Florence Green, Last Veteran of the First World War Dies at Age 110

For 17-year-old Florence Beatrice Patterson, service in Britain’s Women’s Royal Air Force in the final months of the First World War would ultimately be the most exciting time of her life. And for a lively young woman, it’s no wonder. There she was, working as a steward – basically waitressing – first in the officers’ mess at the aerodrome at Narborough and finally at RAF Marham. It meant dates with dashing young pilots (although fear kept her from accepting an offer to go up in a plane) and lots of fun during off-duty hours with friends she’d made on base.

The New York Times reports that she witnessed an end-of-the-war bombing. Exuberant RAF Marham airmen bombed the nearby Narborough base with flour on November 11, 1918 and in retaliation, the Narborough boys dropped bags of soot on Marham.

The young steward retired from the WRAF after the war, in July 1919, marrying Walter Green, a railway porter, in 1920. Like so many women who joined the war effort, her post-war life was consumed with raising a family and her wartime service all but forgotten. Mrs. Green died on February 4th 2012 only two weeks before her 111th birthday. She had lived at home with her 90-year-old daughter in North Lynn, Norfolk until just before Christmas when she moved to a local nursing home.

It wasn’t until 90 years after she returned to civilian life that her WRAF service received notice. A local newspaper interviewed her on the occasion of her 108th birthday and that triggered the curiosity of a British researcher who worked for an American genealogical organization interested in people who live well beyond 100 years of age. He found her service record under her maiden name in the National Archives and she was hailed as a veteran the following year.

She was the sixth oldest person in Britain and the last-known veteran of the Great War. The last British veteran who actually fought in that war, Harry Patch, died at 111 in 2009. He didn’t talk about his war experiences publicly until age 100, and then only as a means of paying tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives during the war.

John Babcock, Canada’s last veteran of the First World War, died in February 2010 at his home in Spokane, Washington. He joined the Canadian Army at the age of 16 and was sent to England but there his true age was discovered and he never made it to the battlefield.

It’s believed there are no French or German veterans of the awful conflict still living. America’s final participant of the war, Frank Buckles, drove ambulances in France and died in February 2011. The final combatant of the war, Claude Choules, a veteran of Britain’s Royal Navy, died only last May 2011.

Jayne MacAulay