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First female Chelsea Pensioner Winifred Phillips dies aged 89

By Eleanor Perkins

The first ever female Chelsea Pensioner to be accepted at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, who once lived in Deal, has died.

Winifred Phillips, 89, passed away at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on Saturday, January 30.

She had lived at Gerald Palmby Courts in West Street, Deal, until six years ago.

Winifred Phillips was the first female Chelsea Pensioner to move into the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Winifred Phillips was the first female Chelsea Pensioner to move into the Royal Hospital Chelsea

Born in Ilford, Essex, in 1926, Ms Phillips went to a convent boarding school, which she loathed.

She trained as a nursery nurse before falling in love with George Wheeler, a 19-year-old RAF trainee wireless operator. The pair spent a happy year together, only to say goodbye in 1943 when he was sent on bombing missions to Germany.

They kept in touch with regular letters but he went missing in 1944 and nobody knew what happened to him.

Determined to see the world, Ms Phillips joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1948 and enlisted in the Women’s Royal Army Corps a year later. For the next two decades she travelled the globe and reached the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2.

"The first thing she said to me was, ‘I won’t be here very long, I’ve got my name down on Chelsea’s books’. She told me not to say anything because she knew it would be a big thing.” - Friend Maureen Mullaney

At the age of 70, having never married, she went on a journey to find out what happened to George, discovering a plane he was travelling in had been shot down. She found out where he was buried to pay her respects.

In 2009, after 10 years of campaigning, she became the first female Chelsea Pensioner at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

She wrote two books about the achievement; My Journey to Becoming the First Lady Chelsea Pensioner, released in 2010, and Mum’s Army: Love and Adventure from the NAAFI to Civvy Street, in 2013.

Her other hobbies included painting on silk, making greetings cards and attending a pottery class.

Maureen Mullaney, of Allenby Avenue, met Ms Phillips when she lived in Deal.

She said: “I worked in Gerald Palmby Courts when she moved in there and the first thing she said to me was, ‘I won’t be here very long, I’ve got my name down on Chelsea’s books’.

“She told me not to say anything because she knew it would be a big thing.”

Mrs Mullaney stayed in touch with Ms Phillips when she moved there because her ex-husband also lived in the same place.

She said: “She was a great friend. I used to enjoy her company. She had the best humour. She was really proud of being the first female Chelsea Pensioner. She set the bar as there are about eight or so of them in there now.”

Her funeral will be at 2pm on Wednesday, February 17, at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

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