11th oldest in country! What’s it all about, Alf?
PUBLISHED: 11:15 01 March 2013 | UPDATED: 11:18 01 March 2013
Archant © 2013
When Alf Borrett was taken ill during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, his parents feared the worst.
Alf, then aged 12, was given little chance of beating the deadly illness that killed millions of people worldwide.
But beat it he did – and last weekend he toasted his 107th birthday as the oldest man living in East Anglia.
Much has changed since Alf arrived into the world in Kirkley on February 23, 1906.
As well as Spanish flu, he has lived through two world wars and overcome two other life-threatening illnesses – a bout of malaria and the C.diff infection, which he contracted just after his 100th birthday.
On Saturday, Alf was surrounded by his family and friends at his home in Pakefield as he celebrated turning 107 – an age which, it is believed, makes him the 11th oldest man living in Britain.
The oldest of six children – five boys and a girl – Alf began his education in September 1910 at the The Loke School, which no longer exists, then switched to St Margaret’s School at the age of five.
Recalling the start of the first world war in 1914, he remembers playing in the road near his house one day when a Zeppelin was shot down by the town’s air defences and crashed to the ground in flames.
In 1920, Alf was selected as the only pupil from St Margaret’s to win a scholarship to go to the Central School.
IT HAPPENED IN 1906
In the year Alf Borrett was born, suffragettes disrupted the state opening of parliament, King Edward VII was on the throne, and the warship HMS Dreadnought was commissioned.
Other notable events that year included:
The launch of the world’s largest ship, RMS Lusitania, in Glasgow
The births of Labour politician Hugh Gaitskell and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis
The publication of E Nesbit’s book, The Railway Children
The Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines opened on the London Underground
The Liberal Party led by Henry Campbell-Bannerman won the General Election
3,000 people died after an earthquake in America
Mr Borrett is the 11th oldest man still living in Britain, but there are still nine ladies older than him who live in East Anglia – including three women in Norfolk.
After working as a telegram boy at the Blue Anchor pub in Lowestoft, he got a job at a hotel in Essex and then, aged 19, he joined the Army – the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire regiment.
By November that year, Pte Borrett had been posted to Gibraltar and he went on to serve in Malta, Shanghai in China, Hong Kong, India – where he was “very ill” after contracting malaria – and in Africa.
Reflecting on his Army service, Alf said: “I was a crack shot with a rifle – the best shot in the regiment – and was known as tin eye (for his excellent eyesight). I really enjoyed myself in the Army and do wish I could go back.”
During the second world war, he worked for Richards Shipbuilders in Lowestoft and, as he was in a reserved occupation, he was unable to rejoin his old battalion. But, keen to “do his bit,” he joined Lowestoft’s 1st Suffolk Battalion Home Guard and held the rank of Lieutenant.
After the war ended, Alf went on to work as a pipe fitter, welder and maintenance engineer at Morton’s Canning Factory, which became Beecham Foods, until he retired in 1973.
He married Elsie Hood in 1934 and they were together until she died in 2002, a few days before their 68th anniversary. Their only child, Ann, was born in September 1935 and she now lives with her father in Pakefield.
She said: “He has whisky and ginger in the evenings, a couple of little classic cigars and is keeping really well for his age. We’ve been told he is the 11th oldest man still living in the country.”
She said more than 30 friends and family celebrated at a “really happy party” on Saturday.
She added: “Dad had a really lovely time and we had a whole day of celebration.”
Alf, who has two grandchildren and three great grandchildren, added: “We welcomed them all here and now we look forward to the next time.”
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