'True lady' Alice dies, aged 107

THE last surviving woman to serve in the First World War, who lived on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, has died at the age of 107.Alice Baker died peacefully in her sleep last Monday at her Ditchingham care home, her relatives announced at the weekend.

THE last surviving woman to serve in the First World War, who lived on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, has died at the age of 107.

Alice Baker died peacefully in her sleep last Monday at her Ditchingham care home, her relatives announced at the weekend.

She was just one of 11 survivors of the Great War still alive and the only woman, having served with the Royal Flying Corps in Dover repairing aircraft.

Yesterday her niece Marcelle Carter, who lives in Gorleston, paid tribute to the woman she described as “a lady, pure and simply”.


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“She kept us all in order,” said the 79-year-old. “She was a law unto herself and we all had to watch our Ps and Qs around her.

“She was an old-fashioned sort of lady, one who never uttered a swearword in her life – a lady, pure and simply.

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“My aunt was an avid churchgoer when she was well enough to make it and was involved in every part of village life during the many years she spent in Hempnall.”

Mrs Carter said her aunt rarely talked about her involvement in the war and probably never even knew she was the last surviving woman.

She served as a 'doper' during the war, gluing the wooden wings on to the fuselages of the primitive planes – but as a pretty 18-year-old, “probably spent more time having fun with the boys”.

“She kept quiet about her time in the Royal Flying Corps, but we could all tell she was proud of being one of the last – and very proud of being as old as she was,” said Mrs Carter.

After the war Alice became a nurse at St Andrew's Hospital in Thorpe, married police officer Stanley and gave birth to Leslie – who went on to become a pilot in the Second World War.

A regular intake of brandy – she was still on two tumblers a day until three days before her death – and an obsession with Chelsea Football Club became two of her greatest passions, though she also became involved in every society and group going in Hempnall, near Wymondham, after retirement.

And as she became an elder stateswoman she grew to be something of a mascot for Norfolk's airforce bases.

In April 1993, aged 94, she was invited to stand next to the Queen as she cut the cake at RAF Marham – the base had been chosen to host the airforce's 75th birthday celebrations.

Perhaps an even greater honour were two surprise flypasts by RAF Coltishall squadrons, one to mark her 100th birthday and one last July, to mark her 107th.

“She adored those,” said Mrs Carter. “But true to her character, she mostly complained that they were too loud!

“But she was a lovely lady, very easy to talk to and lots of fun to be around. She was the one who sat me down and told me the facts of life. In many respects I wish she had been my mother, rather than just my aunt.”

Alice survived a serious attack of skin cancer 20 years ago and went on to live by herself in Hempnall until she was 104, before moving into All Hallow's Hospital, Ditchingham, where she soon became a favourite.

There are now just 10 survivors from the First World War with just four seeing active service, including 109-year-old Henry Allingham, Britain's oldest man.

Last month former Conservative leader Iain Duncan-Smith started a campaign to secure a state funeral for the last survivor with a motion in Parliament backed so far by about 100 MPs.

But for Alice Baker, a send-off in her native Norfolk will be more than sufficient.

Her family, including 82-year-old son Leslie, grandsons Ian and Christopher and great-grandchildren Laura and Sam will lead a large congregation of well-wishers.

Her funeral takes place at 2pm on Thursday at Hempnall Parish Church, no flowers, donations to All Hallow's Hospital.

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