Florence Green: Veteran of the First World War


Florence Green, who has died aged 110, was the last known surviving veteran of the First World War, serving with the Women's Royal Air Force at airbases in Norfolk.

Although she saw no action, Green was one of the 25,000-strong army of women who volunteered for the WRAF. Founded in April 1918, shortly before the end of the war, the WRAF was intended to provide women mechanics in order to free men for active service, due to the horrific casualty rates and the severe personnel shortages at military establishments.

However, the organisation was overwhelmed by the response, with women volunteering for positions as drivers, cooks, office clerks and factory workers as well as filling other wartime needs. Initially, they were based in Britain, but later about 500 women served in France and Germany.

Aged 17, Green enlisted in September 1918, two months before the Armistice, and worked briefly at RAF Narborough, which had been opened in May 1915 to defend against Zeppelin raids, and then at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As a stewardess in the officers' mess, she recollected the officers as "perfect gentlemen", adding, "It was very pleasant and they were lovely. Not a bit of bother. They kept us on our toes and there was no slacking."

Green admitted meeting "dozens of pilots" with whom she went on dates. "I had the opportunity to go up in one of the planes [a Sopwith Camel] but I was scared of flying." Serving three meals a day, she worked "every hour God sent", though she did make a number of good friends. "In many ways, I had the time of my life," she recalled.

When the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918, Green witnessed what was undoubtedly the most benign bombing of the war, with fliers from Marham celebrating by attacking RAF Narborough with bags of flour, whereupon the Narborough fliers retaliated by bombing with bags of soot. Green left the service the following July and the WRAF was disbanded in April 1920.

Retired Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, Director-General of the RAF Museum, said it was fitting that the last survivor of the first global war was someone who had served on the home front. "In a way, that the last veteran should be a lady and someone who served on the home front is something that reminds me that warfare is not confined to the trenches," Dye said. "It reminds us of the Great War, and all warfare since then has been something that involved everyone. It's a collective experience... warfare touches all of our lives."

Florence Beatrice Patterson was born in London in 1901 and grew up in Edmonton before moving to King's Lynn in Norfolk, where she would remain. After the war she met Walter, an army veteran who served in both world wars, and was a railway porter. They married in 1920 and had three children. Green worked for much of her life at a hotel in King's Lynn and in her spare time was heavily involved with the Royal British Legion, knitting clothes and toys for children. She crocheted blankets for children at the local Queen Elizabeth Hospital until her nineties.

Green's wartime experience was unheralded until 2009, when the Lynn News and Advertiser noted her 108th birthday. The article alerted Andrew Holmes, a British researcher for the Gerontology Research Group, a US-based organisation that keeps statistics on centenarians. He traced her service records using the National Archives, resulting in Green's recognition as a veteran the following year.

"It's a common misconception that a veteran must be someone who saw action or fighting in the trenches," he said. "A veteran is someone who served in one of the armed forces, regardless of their role – a medic, an ambulance driver or a waitress – they all count."

Last May the only living male First World War combat veteran, the British-born sailor Claude Choules, died in Australia at 110, while Britain's last survivor from the trenches, Harry Patch, known as "The Last Tommy," died in July 2009 at the age of 111. Green is survived by her three children, (May, 90, Bob, 85 and June, 76), four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Florence Beatrice Patterson, First World War veteran: born London 19 February 1901; married 1920 Walter Green (died 1970; two daughters, one son); died King's Lynn 5 February 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas