The Warkworth Anglican Church bell tolled 99 times on November 18 to mark the passing of Mildred (nee Hawes) Hooper, who would have turned 100 next month.
People from many walks of life gathered to pay their respects, reflecting Mildred’s many and diverse interests. Among the organisations and clubs represented were the Warkworth Museum, University of the Third Age, the National Party, Kowhai Arts & Craft, Warkworth Bridge Club, Warkworth Music, Snells Beach Rebus, Red Cross, Selwyn House and the Anglican Parish. The service was officiated by Rev. Dianne Hawken with music by organist Jocelyn Crawford. Rev. Hawken described Mildred as a gracious and dignified woman, who was always impeccably dressed and always with a spark of mischief in her eyes.
The Meerut Section of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, taken in January 1946.
Mildred was born in Leicester, England, the daughter of a bus conductor. After leaving school, she trained as a shorthand typist, but when war broke out in 1939, she joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.
Although its members wore a military style uniform, it was not part of the Regular or Reserve Army, but a unit that had a special interest in military intelligence. Recruits were trained in one of four fields – motor transport, wireless telegraphy, codes or general – and large numbers of the unit were assigned to the resistance movements in Europe. Their work was top secret and often highly skilled. Mildred’s first overseas posting was as a driver in Meerut, outside Delhi, in India.
After the war her family believes she became a ‘civil servant’ for the British Government. However, her role in the diplomatic corp was bound by the Secret Intelligence Service Act, so her work could only ever be a matter for speculation, as she never discussed it. She was, however, a member of an elite and exclusive club in Knightsbridge, London – membership of which was open only to those involved in special operations and agencies such as MI5 and MI6.
A letter, dated 1995 and found amongst Mildred’s belongings, hinted at this chapter in her life. It was from Clarence House (home of the Queen Mother) thanking the founders of the Special Forces Club ‘for their faithfulness and loyalty over the past 50 years’.
In 1957, Mildred married honorary Major Leslie Hooper, the First Secretary of the British Embassy in Khartoum. Together or separately, they worked in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Algiers, Seville, Italy, Iraq, Cyprus and Thailand. It was a volatile time politically and many of her old photos show her accompanied by armed guards.
In 1973, the couple arrived in New Zealand, settling first in Whakatane – supposedly because the town had a good bridge club and the fishing wasn’t bad, either – before moving to Tauhoa and later Algies Bay. After Leslie’s death, Mildred settled in to Warkworth and her family referred to her wide network of friends as “the Warkworth Mafia”.
Rodney MP Mark Mitchell, who could not attend the service due to commitments in Wellington, sent a statement, which was read by Jennie Georgetti. He described Mildred as elegant and always beautifully dressed.
“But behind the smile and twinkle in the eye was substance and steel,” he wrote. “She sent me beautifully handwritten letters encouraging me and, at times, giving me useful advice on how to improve my performance. She shared my view that whisky held medicinal properties and a regular tipple was important for good health.”
Mr Mitchell said Mildred had the same poise, grace, wisdom, deep down resilience and pragmatic approach to life that his own grandmothers had.
“As a generation, they had faced and endured enormous challenges and made huge sacrifices for us all.”
Members of her extended family spoke of a woman who lived life to the fullest, who was a role model, a big Harry Potter fan and someone who appreciated the “right way to pour tea”.
“And not everyone can say their great granny trained James Bond!” one of the younger members joked.
Retired Anglican Minister Malcolm Clague remembered Mildred as someone who liked to get on with the job.
“She was generous and a great hostess, but not the sort to sit on a committee,” he said. “She could express her views strongly, but was never rude or uncivil.”
Referring to the Volvo she drove until her late 90s, Malcolm said Mildred had a car that was almost as famous as she was!
Speakers at the funeral included Mildred’s god-daughter, Vivienne Cliffe, Vivienne’s husband, Ian and two of their sons, her grandson, Justin Hooper and a cousin, Bruce Graham.
The service concluded with a tribute from the Warkworth RSA. Former president John Stephen, read the Ode and Mikaela Keerkeer played the The Last Post and Reveille.
Photographs, courtesy Jason Morrison Funeral Services.