Eastbourne RAF veteran celebrates centenary in lockdown

The green-fingered centenarian served as a anti-aircraft gunner in the far east before becoming a groundsman in some of Eastbourne’s most loved gardens.

Joe celebrated his birthday with a Sunday lunch on a video call to his family
Joe celebrated his birthday with a Sunday lunch on a video call to his family

Joseph Bainbridge Elliott was born March 16 1921, in Houghton-le-Spring Durham.

Joe enjoyed his school years and received a thorough education, but was unable to accept a place at a grammar school as the uniform was too expensive.

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Upon leaving school at 14, Joe’s first job was at a leather shop in Sunderland. He would cycle seven miles there and back every weekday and earned 5 shillings a week.

In his youth, Joe was a keen cyclist and footballer, he even declined an offer to play for Brentford FC.

At 16, Joe and his family moved to Middlesex, where he got a job in a rubber factory, making hose pipes- due to the demand of rubber during the second world war his enrolment in the RAF was deferred for 18 months.

When Joe did join the RAF he trained as an anti-aircraft gunner, before being posted to India, Sumatra, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Burma to guard RAF air strips, looking for mines and booby traps.

Whilst serving in the RAF, Joe met his wife Florrie at the wedding of a friend in 1943, Florrie was the sister of the bride.

Joe was demobbed from the RAF in 1946 and pair married in the December of that year in Yorkshire.

The happy couple welcomed their daughter Yvonne in 1953 in Ealing where they begun their married life.

A few years later they moved to Yorkshire, Joe first worked at a chemical plant, then became the manager of an asphalt plant which surfaced the A1,

In 1980, Joe and Florrie moved to Pevensey Bay to be close to Yvonne and her husband David who moved their a few years earlier.

Whilst in Eastbourne, Joe worked for the parks and gardens department of Eastbourne Borough Council, mostly in Manor Gardens, Gildredge Park and Motcombe Gardens, until his retirement in 1986.

Yvonne said: “Dad has always been very fond of gardening, wherever he has lived he has always made sure there was very impressive flower gardens, vegetable patches, topiary and lawns and even built ponds and various garden structures.

“His grandchildren, Joe and Megan, loved spending time with him in the garden at Pevensey Bay, where every year he would carve each of their names into a courgette which he would allow to grow into a huge marrow named just for them.”

Joe now resides at a retirement complex in Motcombe and is still as active as ever, walking round the grounds every day.

When he isn’t walking Joe enjoys doing crosswords, sudokus, jigsaw puzzles and painting water colour pictures and personalised birthday cards for family and friends.

Joe celebrated his 100th birthday with a Sunday lunch over video call with his family. He received a book of photos and messages from his family and friends across the world and got to open his card for the Queen.

When asked about his secret to longevity, Joe said: “Leading an ordinary life, working, not smoking and keeping active.”