Valerie Willard, the youngest of 5 children, was born in Leighton Buzzard on 14th February 1923. Her parents were grocers in the town and also had shops in Edlesborough and Hockliffe.

The family were musically gifted. Her brother Keith played the piano and Val and her sister Drucilla were violinists. Val later played in the English Youth Orchestra.

Val was educated at Berkhamsted School and would travel each day by steam train from Leighton Buzzard with her brother.

When she left school she went to the University of London to study law, although was relocated to Cambridge due to the War. After a short time she was keen to do other things and decided to join the WRENS. It is understood that on her way to join up she was involved in a car accident at Stoke Mandeville and severely damaged her elbow – the re-habilitation of which led her to take up bell ringing in 1944.

In 1944 she went to work at a place called Bletchley Park – the “Enigma” code breaking work which is now well known. On a visit to the museum about ten years ago she was surprised that its secrets were being opened up. Val was a fluent speaker in Polish and Russian. The work of “The Government Code and Cypher School” was formally recognised in July 2009 and Val received a badge and certificate signed by the Prime Minister just a few weeks ago.

At the end of the war she went on to work for the Foreign Office in London. She resigned from this post in February 1949 in order to take an extended holiday to South Africa and when she returned to England in July of that year was re-employed by the Foreign Office.

In 1951 Val was posted to Melbourne in Australia. Returning by ship on 1st January 1955, she went to work at the Foreign Office in Cheltenham, now known as GCHQ.

In 1957 her daughter Zoe was born and when Val retired in 1984 she moved from Cheltenham to live with her and her family at Princes Risborough, Bucks.

The thoughts of a baby sitter on tap were soon dashed as “bookings” would have to be made some weeks in advance to fit in with her bell ringing and orchestral activities (Cheltenham, Dursley and latterly Aylesbury Operatic Societies) which included a Royal Performance at Tetbury on 6th December 1981.

Val led a full and active life; she was an avid reader and crossword addict and her bridge and backgammon play was formidable. She was also a regular volunteer reader at Monks Risborough school from 1990 to 2002.

Val learned to ring at All Saints’, Leighton Buzzard and her name first appears in the record book of the tower (now in the Luton and Bedford Archive Office) on 24th August 1944. She was taught to ring by Josiah Nicholls the “Leader” as the term was known in the tower. Her name appears as being in the band which rang for the New Year in 1945 (the War ban was on then so special permission must have been given). Her first quarter peal was rung for Christmas 1947.

Val was a Member of The Bedfordshire Association of Change Ringers and served as secretary of the Luton District in 1949, 1950 and part of 1951 until she went to Australia.

Whilst in Australia she was a member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Melbourne and her name appears on three peal boards in the tower.

When Val moved with her job to Cheltenham in 1955 she fitted in well with the local ringers. She became an active member of the Cheltenham Branch of the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association, ringing many peals both tower and in hand and serving as Branch Secretary from 1977 to 1981. She was also well known in other Branches of the Association and would always be willing to help other less experienced ringers.

Moving to Buckinghamshire in 1984, Val joined the tower of Holy Trinity, Bledlow and was welcomed with open arms by the local ringers. The bells had just been augmented from a hard-going 5 to an easy going ground floor ring of 8, all re-tuned and re-hung by Whitechapel earlier in the year. She was to be a great asset to Bledlow and other nearby towers. On becoming a resident member of the Chiltern Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild she was a very regular attender at Branch meetings and soon found herself with the post of Joint Ringing Master. She took this in her stride and served as Ringing Master or Assistant Ringing Master from 1986 to 1995; a long dedicated term.

Val was very meticulous with her ringing records. She had rung in 1,771 different towers around the world, England, Wales, South Africa, Australia and at the time when she visited Ireland all the ringable towers both North and South.

Enjoyment was to be found in peal ringing and over a period of 51 years Val had amassed a total of 648; 509 tower bell and 139 “in hand”. These had been rung for over 20 different Associations with over half the total being rung for the Gloucester and Bristol and totals of over 70 each for the Bedfordshire, Oxford Diocesan Guild and the Worcester and Districts Association. She was a very reliable ringer in a peal band but would often volunteer to ring the treble to enable someone else to score a peal “inside”.

Her first peal was rung in her home tower of Leighton Buzzard on 4th December 1948; 5075 Grandsire Caters composed and conducted by Joseph E. Arnold of the local band.

Her final peal was rung at Hughenden on 22nd July 1999; a peal of 5056 Spliced Surprise Major conducted by John R. Mayne, commemorating the first peal of Spliced Surprise Major rung in the 75th anniversary year of its performance at Whitley Bay.

Sadly her last ring was at the Church of SS Peter & Paul, Ellesborough on 3rd June 2003 in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

In recognition of her work in the Chiltern Branch, she was made an Honorary Member in 2005.

Val had been in hospital for a few weeks and sadly passed away on 4th December 2009, eerily the 61st anniversary of her first peal.

Her funeral took place at Holy Trinity, Bledlow on 17th December. The Oxford Diocesan Guild banner was placed at the chancel crossing. The Service was conducted by Revd David Dewick and a reading from John Chapter 14 verses 1-6 was given by David Bosanquet (grandson). Hymns included ‘Immortal invisible’, ‘Amazing grace’ and ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended’. A eulogy was given by Stephen Bosanquet (son in law).

A good company of ringers had gathered and the bells were rung “open”, as her request before the service. At the end of the service when her coffin had passed through the west door a band comprising half G&B and half ODG members rang a nice touch of Stedman Triples, conducted by the ODG Master. General ringing followed and concluded with a course of Bristol. Those of us who have been privileged to have rung with Val know that after ringing she would enjoy a pint in a “jug with a handle” and this gesture was extended to those who wished to join the Family at the Lions of Bledlow.

ROY WOODRUFF

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