Collier Row Connie is 100

WITH 12 siblings, four children, 11 grandchildren and an incredible 28 great-grandchildren Connie Willsmer is used to living life on a grand scale. But Friday (January 28) is a milestone number by �anybody’s standards, as Connie has reached the grand old age of 100.

Born and bred in Ilford, Connie and first husband Bert Knight moved their family to Havering with her family during the Second World War, where it was deemed safer. They eventually settled in Robin Close, Romford.

She became a well-known face in Collier Row, serving generations of �shoppers in the local Co-op for many years.

Now Connie lives in Freshfields Residential Home, in Corbets Tey Road, Upminster.

One of her earliest memories is of walking from school with her sister when a huge dark shape, emitting a strange dull drone passed overhead, cast an eerie shadow over the girls. It was their first sighting of a First World War German Zeppelin airship.

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Taking refuge in Valentine’s Park, in Ilford, the girls came across another strange sight – and one that was to prove fateful.

“There in the middle of a field was a �moving human scarecrow,” son Bryn explained, “it was a boy, with a huge rattle making a terrific row to scare and chase the birds away.

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“Of course my mum and her sister abused the boy and ran off laughing. Little did mum know this boy would soon grow and serve as a fighting soldier and to return home to marry her!”

In the war, Connie and her children were evacuated to Attleborough in Norfolk, where she was befriended by Lady Gaymer – the daughter of a local cider-producing family.

Connie added: “A curiosity of my placement in the big house in Attleborough was that I shared it with a family of evacuated circus people who practiced their art in the garden. They gave me and the children regular free shows!”

Bert, Connie’s husband of 42 years, died suddenly in 1973. She met and was �married to Len Willsmer for 18 years before his death in 1994.

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