Happy birthday, Alice! 100 up for Norfolk community stalwart

Alice Calaby and her four children

Alice Calaby (centre), pictured in 2019 with her four children. Back row: Maureen and Melvyn. Front row: Malcolm and Marilyn. - Credit: Submitted

Alice Calaby is a Norfolk legend.

Mrs Calaby, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Wednesday, March 17, has given her long life to charitable causes across Nelson’s county: from the St John Ambulance to the Royal British Legion. 

Mrs Calaby, who now lives in a care home near King’s Lynn, said she joined the Red Cross as a young woman because she “was always interested in first aid”.

She was soon volunteering for the St John Ambulance (SJA), a charity she worked with for 33 years. With the SJA, she provided medical assistance across the county. 

In 1980, she was proudly invested into the St John Ambulance Association as a serving sister at a London ceremony.

A press cutting about Mrs Calaby

A press cutting about Mrs Calaby's investiture into the St John Ambulance. - Credit: Submitted

“We had to get up and walk to the front to get our insignia, and then we had to walk right around the back of the building to get back to our seat - it was quite a performance,” Mrs Calaby said.  

For 50 years, she also volunteered with the Royal British Legion (RBL), rising to become county chair of its women’s section. 

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At one time an official RBL standard-bearer, she accepted a cheque from the Queen Mother on behalf of the charity at its annual conference and was later made an honorary life-member.

Mrs Calaby’s late husband, Herbert - a former soldier awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) - chaired the committee at a RBL home in Cromer called Halsey House, and Mrs Calaby assisted him for some years.

“My husband and I used to spend every Christmas Day there. We served lunch to all the residents, and we sang carols in the afternoon,” said Mrs Calaby.

Alice Calaby and the Queen Mother

Mrs Calaby accepts a cheque from the Queen Mother for the Royal British Legion at their annual conference. - Credit: Submitted

Her voluntary work did not stop there. At Litcham, Mrs Calaby played an instrumental role in raising thousands of pounds for an electrocardiography (ECG) machine at the Litcham Health Centre, an effort she spearheaded with the late Gordon Bailey.  

Meanwhile, her talent as an organ player would see her play at chapels and churches across Norfolk, including at RAF West Raynham’s chapel, Tittleshall and North Creake. 

She also had a passion for sport, fostered from an even younger age.

“My dad used to love cricket,” Mrs Calaby explained.

“When we lived at Litcham High House, we used to walk across the fields to Lexham, and watch cricket matches there. I was six years old,” she added.

Alice Calaby and Ian Botham

Mrs Calaby meets her cricket hero, Ian Botham - Credit: Submitted

Her love of cricket has stayed with her, and she served as secretary of Tittleshall Cricket Club for 12 years.

A keen bowls-player too, Mrs Calaby played well into her 90s, and when she could no longer play, helped with the Tittleshall Bowls Club’s raffle events.

A stalwart of the Litcham Entertainment Group, Mrs Calaby also took part in numerous pantomime productions over several years.

“That was great fun,” she mused. “We had lots of adults come and watch us, as well as children.”

Alice Calaby

Mrs Calaby in her youth. - Credit: Submitted

Married in 1940 at the age of 19, Mrs Calaby and her husband had two sons and two daughters.

In a jointly-written message, Mrs Calaby’s children said: “Our mum always told us that hard work never hurt anyone, and we think she has proved that.

“She’s always lived an active life, from working on the land, supporting our dad with the many things he was involved with, her own interests - which were varied - and always being there for us.

“We can remember people knocking on the door because somebody needed first aid treatment. She was always ready to put her St John’s Ambulance knowledge into practice.

“Now, mum has many grandchildren and great grandchildren, some as far away as New Zealand. This doesn’t stop her having contact with them: at almost 100 years old, she speaks to them on her iPad.

Alice Calaby on her 99th birthday

Mrs Calaby, pictured on her 99th birthday on March 17 2020. - Credit: Submitted

“We are so proud of our mum, after losing our dad after 61 years married, she carried on with her life, playing bowls, and helping out wherever she could. It could have been selling raffle tickets, making cakes, various things to raise funds for charities.

“It’s not going to be the 100-year celebration that we would have wanted for mum, with Covid-19, and living in residential care where visiting is restricted to keep everybody safe. However, it’s a wonderful age and we’re just waiting for the time when we can all go in to see her."

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