Former Spitfire and Hurricane engineer celebrates 100th birthday

Arthur ‘Laurie' Pyle outside his Hatfield home. 

Arthur ‘Laurie' Pyle, outside his Hatfield home, has received his birthday message from the Queen. - Credit: Supplied

Today, a former engineer from Hatfield will celebrate his 100th birthday during an unprecedented year and without his much-missed wife. 

Arthur ‘Laurie' Pyle, born on January 19, 1921, has only seen his body become less limber in recent years while needing a hearing aid.  

But Laurie is "happy" to still be able to care for himself with the help of his generous neighbours. 

Laurence and Kathleen on their wedding day.

Laurence and Kathleen on their wedding day. - Credit: Archant

"I think the day will come when I have to rely on other people lots more, and carers will be coming in but I would rather do without it."

"I've been very fit all my life," he told the WHT. "I could do anything but it's since [Kathleen, my wife] died I'm starting to feel my age.

READ MORE: Loving Hatfield couple reminisce after 70th anniversary

"I'm still cooking for myself and the neighbours and my daughter-in-law drop in anything I need. I thank everybody. They're all so kind."

Reflecting on the secret for his longevity, Laurie explained "keeping out of the doctor surgery" helped maintain his quiet life. 

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"I've had a very peaceful, likeable lifetime. I've been very lucky ever since I left school."

Kathleen and Laurence Pyle celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary together.

Kathleen and Laurence Pyle celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary together. - Credit: Archant

But the WHT would disagree that his life has been so quiet and definitely not unremarkable - as Laurie made bombers and military aircraft during the war. 

This work began in 1936, when he was just a teenager, training to be a tool maker at Wickham Engineering in Ware. He then moved to Freeport Engineering, where he was worked as a foreman, making automatic gearboxes for lorries in 1938. These were the first fully automated gearboxes for commercial vehicles.

"Then everything shifted [during World War II] to the war effort."

This also put stop to his musical hobby. He joined a dance band in 1937 along with 11 others, playing the piano and accordion. The band toured the dance halls throughout Hertfordshire and North London right up until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Though Laurie remains a fan of the operetta, a genre of light opera, he is not a fan of pop music. He refers to this as "long-haired gits making millions".  

Continuing at Freeport,  he began in 1940 making aeroplane under-carriages for bombers and military aircraft before going to Scotland from 1942 to 1943 to make coal cutting machinery in Glasgow for the war effort.

This was until his trade union advised him that his skills were required locally on the production of military equipment and he returned to Herts from 1943 to 1947, at WH Saunders Electronics in Stevenage, to work on the tailpieces of Spitfires and Hurricanes, along with sea mines release mechanisms.

There he met Kathleen on a blind date that was a little unexpected after a friend invited him for a drink in Stevenage. 

Arthur ‘Laurie' Pyle

Arthur ‘Laurie' Pyle, outside his Hatfield home, has received his birthday message from the Queen. - Credit: Supplied

"Then he said 'I brought someone who is on their own at the moment.'" And so Kathleen and Laurie began dating, which mainly involved them driving around Hertfordshire for long periods of time. 

"I ran a car from Ware to Stevenage so I was a bit more mobile," he said. "My wife never drank and she never smoked. She'd just have a lemonade or something. I would say 'you're cheap to run as you don't drink or smoke'."

Laurie's proposal to his wife was also filled with the same level of romance, as he goes on: "I think we were sitting in the car. People never went into each other's homes then like they do now. 

"And I said 'shall we put a stop to this sitting about in cars and get married?' We both thought it was a good idea." 

He then moved in 1946 to Stevenage to live with Kathleen and her mother on Lawrence Avenue until they bought a home in Hertford for £1,500 in 1958, which he sold in 1994 when he moved to Lowlands in Hatfield.

It was in this final home that Kathleen had a stroke in 2009 and Laurie took on the role as her principal carer - having declined anything but the minimum from social services - until her death in 2017, when she left behind sons John and Martin. 

He was also at Vincent Motorcycles, developing gearboxes and engines for Black Shadow and Silver Shadow bikes, from 1948 until he joined the Sheffield Steel Company, Kayser Ellison, later known as Sanderson Kayser, in 1954 as a sales representative. He was then appointed London area director in 1980 before retiring in 1986. 

Now he enjoys some reading, looking at stocks and shares on his iPad and spending time with family and friends. 

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