Full steam ahead for 100-year-old Dennis

Dennis Garratt celebrates  with a glass of champagne on the footplate of the steam train that took him for a special 100th birthday  ride
Dennis Garratt celebrates with a glass of champagne on the footplate of the steam train that took him for a special 100th birthday ride
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An extra special centenarian marked his 100th birthday with a private steam train ride on the Great Central Railway.

Dennis Garratt has a lot to celebrate - he still looks after himself in his own home and still whizzes around in his Renault Clio.

The former RAF Squadron Leader reached his 100th milestone on Tuesday with the special day out.

He was treated to a private steam train ride on the Great Central Railway - with champagne and a five-course lunch in the VIP coach Arrowvale Belle for his party of 14 family and friends. He also travelled on the locomotive’s footplate for the outward journey from Loughborough to Quorn.

“Absolutely superb in every way,” was how he described the day.

Dennis, who lives in Shepherd’s Way, Uppingham, is also due to attend a party in his honour at Uppingham Town Hall tonight.

His driving licence has been renewed by the DVLA for three more years until he is 103 and he is regularly seen out in his car shopping around Uppingham and popping over to Oakham.

Since his wife Margaret died five years ago he has learned to cook and runs his home alone with once-a-week help from a cleaner and a gardener.

The invitation as guest of honour of the Great Central Railway had left Dennis “gobsmacked” three years ago when he visited the railway and chatted to managing director Bill Ford.

Dennis’ son Colin, 73, has written numerous books on railways and as a volunteer with the railway had arranged the original outing. Dennis was extremely thankful to Bill and his wife Debbie.

“I was totally surprised by their generous offer,” he said.

Well-known around Uppingham, he met members of Uppingham Youth Group, who have arranged the community party, when they held a Christmas party for pensioners last year. He attends lunch clubs, belongs to Uppingham Indoor Bowls Club and calls in at The Falcon Hotel every Friday morning for coffee and a chat; he has a bit of a reputation as a ladies man and admits he enjoys flirting.

Born in Leicester to a working class family, his father was a painter and decorator and he was one of four brothers, Dennis left school at 14 to work for clothing manufacturers Hart and Levy, which had 11 factories, 50 shops and a workforce of 2,500. He began by sweeping floors and ended up on the board of directors.

“I had a wonderful childhood but was a bit of a devil in my teens and was constantly fearing the sack. You knew when you got your weekly wage packet that if it was thicker than normal then that was it! My world collapsed when they sold the company - I was 54.”

He married Margaret in 1937. Dennis served in the Home Guard and RAF Volunteer Reserve before being called up in 1940 and working his way up the RAF ranks from Aircraftman 2nd class to Squadron Leader, seeing active service in North Africa, the Middle East and Italy and later in sub-Saharan African countries.

Mentioned in despatches, he was awarded the famous oak leaf pin and a commendation from King George VI.

“I’m very proud of my RAF career,” he said.

After working for Hart and Levy for 37 years, he took semi-retirement in 1960 when the company was bought out.

“It was a bleak time but Margaret and I backed each other and we pulled through.”

With no job and very little money, the couple moved to Overstrand in Norfolk where Margaret had fallen in love with a clifftop cottage. She was determined to buy it and Dennis gave in. A stroke of luck led to him finding work via his new bank manager transforming two neglected medium-sized department stores in Cromer and Aylsham into successful businesses.

In 1987 he retired and the couple moved to Uppingham to be closer to son Colin and his family.

Margaret suffered Alzheimer’s and Dennis cared for her at home.

They have five grandchildren - James, Marie-Louise, Tamerlane and twin boys Antaeus and Dominion - named after steam engines because of their father’s lifelong passion.

Dennis has no idea why he has lived so long and was full of praise for Dr Jennie Jones of Uppingham Surgery who has looked after him for 25 years. He has had 11 operations, four of them serious.

“You look after yourself. I always used to keep physically fit and have played most sports.

“I watch my weight and naturally don’t eat much fat, sugar or salt. But in our 30s and 40s Margaret and I had a great social life, drinking, smoking, visiting pubs, entertaining, ballroom dancing - it was the most wonderful time of our lives.”

Dennis can cook, although friends and daughter-in-law Margaret also provide meals.

“I am a gregarious person but spent a year alone at home after Margaret died. But then I consulted Age Concern and they gave me options for things I could do. Most days people come here or I go out.”

Dennis still enjoys a tipple - but these days it’s just half a glass of wine every lunchtime. He made an exception for Tuesday’s champagne!