100th Birthday: Robert Harmer

Robert Harmer rode in a vintage Rolls-Royce on the day of his birthday last month
Robert Harmer rode in a vintage Rolls-Royce on the day of his birthday last month
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Robert Harmer has seen and done lots of different things throughout his long life – and now he can add becoming a centenarian to his long list of achievements.

Robert, who lives in Havant but was originally born in Southsea in 1916, celebrated his 100th birthday last month with a get-together at The Millstream Hotel in Bosham.

The great-grandfather was joined by many of his family members, including his two children, David, 73, and Gregory, 68, who travelled with Robert in a vintage Rolls-Royce owned by a family friend.

Robert has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all of whom were present on the day.

‘I had a marvelous time, it was wonderful to see everybody,’ says Robert. ‘We don’t often all meet, once or twice a year maybe. That’s how life becomes.’

Born over his parents’ restaurant in Albert Road, Robert recalls the time he was often in the company of actors from the Kings Theatre.

‘Every night the restaurant was full of the actors,’ says Robert.

‘The uproar was amusing to me because I was only four or five. I used to listen to their conversations.’

After deciding he wanted some more excitement and travel in his life, Robert then left home at the early age of 15 to join the Royal Artillery.

And excitement he got as, while stationed at Shoeburyness at Southend, Robert met Dorothy, who he married in 1939.

‘I had a bungalow in the army just outside the barrack wall,’ says Robert. ‘One day I went out and there was a kitten with a squashed tail.

‘I bandaged it up and then of course it wouldn’t leave me alone, so I went to the milk shop to get it something to drink.

‘There behind the counter was the manageress, Dorothy. We took a liking to each other and it progressed from there.’

The couple lived together through the worst years of the blitz in London, before moving to Hayling Island with David.

Robert was due to be posted to a combat zone.

‘I wanted somewhere safe for Dorothy and David,’ says Robert.

‘Mind you, they’d only been there a week and Dorothy rang me up and said “a bomb has landed on the bungalow” and it had, right in the bathroom!’

While Robert was away in Burma, Dorothy ran the shop the couple had bought together as a greengrocers on North Street in Havant, before turning it into an antique shop.

On his return, the couple built up their furniture business and ended up with two shops, before retiring in 1986.

‘Dorothy and I used to love poring over antiques together,’ says Robert. ‘Sadly she passed away in 2005, when she was in her 80s.

‘It’s a terrible thing, but we had a joyous marriage. I’ve been very lucky.’

Robert, who loves gardening and reads the Financial Times every day, has many interesting stories to tell from his travels around the globe, but recalls one in particular: ‘I once had a poisonous snake around my leg while I was in Burma.

‘I was sitting down and felt a rustling around my ankle. So I looked down and there was a venomous snake going up my leg. One bite and you’re dead, so I couldn’t move.

‘Luckily the other chaps in the tent noticed what was happening and came towards me.

‘The snake got alarmed when it heard them coming and went under the edge of the tent. That was a big bit of luck.’

Speaking of reaching the age of 100, Robert chuckles: ‘I’m astonished. I feel the same as I did when I reached 90.

‘Fifteen years in the forces kept me fit. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke.’

Robert’s son David says his father always looks foward to the future and doesn’t dwell on the past.

‘He has an amazingly positive attitude to life which doesn’t diminish with age.’