princess Diana sat on it many years later.”
Hilda added: “It’s a shame I can’t still live at home but I’m happy here Gwern Alyn. The staff are very kind and lovely. It’s a happy place to be.
“It’s a shame this awful virus came along as I can’t go out for a walk now or enjoy family visits. But I’m happy and have all my memories.”
Pendine Park proprietor Mario Kreft MBE said: “We were all deeply saddened to hear that Hilda has passed away.
“We were honoured that we were able to provide Hilda with a home from home during the latter stages of her life.
“I can’t imagine what she went through nursing soldiers injured at Dunkirk and civilians injured in the Blitz.
“She was clearly an incredibly strong character and that was evident throughout her subsequent life when she became something of a travel pioneer.
“Her indomitable spirit was still in evidence when she came to live in Gwern Alyn and she will be sadly missed by us all. She really was an amazing woman.”