Published: 00:00, 04 September 2016
Upon reaching the grand age of 95, most people’s afternoon routines are unlikely to go far beyond settling down in front of the telly with a comforting cuppa and a good selection of biscuits.
Perhaps you might occasionally swap the daytime game shows for a spot of reading, maybe even your weekly Messenger, but such comforts are not quite so high on William Mundy’s list of priorities.
Mr Mundy is planning a trip to Malawi, where he is heading to deliver lectures and share his experiences of eight decades of beekeeping.
His love of bees began in 1935, once his family moved out of his father Edwin’s shop in Hythe Street, Dartford – where he was born on June 8, 1921 – and bought a place in King Edward Avenue, where he still lives today.
Mr Mundy said: “Beekeeping started with my father, really. His grandfather had some bees, but at the shop when he was building up the business he couldn’t really think about bees.
“Once we got here to the house, we had the garden, and he heard about a couple of hives at Bexleyheath. My father didn’t know very much about bees yet, and when we got them home they were real terrors.” There was certainly a learning curve for the Mundy family and it didn’t take long for some of their bees to escape.
One swarm made it over the road and found its way to the apiaries of the president of the Dartford Beekeepers.
Just 15 at the time, Mr Mundy was a quick learner when it came to beekeeping and it soon became his main hobby.
Not even being drafted into the Army to fight in the Second World War before he had celebrated his 21st birthday disrupted his attachment to bees.
Britain declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbour, which saw servicemen set sail from the Scottish town of Gourock aboard the Esperance Bay.
Mr Mundy was among those who docked in Sierra Leone at Christmas, where he was transferred on to the HMT Dunera headed for what is now the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, then Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies.
It was there that he was captured and held at Glodok Prison, where 20 men were kept in rooms designed for just 10, and contracted serious skin disorders.
Refusing to succumb to his ills, Mr Mundy set up a bee colony and used the honey for medical purposes.
At the end of hostilities, Mr Mundy returned to Dartford, married his late wife Gladys on September 4, 1948, and eventually became chairman of the local branch of the Kent Bee-keepers’ Association – a position he still holds today.
He said: “We run hives for demonstration purposes and get honey to sell. Other beekeepers use the honey themselves, some sell it, some use it to make mead or wax candles.
“We get called upon for lectures at schools, clubs – anyone that wants lectures. We have gradually been building the branch up because we went right down, unfortunately.
“In 1980 we were hit very badly by a mite that came from the Far East, which gets into the hive and gradually destroys the hive. At that time we didn’t know anything about it and it suddenly appeared in Devon.
“It spread very rapidly and we lost all our hives as a result of it. I went up to Kettering, Northamptonshire, and got four hives, but a lot of beekeepers said they’d had enough and gave up. We went from 120 members right down to about 40.
“We lost a lot more due to old age and in about 2002 we only had about four members left in the branch, but now we’ve got up to 23 members.”
Although he is not too involved in the day-to-day running of the association any more, Mr Mundy’s influence remains keenly felt. He is often called upon for help, advice and to give lectures, including the upcoming one in Malawi.
His son, Bryan, lives there and he will be delivering the talk to beekeepers there when he visits in September. His daughter, Cynthia, who lives in Gravesend, has also been supportive of her father’s beekeeping.
Mr Mundy has 11 grandchildren, and he also now has five great-grandchildren.
He said: “Bryan’s eldest, who lives in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, has expressed an interest in bees and has read a book on keeping bees. Once he gets settled down he might take up beekeeping.
“People tend to take up beekeeping once they’re getting towards retirement, rather than at a younger age.”
One of the ways Mr Mundy passes on his experience is through his regular blog on the Dartford Beekeepers website, called Chairman’s Chat.
He certainly keeps busy, and that’s without mentioning his work as secretary of Dartford Baptist Church. His incredible service to the town has seen him honoured with a road in his name. Along with four other soldiers and airmen, Mr Mundy will be recognised in the housing development on the former Mill Pond site, once home to a large Victorian medicine factory.
The “garden village” includes 400 homes, a high street with 29,000sq ft of retail space, a large pond and green spaces.
Mr Mudy said: “I got a message from the council asking if I could meet the leader. He said they were thinking of naming a road after me because I had done so much for the town, especially the beekeeping, and because of my experience as a prisoner of war, that I deserved a road named after me.
“You do grow very attached to your bees. They get to know you and can recognise features. Bees dislike black – people wearing black are more likely to get stung. It probably originates by the fact that they were attacked by black bees in the wild"- Mr. Mundy
“I was taken aback quite a bit by it. I felt very proud. I would like to go and see it and get a photograph of it there.” He will not move there, though, as he is still fond of his home of 80 years. The other servicemen to be honoured are Sgt Trevor Guest Oldfield, C/Sgt James Smith VC, and Lt Oliver Richard Augustin.
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite said at the time it would mark the town’s appreciation of their “service, courage and sacrifices”.
“We will never forget them or any of those who stood for our freedom. We will never take their experiences for granted,” he added.
Despite the excitement generated over being honoured with a road, Mr Mundy is still very much focused on bees.
It is the case even when he is not at the apiaries, as he also still keeps about 300,000 bees in his back garden.
Even with all his experience he still occasionally gets stung, and reckons he has clocked up thousands of them in all his years of beekeeping.
Despite the stings, there remains an excellent benefit to having a huge supply of bees in your garden – endless honey. Indeed, it is no surprise that over the years Mr Mundy has become as fond of honey as Winnie the Pooh.
While he has yet to get his head stuck in a tree reaching for it, he has become something of an expert in creating a multitude of honey-based delicacies. He has his own homemade honey on his porridge every morning, and also brews his own mead.
Indeed, Mr Mundy is an absolute encyclopedia of knowledge and trivia when it comes to bees. If there is anything he doesn’t know about them, it is probably not worth knowing.
Although if there’s one thing more synonymous with Mr Mundy than bees, it’s Dartford. The town has given him so much, and he has given more than his fair share back.