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Costessey woman who helped evacuees celebrates 105th birthday

Betty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday at Barley Court, Norwich.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Betty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday at Barley Court, Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

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A woman from Costessey who spent the Second World War helping evacuees has marked her 105th birthday.

Betty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday with some of the staff from Barley Court, Norwich.
Picture: Nick ButcherBetty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday with some of the staff from Barley Court, Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

Mary Biggs, better known as Betty, who lives at Barley Court housing with care scheme, marked the milestone occasion on Tuesday.

She was surrounded by her extended family and other tenants at the scheme as the big day arrived.

Mrs Biggs was born in Airmyn in East Yorkshire in 1913, and says she can remember being moved into a cellar as the Zeppelins flew overhead.

And she has vivid memories of hearing prime minister Neville Chamberlain declare war on Germany on September 3, 1939.

Betty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday at Barley Court, Norwich with her daughter-in-Law Ann Biggs and family member Kenny Young.
Picture: Nick ButcherBetty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday at Barley Court, Norwich with her daughter-in-Law Ann Biggs and family member Kenny Young. Picture: Nick Butcher

After meeting her husband John Biggs as a 16-year-old, the couple married in 1933 and enjoyed a happy marriage until the start of the war, when her husband joined the Eighth Army and fought in the North African and Italian campaigns.

But not long into the mission Mr Biggs was captured and shipped to Italy where he was held as a prisoner of war, and was declared missing and believed dead for two years.

Mrs Biggs said: “My husband was a driver in the desert in Libya. He served from 1940 until the end of the war.

“When he was missing the Red Cross tried to help me trace him. It was a horrible time but I had just had a child – I had to get on with it.”

Betty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday at Barley Court, Norwich.
Picture: Nick ButcherBetty Biggs celebrates her 105th birthday at Barley Court, Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

But, remarkably, Mr Biggs escaped and made his way 
safely to France, and was later awarded the Military Medal for his actions.

While he was fighting in the war, Mrs Biggs – who has a son called David – helped evacuees and provided a home for a mother, Florence, and her three-week-old baby Barbara.

“I took in a mother and baby bombed out of London,” she said. “We’ve kept in touch and I have been to Canada to see Barbara. I did it because I had the pram and cot because of David.

“During the war we were so short of everything, we just helped one another.”

After her husband died in 1992, Mrs Biggs moved to Norfolk to be near her son and moved into Saffron Housing’s Barley Court.

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