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Welder Edith celebrates new milestone

By This is Devon  |  Posted: November 26, 2008

  • Edith Kent holding a framed photograph of herself as a young woman. Left: In this family picture taken around 1922, Edith is sitting cross-legged on the grass at the front of the group

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A WELDER who became the first woman to earn a man's wages during the war has celebrated her 100th birthday.

Edith Kent was awarded equal pay while working at Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth in 1943 because she was such a skilled electrical welder.

Edith's birthday on Monday brought up a double century because her older sister, Minna Algate, is still alive and turned 105 two months ago.

Both sisters survived the Plymouth Blitz and chose to stay in the city even though homes all around them were being destroyed by nightly German bombing raids.

Edith became the only woman at the dockyard to earn a man's wage because she was only 4ft 11in tall and could weld in tiny spaces men could not reach.

She volunteered to climb inside torpedo tubes to weld the insides of the casings.

Her success was all the more remarkable because she took time off to have her only child Jean in 1942 before going back to work, leaving the baby with one of her sisters.

Edith still lives in her own house where she is cared for by her extended family while Minna moved into a retirement home three years ago.

Edith has been a widow since her husband Bill, who ran a shoe repair business, died aged 86 in 1996.

She said:"I don't feel any different being 100. I believe the secret of a long life is not worrying about anything.

"I'm having a wonderful day and I am looking forward to getting my telegram from the Queen.

"In the war, I was the first woman to be paid a man's wage because I was doing a special job.

"I made a success of it and I loved it, even when they made me go and weld inside the torpedo tubes.

"I can't remember how much I was paid but I know it was the same as the men got for doing the same job."

Her daughter Jean Jane, aged 62, said: "My mother has lived a remarkable life. She was born in the old Sugar Refinery Inn and is one of six sisters and three brothers.

"She and Minna are the only ones still alive and Minna is now 105 and unfortunately is not able to join us today.

"We are all going to tea at a hotel and Edith will probably have a waltz. She still loves to dance."

Sister Minna was born in 1903 and was an eight-year-old schoolgirl in April 1912 when one of her classmates from East Street School in Stonehouse was drowned in the Titanic sinking.

The victim had left the school and was emigrating with her family to America when the liner hit an iceberg and sank.

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