When Kathleen Bidewell was born, the Battle of Passchendaele was still raging.

And this month, she celebrated her 106th birthday, along with family and staff at her care home.

She marked the occasion in her room at Quebec Hall Christian Retirement Home, in Dereham.

Staff members were joined by her niece and nephew, who took a celebration cake with them to celebrate the day.

“I am looked after so well here – I have got nothing to complain about,” she said.

Among the many cards and goodwill messages was one from King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

Miss Bidewell was born on September 8, 1917, two months before the end of the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the most notorious campaigns of the First World War.

She was brought up in the Cambridge and Onley Street area of Norwich, where she lived the majority of her life – she spent four years in London and Watton for nursing service.

She moved to Quebec Hall 10 years ago, where she is celebrated as the oldest person ever to reside there since it opened in 1960.

Before and after the war she was employed as a clerk with the Norwich Corporation Electricity Department. After her mother’s death in 1969, she kept the house for her father for 13 years.

Raised in a Christian home, she summed up her long life in one sentence: “God has been so good to me.”

Her life has been marked by a firm faith, described as unwavering since childhood.

Throughout her long life, Miss Bidewell has been known as an avid writer of letters and poetry – for which she discovered an aptitude at school.

She hasn’t put down the pen either, as she has even had two anthologies of poems published during her time at Quebec Hall, some focused on the experiences from her long life.

One was so popular it sold out and had to be reprinted, and the funds raised meant a new lift at the premises could be installed.


ALF 535

(By Kathleen Bidewell)

Now you’ve all heard of Austin called Alfie

With crash gearbox and starter that won’t,

Whose driver (that’s me) sounds half crazy

And does things that good drivers don’t.

Well, you may be surprised when I tell you,

That me and that old-fashioned car

Set out, during holiday season,

For a place they call Leamington Spa.

We had filled up with oil, air and water –

Oh, aye, and some petrol, cheap grade;

We were armed with a jack, pump and wheel-brace

And an AA badge boldly displayed.

Me brother had said, “Don’t flog engine!”

So we steadily jogged on our way

And we sang, as we went, me and Alfie,

Though it didn’t look much of a day.

At Thetford, Newmarket and Cambridge

We stopped to send postcards to mum

Giving times of respective arrivals

And let her know how far we’d come.

We passed arrows and lines and huge warnings

That we’d never encountered before,

But if my poor old heart beat more quickly,

Alfie battled on, looking for more.

I’ll admit I felt sort of nervous

When I read, “Great North Road lies ahead.”

But Alf, never faltering, showed me

There was really no cause for my dread.

I had lunch with relations at Bedford,

So that Alf could have bit of a rest.

Then, well fed and cheered and encouraged

We set off again with new zest.

The road, now, was quite unfamiliar

And the journey seemed unduly long;

But we studied the map, boards and signposts

And we didn’t go very far wrong.

So we got there, unscratched and undented

To the place they call Leamington Spa,

Where friends gave us such a warm welcome –

Me and that brave little car.