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Ex-RAF servicewoman from Gillingham celebrates 100th birthday

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A woman who drove for senior RAF officials during the Second World War turned 100 today. (March 30)

Molly Bignell, from Gillingham, was joined by her niece Jane, nephew in-law Simon Addy and staff from the Park View Care Home where she lives to mark the special occasion.

Simon Addy, Molly's nephew-in-law and Molly in the park next to Park View Care Home. Picture: Simon Addy
Simon Addy, Molly's nephew-in-law and Molly in the park next to Park View Care Home. Picture: Simon Addy

She was born in 1921 at 143 Canterbury Street in Gillingham to Harry and Lily Duggan.

Molly enjoyed a happy childhood as the fourth of five children – with three sisters and one brother.

Her father ran a newsagents and tobacco shop from the store beneath the family residence.

Molly was educated locally and after leaving school got a job as a pharmacist's assistant in Gillingham, until 1941 when she volunteered for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

After her basic training she was selected as a driver for RAF officers, and on one occasion, drove wing commander Guy Gibson, known for leading the Dam Buster raid in 1943.

Molly and her husband Harold. Picture: Simon Addy
Molly and her husband Harold. Picture: Simon Addy

Molly's nephew in-law, Simon, described an occasion Molly remembers where she was forced to take cover under her staff car after a German V1 flying bomb landed nearby.

He said: "She was always extremely proud of her wartime service with the RAF, but she was also a prolific painter and potter and sold these at country fairs with some success."

In 1945 Molly returned to Canterbury Street and resumed her previous job at the chemist.

In the 1950s she met Harold Bignell, an aircraft fitter, and in 1957 they were married and moved to 1 Gerald Avenue in Gillingham. Sadly, Harold suddenly died in 1995.

Molly continued living in Gerard Avenue until 2018 when she moved to Park View Care Home, in Canterbury Street, Gillingham, only a few hundred yards from where she was born.

Molly in her WAAFs uniform. Picture: Simon Addy (45457843)
Molly in her WAAFs uniform. Picture: Simon Addy (45457843)

Simon said: "She is extremely content to be at Park View, where the staff are amazing, caring and friendly under the expert leadership of manager Debbie Yilmaz and her deputy Leanne.

"The home will celebrate her birthday in style.

Although Molly had no children, she has 10 nephews and nieces: Jane, Anthony, Niall, Jo, Lyn, Sandie, Michael, Mark, David and Adrian, and numerous great nephews and nieces.

"She has always taken great interest in her family," added Simon.

"The secret to a long life, I should like to be able to say, a bottle of whiskey a day and 20 cigarettes but that wouldn't be true!

Molly celebrated her 100th birthday
Molly celebrated her 100th birthday

"She comes from a long lived family – her mother died at 104. She has never smoked and only had alcohol on special occasions."

Deputy manager of the home Leanne Diss said: "Happy 100th birthday Molly - from Debbie, Leanne and the Park View Team.

"Molly is an absolute dream to be around, brings joy to everyone, always happy and smiling.

"She is well loved by all of the team at Park View and it is a pleasure to be hosting such a big day for such a special lady."

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