Posted 25th October 2021

Betty celebrates her 108th birthday

NorseCare’s oldest tenant has celebrated her 108th birthday, surrounded by family and friends at our Barley Court housing with care scheme in Costessey, West Norwich.

Mary Biggs, known as Betty, marked the milestone with a delicious buffet alongside her extended family spanning multiple generations, including her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, as well as several great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

She and the other tenants at the scheme were also entertained on the day by singing some of Betty’s favourite songs, including the Vera Lynn classic – ‘We’ll Meet Again’, as everyone came together to celebrate the occasion.

After receiving her ninth telegram from the Queen, Betty offered the following advice as testament to her longevity: “I don’t stress about anything. Never let anything worry you, it’s not worth it.”

NorseCare’s scheme manager at Barley Court, Krista Plowman, said: “Betty has been with us since the scheme opened in 1992, and we’re delighted to celebrate another special birthday together with her.

“She has led such an interesting life and is also much loved by staff and fellow tenants here at Barley Court.”

Betty was born on 23 October 1913, in Airmyn, in East Yorkshire, and has led a full life filled with memories.

She says that she can remember being moved into a cellar as the Zeppelins flew overhead during the First World War. She also vividly recalls hearing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declare war on Germany on 3 September 1939 – an event that had a big effect on her life.

After meeting her husband, John Henry Biggs, as a 16-year-old, the couple married in 1933 and enjoyed a happy marriage until the start of the war; when her husband joined the Eighth Army and fought in the North African and Italian campaigns.

But not long into the mission, Mr Biggs was captured and shipped to Italy, where he was held as a prisoner of war and was declared missing and believed dead for two years.

Betty said: “My husband was a driver in the desert in Libya and served from 1940 until the end of the war.

“When he was missing, the Red Cross tried to help me trace him. It was a horrible time, but I had just had a child – I had to get on with it.”

Mr Biggs escaped and joined the partisans making their way to safety in France and was awarded a military medal for Bravery in the Field.

And while her husband was off at war, Betty – who had one son, David – was helping evacuees, providing many families with a loving and caring home – including a mother, Florence, and her three-week-old baby, Barbara.

“I took in Florence and Barbara after they were bombed out of London,” Betty said.

“I did it because I had the pram and cot because of David. During the war we were so short of everything, we just helped one another.

“We’ve kept in touch over the years, and I have been to Canada (where the family eventually moved to) to see Barbara.”

After her husband died in 1992, Betty moved to Norfolk to be near her son – who also sadly passed away a few years ago – and settled into Saffron Housing Trust’s Barley Court independent community living plus scheme in Costessey, where NorseCare provides care and support to tenants in 60 flats.

Tracey Harris, Head of Wellbeing & Partnerships at Saffron, said: “On behalf of everyone at Saffron, I would like to wish Betty a very happy birthday. Betty is Saffron’s oldest tenant and it’s wonderful that she has enjoyed living at Barley Court since it opened almost 30 years ago.”

She still loves talking about her family – including her two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren, and is also a much-loved member of our extended family at Barley Court.

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