Obituary: One of country’s longest serving Salvation Army members dies, aged 99 

Dorothy Knights pictured with daughter Rosemary Snowdon, alongside a photograph of her as a child

A 'remarkable' woman: Dorothy Knights (right) pictured with daughter Rosemary Snowdon (left), alongside a photograph of her in her Salvation Army uniform as a child - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY / ARCHANT

One of the country’s longest-serving Salvationists, who dedicated more than 95 years to the Salvation Army, has died just weeks before her 100th birthday.

Dorothy Knights, of Thetford, first joined the Sally Army’s Sunday school at the age of four, a move that sparked a lifelong commitment to helping others. 

A few years later, she became a uniformed Salvationist and band member. Her instrument of choice was the baritone horn, the same instrument her father played. 

Committed from day one: A young Dorothy Knights wearing her Salvation Army uniform as a child

Committed from day one: A young Dorothy Knights wearing her Salvation Army uniform as a child - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

After 80 years in the Army, she received a long-service award and she would go on to spend more than 95 years in the organisation in a number of roles including bandswoman, songster, Cradle Roll sergeant, a home league pianist.  

Her children described it as being her “lifelong commitment”.

She was born Dorothy Muteham, on April 28, 1922, in Thetford, and from a young age was affectionately known as Dolly. 

“She never left Thetford, only once when she was called up in the war to do factory work,” daughter Rosemary Snowdon said. “She stayed in the town her whole life.

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“She became something of a celebrity in the town and we couldn’t walk anywhere with her without being stopped at least 20 times by people she knew.” 

Medals belonging to Bertie Muteham have been returned to his family in Thetford after they won them

Reunited at last: Medals belonging to Dorothy Knights' uncle, Bertie Muteham, were returned to the family in Thetford after they won them on Ebay. Pictured is his great-niece, Rosemary Snowdon, with niece, Dorothy Knights - Credit: Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015

Mrs Knights went to school at Norwich Road and left when she was 14 to work in a wool factory and café. 

During the war, she worked at Spirella in Letchworth and the de Havilland factory in Hatfield, where she had to walk for an hour from her lodgings before completing a 13-hour shift in the engineering department and walking home again.

She met her late husband, Russell George Knights, at Sunday school and they married in 1943. Soon after, they had two children within 18 months, Carol and Michael, and with Mr Knights serving in Italy until 1946, Mrs Knights spent the children’s early years raising them on her own. 

Two more children followed; Christopher in 1955 and Rosemary in 1958. 

A day to remember: Dorothy and her late-husband Russell Knights on their wedding day in 1943

A day to remember: Dorothy and her late-husband Russell Knights on their wedding day in 1943 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Speaking about their childhood, Mrs Snowdon, said: “As children, we used to visit Kilverstone, as that is where our father was from. We would visit the church and our relatives' final resting place. 

“Kilverstone remained a special place for my parents as it is where they went for one of their first walks together when they first began courting each other. 

“After getting married, mum became a housewife and would also do some part-time jobs.” 

After Mr Knights’ death in January 1992, Mrs Knights carried his Bomber Command medal with her in her handbag at all times. And it became clear that medals were important family relics to her after she hit the headlines in 2015. 

In uniform: Dorothy Knights died aged 99 - just five weeks away from her 100th birthday

In uniform: Dorothy Knights died aged 99 - just five weeks away from her 100th birthday - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

It came about after her family was able to track down the medals of her ancestor, who had died in the First World War. 

The medals belonging to Mrs Knights' uncle, Bertie Muteham. Of the four Muteham brothers who went off to fight in the conflict, three – Bertie, George, and Joe – never returned.  

While the service medals and memorial plaques for George and Joe remained with the family, those of Bertie's had been lost for decades.  

Pictured is Arthur Muteham, the only one of four Thetford brothers to return from the Second World War

Family tragedy: Pictured is Arthur Muteham, the only one of four Thetford brothers to return from the Second World War - Credit: Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015

Bertie had died at the age of 22, during the Third Battle of Ypres – Passchendaele. He was cut down by machine-gun fire, struck in the side and neck, as he provided covering fire for his comrades. 

Although his service medals and memorial plaque – also known as a 'dead man's penny' – were sent to his grieving family, they were, at some point, lost.   

In a strange twist, both his brothers died after peace had arrived. Both were still in service, however, and are considered 'war dead'. George died in December 1918, Joe four months later.   

The fourth Muteham son, Arthur – Mrs Knights' father – survived the war and was bought back from the front after the brothers' parents died, to care for two younger siblings.   

But almost a century on from Bertie’s death, the medals were returned to his descendants, the Snowdon family, after they were spotted by a local historian for sale in an online auction on eBay.

And in a further twist, another bidder on the medals – who was from Norwich – got in touch to say that he had Bertie's memorial plaque, which he was happy to sell on to them. 

Dorothy Knights (centre) was awarded a TARA for her commitment to helping her birth town of Thetford

Community stalwart: Dorothy Knights (centre) was awarded a TARA for her commitment to helping her birth town of Thetford - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

No stranger to medals herself, in 2018, Mrs Knights was awarded a Thetford Awards Recognising Achievement (TARA) in tribute to the great things she had done in the community. 

Her daughter added: “She always put other people first before herself and she was always looking to help someone. 

“She was a very caring member of the community and very committed to her religion and the Salvation Army. 

“She was a remarkable woman who touched the lives of so many people.” 

A proud moment: Dorothy Knights received a long-service award for 80 years with the Salvation Army

A prooud moment: Dorothy Knights (centre) received a long-service award for 80 years with the Salvation Army. She would go on to spend a total of 95 years as a Salvationist. - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

And while Mrs Knights dedication to the Salvation Army took up most of her free time, she enjoyed reading and spending time with her family, especially when they gathered for a roast dinner. 

Mrs Knights died on March 24 at her home, aged 99, and leaves behind her children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.  

A well-attended funeral took place at the Salvation Army Citadel in Thetford on April 11, where members of Breckland Brass brought their own instruments to perform after they answered a call for help, following the theft of the branch’s musical instruments stolen during a burglary last year

Donations for the Salvation Army or Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Mrs Knights memory can be made online via www.turnerfunerals.co.uk/funeral-tributes.