By Dan Lighten
If William March had been at his usual post one fateful day during the during the Second World War, he would probably not have been around to celebrate is 103rd birthday.
William – known more affectionately as Billy – reached the amazing milestone on August 30. But it might have all been very different.
Billy served with the Home Guard during the war at the naval base on Portland, where he was employed as a fitter repairing torpedoes.
On one particular day when he was not at the base, the workshop was bombed. “It was a lucky escape,” he says.
Billy, of Weatherbury Way, has lived in Dorchester since he was 17 – and is old enough to remember seeing Thomas Hardy wandering about town.
When he was younger he served petrol and worked in the garage attached to his father’s pub, The Exhibition, on the edge of Fordington. After his war service Billy returned to The Exhibition where he continued to work in the motor trade. Billy’s final working years were spent managing the Esso petrol station, and the Shell garage opposite.
Billy has one daughter, Hazel, who was born when he was 18. His family spans five generations and he now has several great great-grandchildren.
So how have things changed over the past century? “Dorchester is much tidier, cleaner, and it is looked after differently, says Billy. “Dorchester was a village when I moved here. My current home was a field where I enjoyed picking mushrooms.
“There was a really bad winter in ’63 and I lived in lodgings near Borough Gardens. I woke up one morning and the glass of water beside my bed was frozen. At this point I knew I had to find a new home. I saved £50 to get a deposit on house. It cost £3,225 altogether. I built the garden and the walls myself, and planted fruit trees. I still live in the same home today.”
So how does it feel to be 103? With a hint of laughter in his voice, Billy says, “My legs feel 103 but I don’t, I want to move but my legs don’t want to. I still enjoy life in my own way. I enjoy nature, the sun, and the company of others. I don’t ever get fed up.”
Billy still ventures out to Tesco with his close friend Frank. He is able to get dressed in the morning and still cooks all his own meals. And what are his fondest memories of Dorchester? “I have always enjoyed Dorchester. Life at the Exhibition was particularly good, although there were a lot of rough characters in Fordington. The police always went round in pairs but I never got any trouble.
“I have strong memories of driving on the country roads during blackouts in the war days. The cars headlights had to be dimmed so I could never really see much. The tracking bar fell off my car once and I drove into a ditch. Another time I hit a cow and milk went all over my car – the cow was OK though. And on another occasion I ran into a group of soldiers and one of their rifles smashed through the windscreen injuring my friend in the passenger seat. I thought I was going to get in serious trouble, however, the officer apologised.”
I was honoured to meet Billy and the half-hour I spent with him was an inspiring experience. It’s great to hear first-hand about the history of our country and it makes me proud to know that people like Billy lived before us. Even at 103 he still has a deep love for life, and it really shows. He is a wise man who still radiates a youthful charm and friendly warmth. He is a tribute to all that is great in this country. I wish him well and hope he continues to enjoy each and every day.
And Billy secret to a long life? Stopping smoking – at the age of 70!