Fenland man feels lucky after turning 100
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Like most people who reach the landmark Sidney Huggins, better known as Jim, feels lucky to have made it to his 100th birthday.
The great-grandfather of nine has lived through two world wars, has seen 24 prime ministers and has witnessed the reigns of four monarchs.
But it could have been a very different story.
Back in July 1940 the newly-married Mr Huggins was conscripted into the army at Southampton, where he worked in the print industry, to fight in the second world war.
Starting out as an infantryman in the Hampshire Regiment's Second Battalion Mr Huggins's technical talent was soon spotted.
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He was trained in the use of the newly-built Churchill tanks and was one of the first soldiers to use one.
Mr Huggins, who now lives on Pendula Road, Walsoken, continued to rise through the ranks whilst training other soldiers and eventually became a tank commander.
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But while carrying out a training exercise in preparation for D-Day disaster struck.
The detonation of a dummy mine led to an explosion in which Mr Huggins sustained serious facial injuries.
After his recovery he was unable to carry out frontline duties, but he refused to leave service until he 'had seen it through' and continued to train other soldiers.
His injury proved to be a lucky escape as many of those in his regiment were killed.
'I'm really lucky, a very lucky fellow,' said Mr Huggins.
'Of the battalion I would have been in about 80 of 100 were killed, and I would have been at the front with them.'
Following the war Mr Huggins returned to the Fens where his wife Hilda's family owned a farm.
'I met my wife before I joined the army.
'She was a farmer's daughter and lived on Holy Cross Road in Emneth and so that's where I went to stay when I left the army,' he said.
'We were married on February 2, 1940, and we kept it together ever since.'
In 1942 their first child, Judith, was born.
Following the advice of his father-in-law, Mr Huggins became a farmer and rented a small piece of land near Downham Market.
After taking to agriculture 'like a duck to water' Mr Huggins went on to move his young family, which by then had the additions of Pete, Timothy and Simon, to Broad End Road in Walsoken where he owned an orchard.
'I made a real go of it,' he said. 'The man who owned it before me was producing 80 tonnes of apples a year but I managed to produce 250 tonnes.'
Although Mr Huggins enjoyed his best years in agriculture he says he is happy he is no longer in the business.
'I wouldn't want to be in farming now it is terrible,' he said. 'There is no fun in it any more.
'You used to grow everything, now an entire farm will be just one crop which will be put in and gathered by a machine. It's not how it used to be.'
He continued to farm at the house, known as Yosemite, until 1980, when he retired, before moving to his current home in 1988 where he lived with his wife until her death in 2010.
Mr Huggins was born on July 31st 1913 and lived in Bevis Lane in Wisbech's North Brink with his family.
He spent all of his childhood in the Fenland area and remembers the bridges being built in Wisbech as well as the building of Queen's High School.
Despite his advancing years he can recollect many memories of the town and his youth such as watching the town's steam powered fire engine leaving the station from his classroom window as well as taking part in a swimming race to Sutton Bridge and back.
Mr Huggins said: 'I remember the end of World War I faintly.
'Along the North End there was a big warehouse where one of the London and Scotland Regiments used to be based.
'My mum used to wash the Sergeant Major's kilt.
'I used to go along and watch them marching.
'When I was younger I had a job as an errand boy for a printing works in Bridge Street.
'It used to be on the corner as I went to school and they would get me to deliver magazines to people and so on.
'It always used to make me late for school and when I got there the headmaster used to be waiting at the school gates with a stick.'