“THE first 100 years are the worst,” Steyning centenarian Norman Checkley was told with a smile on his birthday on Thursday.
Colonel Richard Putnam, deputy lieutenant of West Sussex, told Mr Checkley his own father had lived to be 108 and had always quipped the first 100 years were the worst.
Col Putnam handed Mr Checkley a card from the Queen in front of friends and family gathered for his party, organised by neighbours Ada and Reg Mitchell at Steyning Methodist Church hall.
He then gave a speech, in which he explained his role and read the Queen’s card.
“It is a very great privilege to be here today,” he said.
Mr Checkley, who moved back to Steyning just after the Second World War, said: “Well, I made it!”
He explained he had had a long association with the church, in High Street.
“We started the dinners here 20 years ago,” he said. “We had the idea one day that we would do it for the elderly people. My wife, Kay, did all the cooking.”
He said the monthly get-togethers were still popular, with about 45 people going along regularly.
Mrs Checkley, who died about four years ago aged in her 80s, also did a lot in the former Steyning amateur dramatics group, Castle Players, he said.
Ronnie Hitchings, 83, who was among guests at the party, said he had formed Castle Players in 1981 but it gradually fell apart about 10 years later because most of the people moved on.
“Norman did all the scenery and the props, and his son, John, did a lot of the electrical work,” said Mr Hitchings.
“His wife, Kay, she was the props lady and took part in the plays.”
Born in Steyning, John, 58, was their only child. He said his parents had met in Lancing, where his father had a radio and television shop for a while.
Mr Checkley was born in Northchapel on March 21, 1913. He was educated privately and, on leaving school, moved with his parents to Southdown Terrace in Steyning.
From there, he travelled into Hove every day to work for a radio and equipment wholesale factory.
After a few years, he joined the RAF and worked in communications on the Yorkshire Moors.
During the Second World War, he and two other men lived in two vehicles, where they had to have all the equipment ready at a group captain shook hands with him and said “work well done”.
Mr Checkley returned to Steyning and set up his own business.
He then worked as an electrical engineer for Mackleys Construction Company, where he remained until his retirement at 65.
Mr Checkley moved to Wales for six years, to be near his son, John, who has two children, before moving back to Steyning.