Clifton High School was delighted to welcome back historian, journalist and former pupil Mary Cosh. The visit was organised by Mary’s lodger and friend to celebrate her 98th birthday! Pupils in Years 11-13 enjoyed talking to her about a variety of topics over tea and biscuits. Entering the Main Hall, Mary remembered her gymnastics lessons which took place there, glancing at the floor and wondering how many feet had jumped and skipped there over the years. On being asked whether she was inspired by a particular teacher to pursue History, she praised Miss Thomas who she claimed “all the girls loved”. Both Mary and old girl Rosemary Gough, who was also paying a visit, mentioned Miss Glenday, their Headmistress through the Second World War, as truly inspiring.
In a fitting commemoration of International Women’s Day, Mary spoke about how she overcame society’s expectations by swapping a clerical job in the Civil Service where she served in the Ministry of Labour for five years, for a war-time job in the Women’s Royal Naval service. For Mary, the Second World War offered liberation. She joined the Wrens in 1942 and became a Leading Wren, serving in Egypt. Although her father had advised her she was doing the wrong thing by joining the Wrens, Mary said it “changed her life” for the better. Year 13 student, Ana, asked how the Second World War transformed women’s lives and Mary agreed the war helped more women gain employment, although she said society’s views of women did not change. After the war, Mary read English at Oxford University and then, after working with the Council of Industrial Design during the Festival of Britain, she became a freelance writer, journalist, author and historian. Jasmine in Year 13 commented, “It was a pleasure and an inspiration to meet Mary and learn about her several careers and books. Having started at the same school, I hope I can point to as many achievements as her when I am 98.” Ana also said, “It was a precious experience meeting Mary, who has achieved more in her lifetime than I can fathom: from being a historian, journalist and contributing to World War II services. Her selfless attitude and modest nature has inspired me to delve deeper into History, I can only wish to make such a mark on the school as she has done, and maintain a brilliant sense of humour until I’m nearly 100!”
Dr Neill was presented with one of Mary’s books, ‘Edinburgh: The Golden Age’ which is fitting as four of our Sixth Form students are going to study at Edinburgh University next year. Dr Neill presented Mary with a Bristol Glass emblem, embedded with the Clifton High School rose, and warmly thanked her “it is crucial that generational links be established as our young people have a great deal to learn from the older generations.”