He played an important role in the Second World War, spotting aircraft in the skies over Burma and reporting them in using Morse code. 

And in his later years William ‘Bill’ Alford, from Fakenham, enjoyed few things more than his fruit and vegetable garden, and simply sitting in a chair, looking out of the window and watching the birds on a bird table.

Tribute has been paid to Mr Alford, who has died aged 102. He was described as a “very loving, kind-hearted and gentle soul”.

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Dereham Times: William ‘Bill’ Alford with his card from the Queen on his 100th birthdayWilliam ‘Bill’ Alford with his card from the Queen on his 100th birthday (Image: Supplied by the family)

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Mr Alford was born and raised in Fakenham. After leaving school his first job was as an errand boy for Hilton’s grocer shop.

He learned to paint and decorate with his father and they worked for Bertie Colman, which he did until he joined the Royal Air Force.

After his training, in 1941, he was sent to South-East Asia via Africa. He served as a wireless operator with a specially-formed unit known as the 19th Wireless Observer Unit.

Mr Alford said in an earlier interview: “We went by train to Durban and straight onto a troop ship to India.

"We called into Kenya colony to refuel and went on church parade at Mombasa Cathedral. 

“We continued on to another transit camp in Bombay, then went by train to Calcutta and stopped midway as it was Christmas Eve. 

“The officers’ wives served us tea, coffee and mince pies. We stood on the platform and sang a carol.”

Mr Alford was based at Ramu Airfield and Chin Hills in Burma on aircraft spotting duties. 

“I was nearly killed in Burma,” he said. “One day when supplies were being dropped there was an almighty bang. 

“One of the supply bags hit and cracked one of the platform supports – a foot closer and it would have hit my wireless set and killed me. 

“While in the Chin Hills, when the airmen dropped food for the mules who carried the ammunition, they wrote the news on long pieces of sacking so we knew a little of what was going on in the outside world.

“When we wanted cigarettes once, we wrote the word ‘fags’ on a white towel and put it on the roof of our hut. The cigarettes, covered by a box of matches, were dropped by parachute.”

He was demobbed in 1946 after five years in the forces, and went back to painting and decorating with his father.

His final job was as a night watchman for 17 years at Cox and Wyman, which later became Fakenham Press.

Mr Alford met his wife, Jean, at his best friend’s wedding in Edinburgh - he was the best man and she was there to sing.

They also had their wedding in Scotland and were married for 73 years until Jean died last year. They had two daughters, Heather and Frances, who Mr Alford was devoted to. 

His family said: “He was very generous and although he didn’t have much, he always shared what he did have with them.” 

Mr Alford enjoyed gardening and had a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes, melons and grape vines.

He also enjoyed playing shove ha’penny with Jean and he loved reading, particularly science fiction and Terry Pratchett novels. 

When he was 97, Mr Alford went to the Royal Air Force Centenary Gala at the Royal Albert Hall.

His family said: “It was a very special moment when the veterans were asked to stand up, which Bill did. 

“They received rapturous applause in appreciation of their contribution to the war. Jean, Heather and Frances were so proud of Bill for making the long coach journey to London as he had recently been diagnosed with shingles.

“Bill will be greatly missed by Heather and Frances but they know he is now with his beloved Jean forever.”