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Downing Street’s Catherine Celebrates 100th Birthday at Dorset Care Home

A career civil servant who spent 43 years at the heart of Whitehall has celebrated her 100th birthday at a Bournemouth care home.

Catherine Shrimpton MBE welcomed friends and family to her centenary party at Colten Care’s Avon Cliff where she has lived for the past three years.

It was a chance to reflect on a life of service to the Crown which began just as the Second World War broke out.

Born in Ealing, London, in July 1922, Catherine started work at age 16 as a temporary typist in the Colonial Office, the imposing building between Downing Street, King Charles Street, Horse Guards Road and Whitehall, now home to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

Continuing to work there during the war, she took various exams, became a shorthand writer and gained promotion to the role of Senior Personal Secretary.

She went on to provide clerical and secretarial services to two Secretaries of State and Winston Churchill’s Principal Private Secretary, Sir John Martin, later the British High Commissioner for Malta.

Catherine’s memories of her initial years in Downing Street are of long shifts and strict rules around behaviour.

She said: “Typists were not allowed to speak to each other except during tea breaks and at meal times. You had to keep quiet at all other times. I recall doing lots of night duty and shift work in that sort of atmosphere.

“During the war, things were very difficult but when you are young you take things in your stride.

“I recall doing rifle practice and learning how to operate a water hose in case of fire breaking out from a bomb being dropped.”

After receiving an MBE for her work in the New Year’s Honour list of 1960, she continued as a civil servant until her retirement 41 years ago in 1981 when she was 59.

Catherine never married, remaining in her own words a ‘single lady’, looking after her mother and always being someone who friends and contacts came to for help and advice.

“I’ve now been retired for about as long as I worked,” she said. “I retired to Bournemouth as knew it as a lovely spot from holidays when I was younger.”

Asked for her earliest memories, Catherine said:
“Playing in the street in Ealing with neighbouring children. I would probably have been eight years old.”

And on her recipe for a long life, she said:
“Work hard. That never hurt anyone. I have enjoyed a life well lived and a great career in the civil service over many years. Having worked all through the war I now find things easier than they used to be. You adapt yourself to the environment you are in.”

On her special day, Catherine welcomed a small group of well-wishers to her party in the café at Avon Cliff.

They included the surprise appearance of friends over from France and a niece and her husband who came from London.

“We had a lovely day,” said Catherine. “It was excellent and very well organised. I will not forget it in a hurry. Avon Cliff is very nice and the people look after you so well.”