There’s no one quite like a Spalding ‘special auntie’ called Nan

Nan du Feu-Cooper (front centre) with her four sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at Westerley Christian Care Home, Woodhall Spa, where she passed away "peacefully in her sleep" on Saturday, July 30, 2016.
Nan du Feu-Cooper (front centre) with her four sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at Westerley Christian Care Home, Woodhall Spa, where she passed away "peacefully in her sleep" on Saturday, July 30, 2016.

The life of “remarkable wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, author, local preacher, queen of the compost heap” and immeasurably more ended on Saturday, July 30, 2016.

Fittingly, 101-year-old Nan du Feu-Cooper died peacefully in her sleep at Westerley Christian Care Home, Woodhall Spa, after a life which included living under Nazi German occupation in Jersey.

Nan’s Jersey Occupation Diary, first published in 1994, became a magnet for national news organisations when a chance meeting with Merchant Navy Sub-Lieutenant Jimmy Cooper on the day when the largest of the Channel Islands was liberated in May 1945 became wedlock nearly 60 years later.

Speaking to our sister newspaper, the Spalding Guardian, about her marriage to Jimmy in November 2004, Nan said: “I find it very hard to believe this has happened and it is a miracle.

“Being a Christian, I see God working these things out and I really feel that it was mean to be.

“It was a wonderful thing that we have come together after our first meeting all those years ago and it was a very happy day (getting married to Jimmy at Broad Street Methodist Church, Spalding).

Alfred and Nan du Feu on their wedding day in Southampton in October 1945.

Alfred and Nan du Feu on their wedding day in Southampton in October 1945.

“I was so happy to have all my sons together for the first time in 19 years.”

Nan’s sons, David (71), Chris (67), Peter (65) and John Le Feu (60), along with her nine grandchildren and four great grand-children, are living witnesses to the exploits of an extraordinary woman who was born Nan Le Ruez to parents Henry Prouings Le Ruez and Adele Marie Le Brocq at Westfield, St Mary, Jersey, on July 21, 1915.

David said: “From a family of eight children, Mum was always known to be outgoing and mischievous, the one who was always likely to be in trouble as a child.

“Mum was always curious about things, looking beyond and anticipating exciting things coming up.

Nan was a lovely, gracious lady who always looked beautiful with her long hair and loved her garden, with very green fingers, until she went to Westerley Christian Care Home to spend the last three years of her life

Pastoral worker Pat Gooding, Broad Street Methodist Church, Spalding

“These days, Mum would have been one of the A* GCSE students and already concentrating on her A-levels.

“But even though she was quite talented in a lot of ways, at those times in Jersey when you were leaving school at the age of 15 or 16, there was no opportunity to go onto further education.”

Instead, Nan du Feu concentrated on helping her father to breed pedigree Jersey cattle, one of the first traders and exporters on the island.

In fact, the only departure from life on a farm was when Nan ran a small school at her family’s new home in Homestead, St Peter, Jersey, until she met the man who was to become her first husband.

Jimmy Cooper and Nan de Feu (nee Le Ruez) are married at Broad Street Methodist Church, Spalding, on November 27, 2004.

Jimmy Cooper and Nan de Feu (nee Le Ruez) are married at Broad Street Methodist Church, Spalding, on November 27, 2004.

Nan met Alfred du Feu at a Christmas party in 1937 when he was home in Jersey for Christmas from training for the Methodist ministry in Birmingham.

Alfred and Nan married after Jersey was liberated from Nazi Germany occupation near the end of World War II and they both moved to Hampshire and later on to Cornwall where Alfred was posted as a Methodist minister.

David said: “Dad had ministered quite a lot in the West Country, but then he had an invitation from Spalding where the work appealed to him.

“He moved to Spalding in 1967 and stayed for five or six years before going back to Cornwall until he retired in 1978.

“But Dad and Mum decided to retire in Spalding because he had been very happy there as a minister and it was where Mum remained even after Dad died in 1984.”

Nan’s passion for gardening and her wartime experiences made her a popular speaker around the county, but she also became involved in the Spalding Flower Parade for which one of her roles was to invite Miss Battle of Flowers Jersey to meet Spalding’s Flower Queen.

Rev Alfred and Nan du Feu with their four sons, David, Chris, Peter and John, in Retford, Nottinghamshire, in September 1974.

Rev Alfred and Nan du Feu with their four sons, David, Chris, Peter and John, in Retford, Nottinghamshire, in September 1974.

David said: “Mum was extremely attached to Jersey, even though she didn’t retire there, and it was a very big part of her life.

“But she saw her calling as being a minister’s wife and as she was of retiring age when Dad died, she spent a lot of her time doing things for the British Red Cross out of gratitude for the supplies they brought to Jersey in the last year of the occupation by Nazi Germany.”

Nan and Jimmy were married for nine years until his death, aged 89, in March 2013 and she moved to Woodhall Spa shortly afterwards to live out the rest of her life.

David said: “Out of the 21 members of our family, almost all of them look up to Mum as being the special auntie.”

Nan du Feu-Cooper gave more than 30 years of her life to the work and service of Broad Street Methodist Church, Spalding.

Pastoral worker Pat Gooding said: “Nan was always very good at talking to people and she would always have a chat to anyone new who came to our church.

“She was a lovely, gracious lady who always looked beautiful with her long hair and she loved her garden until she went to Westerley Christian Care Home to spend the last three years of her life.”

On her 100th birthday last July when she was asked for the secret to long life, Nan said: “I really think it’s down to hard work and keeping occupied”, having spent 77 years as a Methodist preacher and twice being crowned Lincolnshire Compost Queen.

Her son David du Feu said: “You can’t complain about a peaceful death at 101 after what was a quite remarkable life where things, apart from the wartime occupation, went rather well.”

War couple wed 59 years on