War hero Cliff celebrates 100th birthday in style

Cliff Shepherd with his 100th birthday card from the Queen
Cliff Shepherd with his 100th birthday card from the Queen
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A war veteran who is the oldest member of the Stamford branch of the Royal British Legion was honoured by them on his 100th birthday on Tuesday.

Cliff Shepherd, who lives at the Hillary Close sheltered housing complex and is a well-known character around the town on his mobility scooter, stood to attention as members of the legion formed a guard of honour outside his home.

He enjoyed a party at Hillary Close on Tuesday with 27 legion members and many friends enjoying a buffet, cake, a champagne toast, entertainment from young guitarist Bob Cliffe and a sing-along to wartime songs.

He also received about 120 birthday cards.

A party for 65 family members and friends had been held at Hillary Close on the previous Saturday with tea, cake and entertainment from Morris dancers and singer Lesley Ann.

He was kept busy talking to party guests on both occasions day and said: “It was a really smashing party.”

Cliff is still in good health and is always keen to give a demonstration of his jiu-jitsu skills. He put his longevity down to never drinking, except for two pints when he was 17, and giving up smoking after serving in the Second World War.

Membership secretary of the Stamford branch of the legion Steve Bonde presented Cliff with a framed certificate of life membership. Members also gave three cheers and sang For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.

Steve told the Mercury afterwards: “He is a shining example to us all. He is dedicated to what we represent and in spite of his age is still an active member, attends all parades and is one of our main supporters for Poppy Day.

“He collects money in the supermarkets and in the streets and he never worries about the weather.”

Cliff, who travels into town every day and has his RAF badge and his name on his scooter, is penning a poem about being 100.

His only child, Thelma Handford, of Uffington, said on Wednesday: “Dad was thrilled with both parties and said it was absolutely fabulous, he couldn’t have had a better time.”

Stamford mayor Brian Sumner was in attendance and, as well as the traditional card from The Queen to mark his centenary, Cliff received a bouquet of flowers from South Kesteven District Council.

Mr Shepherd has led a remarkable life.

Born on July 2, 1913, in the village of Laycock, Yorkshire, he left school at 14 to work as a flour boy - bagging up flour for the Leeds Co-op in Otley. He then moved to the butchery department at the Burley branch in Wharfedale, delivering meat to customers on his bicycle.

While working there he met Edith Hutton and married her in 1937. Daughter Thelma, now 78, was born a year later.

Cliff was called up to serve his country in 1940 and trained as a ground gunner in the RAF regiment.

He served in France and Germany and rose through the ranks to be a Warrant Officer. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the bronze oak leaf medal after his unit shot down five German planes in one day.

Cliff attributes his current deafness to damage to his ears caused by witnessing so much gunfire.

Cliff is full of stories from his time in the Air Force, including a time as a raw recruit where he accidentally shot a sheep while on night patrol.

He thought he would be reprimanded but in fact was praised for being so alert while on watch.

After the war he went back to the Co-op and was made a branch manager; worked as a bus driver in Leeds, becoming an inspector and was then an ambulance driver in Yorkshire, a role that included delivering babies. He also became a Divisional Superintendant in the St John Ambulance Brigade.

On his retirement at 65, he and Edith took up caravanning and travelled all over the country.

The couple followed daughter Thelma to the Stamford area in 1998. Edith sadly died in 2007 having spent nine years in Priory Court Care Home. Cliff visited her every day.

He is also a member of Trinity Methodist Church, Barn Hill.

Cliff has two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren and was very proud on Saturday when eldest great-grandson Alex Clifford Wells turned up for the family party in uniform and wearing his newly-acquired RAF wings.