Frances Druce

Frances Druce

Louise Elsie Frances Druce (1918 – 2014)

Frances DruceMost of us can only imagine, or dream, or even wish to live nearly 100 years. What would it be like to have health on our side, an intellect that grows and develops with us, a thirst for adventure, fresh sights and insights, a willingness to jump into most days in a happy, curious and joyful way? Although most can only imagine a one hundred year life, these words describe the world of Frances Druce; a woman faced with many life challenges yet a woman who just seemed to know how to grow as an individual and share the richness of her long 96-year life with many.

Frances Druce's FamilyBorn Louise Elsie Frances Druce in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England in 1918, the only child of Florence and Arthur Druce. It was a second marriage for both and when Arthur passed away in 1920, Florence was left to raise a blended family of six children while running their family pub business.  The family managed the Sun Hotel and later the Brighton Hotel through the 1920’s and 30’s. After Florence passed away in 1933, Frances and her sisters continued on in this vein and by the outbreak of the Second World War, Frances’ job was, in her words, to look after the money and pay the bills. In today’s language, she was the family accountant.

The Second World War changed the global landscape and it changed life for Frances Druce. She saw opportunities as a result of the rapidly changing landscape of England and she applied for and was accepted into the London School of Economics. Little did she know that the intellect and character shown through her application and acceptance into the LSE was also noticed by an unknown group looking for candidates to help build one of the finest and best kept secrets of the war. As she arrived in London to join her class at school she was quietly invited to join the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. This was not public at the time and she may not have known it by this name, however she quickly embraced the opportunity and became a part of the British Intelligence Service as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Frances DruceEarly in the war Britain had been able to break the German secret communication codes using a device known as Enigma, and Bletchley Park, a country estate northwest of London was the innocuous home for these secret, decoding activities. Frances spent most of her time in what was known as Hut 3 as an analyst, translating and then assessing where and how these translated messages would be shared. The work was extremely tedious and stressful and many were challenged by the required focus, concentration, and pressure of 16-hour days, week-after-week. Only in her later years did Frances ever speak of and allude to the nature of the work and the stress and pressure felt by all involved.

Bletchley Codebreakers 1945By 1945, Frances was a respected officer and member of the British Intelligence Service and travelled to Italy, the Middle East and parts of Africa as a member of the British intelligence network. By 1948 Frances had had enough of war and intrigue and, turning down an opportunity to return to the London School of Economics, she planned a trip to Canada to visit a friend.

She visited and worked in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and eventually Victoria where she obtained a position with the BC provincial government. She eventually rose to become the Director of Births, Deaths, and Marriages for the province.

Frances was a voracious reader, belonged to different book clubs and loved to challenge her family and friends with her latest book discovery. She was an active member of the Anglican Church of Canada, but never took her faith or belief at face value. Rather she was keen to read about, and come to understand, other worlds and faiths to help her better ground herself in her faith world. She never stopped asking questions and challenging herself. She was a prolific writer and journal keeper and her correspondence was far reaching. Closer to home she was a birder and took great delight in being a part of a large birding community where she would follow the migration patterns of different bird species.

Very little ever seemed to get in Frances’ way. In her early 80’s she was looking for a way to better catalog and organize her genealogical records. She purchased a laptop, a book on computer programming and designed a custom database program to help her begin the process of sorting and categorizing her records.

Frances accomplished a lot in her long life but it was not all “things” she did. She was also a very happy social person with rich and extensive circles of friends. In 1950, Frances met the lady who became her best friend and companion for life, Betty Trimmer. Betty was a provincial librarian and she and Frances shared much in common throughout their lives together. Their social circles extended around the world and they were known for their community leadership, extensive literary conversations and breadth of service.

Frances said of her time during the war that we do the things we do because they are important. She happily gave much throughout her 96 years and she knew what mattered in life. She also understood the reality of a life beyond hers and as such she, left a gift in her Will to the University of Victoria so that others might benefit and share in the richness she was fortunate to have been a part of. Travel awards as well as bursaries and scholarships in science, law and music will encourage and support countless students in their pursuit of enriching the lives of many others.

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