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We shall never surrender. Christian Lamb, 104, and Patricia Owtram, 100, were WWII heroes – and they’re still having the time of their lives

Blog | By Charlotte Metcalf | Jun 03, 2024

Patricia, 100, with her late sister Jean seated in a 1928 Bugatti.

Christian Lamb, 104, and Patricia Owtram, 100, helped to plan D-Day – and they’re still having the time of their lives

Christian Lamb

A t 104, people often ask me if I have any rules that allow me to live so long. I can’t say that I do, but the thing is to go on enjoying myself and try not to think about how many people I depend on.

Since I first fell over, cracking all sorts of bones, I do exercises taught me by a magic physio, including how to negotiate stairs and allowing me to approach taxis.

My daughter, Felicity, found me a selection of carers, nearly all from South Africa, who make delicious fried sandwiches with melted butter. With careful weeding, they have become friends.

The way my family celebrated my 100th birthday still astonishes me. Felicity invited my descendants, including 15 great- grandchildren, to a lunch party at her house. Two days later, about 20 friends gathered for drinks at my flat. On the day itself, I had a tea party with a magnum of champagne

A delightful Polish flight officer and RAF instructor, with whom I’d consorted at a party the night before, offered to take me back in the ‘old crate’. He meant his aeroplane, and I accepted rapturously. Such a flight might sound ordinary now, but then it was most daring.

At my rescuer’s disposal was a Miles Magister training plane with two seats, one behind the other - in the open air of course - held together by wood and a kind of papier-mâché. With my parachute on my back, we set off, looking out for and overtaking the train I had missed. My pilot made the trip extra-thrilling by dive-bombing cows or anything that took his fancy. I was hoping he might loop-the- loop, but just as well he didn’t or I might have fallen out.

At 103, flying low over the Tamar Estuary was an experience I have long hoped to relive. I don’t care about the risks – I’ve got to die of something - and going down with a plane would suit me very well.

Having recently written a book Beyond the Sea, bailing out and going down in a blaze of glory would attract great publicity!

I can’t simply sit in an armchair and wait for the end. So the prospect of another plane ride filled me with delight. How would I get in one, now that I’m no longer a youngster? Luckily, my able grandson, Jamie, lifted me into my cockpit (and hauled me out again afterwards). I enjoyed a every minute with my magnanimous Miles Magister host/pilot as the strong, fresh wind rushed through my wildest dream.

Top: Christian Lamb, 104, about to take off in a Miles Magister.

It’s totally against my principles to give in. I shall keep going and try to keep the marbles afloat. Aside from the 2024 D-Day anniversary and the chance to relive my landing-craft plotting days, I’d like to be at my daughter’s 80th. The future is full of possibilities. I can’t wait for them to begin.

Christian Lamb is author of Beyond the Sea: A Wren at War

Christian as a Wren in 1942

Patricia Owtram

One doesn’t expect to live for a century. It seems to have happened so fast. When you reach 100, people treat you like a delicate piece of china, which takes a bit of managing but I’m careful not to be considered a Methuselah. If you’ve enjoyed life, you hope it will continue as long as you’re healthy and not lost your hearing too much.

On September 8th 1939, less than a week after the declaration of war, I wrote in my diary, ‘Daddy’s 40th birthday! Why should we grow old – shrewish middle age: shaking, half-dead old age? Why spoil a joyful memory of a proper life, full-blooded youth, by the anticlimactic ending of slow decay?’

How I’d like to tell that 16-year-old that growing old really isn’t so bad. On the cusp of ‘shrewish middle age’, my father had much ahead of him, including his three years as prisoner of war. In my forties, I had a BBC career and organised interviews with the Apollo Mission astronauts. Their courage was so inspiring that, though I’d not have gone to the moon then, I’d probably go now, given the chance. I would want confirmation I’d get back.

The sisters during the war

As a child, I was often ill with TB, which should have precluded my entry to the WRNS. Luckily, my conversational German inducted me into a secret world of interception as a special duties Wren. There were 400 of us in Y Service Brigade, headed by Lt. Freddie Marshall. Today only my friend Pam Harding and I remain.

At a reunion about 20 years ago, Freddie wrote to his ‘Freddie’s Fairies’, ‘Like all good fairies you shall live forever.’ Pam and I seem to be doing so. Our childhood nanny, Beebee, taught us that whatever disaster befell one, one must repeat the mantra,‘It might have been worse! It might have been very much worse!’

I considered calling my memoir by that title.

This attitude and a readiness to embrace opportunity, shared by my late sister Jean, remain strong. I’m not content for adventure to pass me by. Nor were we when serving in the war or hitchhiking through Europe afterwards.

After speaking at a history festival recently, Jean and I spotted a Bugatti (pictured) like one our uncle had. Despite ‘Don’t Touch’ signs, Joan climbed in. ‘I’m sorry, this is a 1928 vintage!’ cried an usher. ‘Well, I’m a 1925 – so we fit well together,’ responded Jean.

How I miss her! She was in the SOE in Egypt and Italy but it took us 40 years to ask each other, ‘By the way, what did you do in the war?’ We signed the Official Secrets Act within a year of one another.

Being asked for a signed book by nice Boy George after being on the Jeremy Vine show and receiving an award from Gyles Brandreth both prove how interesting life can continue to be in triple figures. It seems a little over the top to be around so long, like the giant tortoise on Saint Helena. Still, no-one wants to go when there’s still the promise of spring.

Patricia Owtram was Oldie Secret Agent at the 2023 Oldie Awards. She’s co-author of Codebreaking Sisters and Century Sisters with her late sister Jean