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100-year-old who rode elephants in India celebrates milestone birthday

Wendene overlooking a lake at a beauty spot in Nigeria. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

Wendene overlooking a lake at a beauty spot in Nigeria. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

Kingsley Healthcare

While growing up in India, Wendene Fluellen would ride elephants in the jungle at dawn and watch wildlife that included leopards, buffalos and exotic birds.

Wendene and her daughter Sarah at Brooke House. Photo: Kingsley HealthcareWendene and her daughter Sarah at Brooke House. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

And her sense of adventure continued into adulthood when she set off to Nigeria to work as a physiotherapist and wed her husband Roy after a four-week romance that began when she sat next to him on the ship to Lagos.

The great-grandmother’s lifetime of extraordinary memories, all recorded in a journal she completed prior to moving to Brooke House care home, in Brooke, near Norwich in 2015, will be celebrated at her 100th birthday party tomorrow (Friday).

She will be joined by staff, residents and family, including her daughter Sarah who lives nearby, and decorations will include a large cut-out elephants.

Mrs Fluellen, born in Surrey, was only four when her father Ernest Dawson joined the Indian Forest Engineering Service and was posted to Abbatobad on India’s north-west frontier.

A portrait of Wendene in her 20s. Photo: Kingsley HealthcareA portrait of Wendene in her 20s. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

She recalls that the family lived in a rest house in the jungle where her father was building a bridge to access the teak forest.

This was a remote post and everything came in by foot.

Mrs Fluellen and her sister Molly had pets that included a mongoose and a green monkey.

Her father was later posted to south India and it was in her teenage years that Mrs Fluellen enjoyed getting up at 4am to watch working elephants feed on large balls of rice.

Wedding photo at the Colonial Church in Lagos. Photo: Kingsley HealthcareWedding photo at the Colonial Church in Lagos. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

Then, mounted on straw filled canvas palliasses, she would go off on the elephants into the jungle to see it come to life.

She describes in her journal that this was an “unforgettable experience” as they got to see bison, buffalo, many varieties of deer and occasional leopard, as well as many exotic birds, monkeys and wild elephants.

She recalls helping to bathe the elephants in the rivers using halves of coconut shell.

Mrs Fluellen returned to England in 1938 and trained as a physiotherapist, working at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, in Guildford, until the end of the Second World War.

In Nigeria with her daughter Sarah in the basket on the canoe. Photo: Kingsley HealthcareIn Nigeria with her daughter Sarah in the basket on the canoe. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

It was in 1945 that she joined the Nigerian Medical Service and set sail for Africa, meeting her future husband Roy who already had a job in the Colonial Service.

Mrs Fluellen was later posted to the Igbobi orthopaedic hospital a few miles out of Lagos and with the help of another physiotherapist set up a physiotherapy department and small school to train African students.

Mr Fluellen joined his wife in Lagos and they lived next to Lagos yacht club, which they joined.

The family were later posted to Idiroko, a bush station about 100 miles from Lagos, where they lived in a rest house, but spent most of their time on a boat house.

Wendene is on the second elephant with a hat on. Photo: Kingsley HealthcareWendene is on the second elephant with a hat on. Photo: Kingsley Healthcare

The couple’s first daughter Sarah and their cat would travel in a high sided wicker basket placed in the centre of a canoe.

After a brief return to England when Mrs Fluellen gave birth to their second daughter, Briony, they returned to Nigeria until 1961, a year after its independence.

The family settled in Poole, Dorset on their return to England with Mr and Mrs Fluellen both retraining as teachers. They enjoyed sailing and golf at Parkstone Golf Club where they both became captains.

Mrs Fluellen’s five grandchildren have happy memories of their childhood days with her, learning to ride their bikes, making bonfires, making dens in the Rhododendrons and fun in the snow or at the beach.

Her ninth great-grandchild was born in the week before her 100th birthday.

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