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Eight brothers who went to war - now sister Florence makes 90

PUBLISHED: 17:09 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:15 25 August 2010

LAST PICTURE: David and James met up just three days before James was killed by a landmine.

LAST PICTURE: David and James met up just three days before James was killed by a landmine.

A GREAT grandmother whose eight brothers were praised in a predecessor of this newspaper for going to fight in WWII has turned 90.

A GREAT grandmother whose eight brothers were praised in a predecessor of this newspaper for going to fight in WWII has turned 90.

Florence Brunton, who grew up at 2 Bateson Street, Plumstead, with her brothers has celebrated her birthday with her 86-year-old brother, David Haines. David and seven brothers were featured in this newspaper, then called the Kentish Independent and Kentish Mail, in 1943 dubbing them "warrior" brothers serving abroad.

Mrs Brunton, who has lived in Hector Street, Plumstead, for 65 years, said: "We've been giggling about the fact we've now been in the Times twice.

"I used to spend hours writing to David and his brothers, sending them cigarettes. We have lived through so much that it's wonderful that we can still see each other.

"I remember seeing David and James, who died, off at the station very late at night. All along the platforms were hordes of children with labels tied to their jackets and soldiers waiting for trains or waving goodbye to their families. It was packed.

"I was very sad and my dad said if James ever got to France he would never come back - he gave dad his watch before he left.

"Everyone was very scared, but you couldn't show any feeling because they just had to go. There was no choice."

Of the brothers who went to fight, seven returned and one had his leg amputated on the beach at Dunkirk.

A ninth brother, Bert, remained in England to continue working in the Tate and Lyle plant in Silverstone.

Mr Haines, now living in Derbyshire, was the last person to see his brother, Jim, before he was blown up by a landmine whilst working as a dispatch driver in Holland.

The wartime report said another 24-year-old brother, Robert, was an Eltham Football Club cup winner, whilst artillery gunner Peter, 35, used to be a Welling milkman.

The article read: "The Haines clan - a proud reminder of what just one ordinary, everyday family is contributing to the greatest struggle in mankind's history."

During the blitz Mrs Brunton always chose her bed and blanket over air raid shelters despite the wing of a bomber obliterating a house four doors away.

The great grandmother of nine said: "I've always said your days will always be numbered. You walk out into the street and you never know if you'll be coming back.

"I can still get about and do all my cleaning, and my daughter is always there for me. I don't grumble because life is only what you make it."

Sitting in Mrs Brunton's immaculately clean home, the brother and sister now shake their heads when asked what they think of society today.

Mrs Brunton said kids should be "taught about life" with national service.

But her brother had a developed another opinion. "I think the war had a terrible impact on the whole generation of people who returned," he explained.

"They went out to kill when they should have been at home and so you had a whole generation of people growing up trying to escape that mentality. That's why society now has problems."

Both siblings are non-smokers and Mrs Brunton only drinks a glass of port on Saturday evenings.

The pensioner said she couldn't believe she had reached 90, but regretted having outlived her friends.

She added: "The five friends I used to go abroad with have all passed away now. It's very hard to make new ones at my age so I'm glad I've got the Civil Service Club to go to."

More than 35 family members attended Mrs Brunton's birthday party at St Andrew's Church Hall, in Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, on 21 February.

jules.cooper@archant.co.uk

Fred

Sadly, little is known about Fred. As the eldest of the children from their father's first marriage, Fred was a good 20 years older than Florence.

After serving with the Royal Navy during the First World War he joined the RAF to sit up in the baskets of barrage balloons directing artillery crews.

A tram driver before the war, the father-of-two ran a stall in Woolwich Market, then after the conflict worked for Greenline Bus Services and moved to Sittingbourne.

Horace

A professional soldier, Horace was covered in 'Rule Britannia' tattoos and loved boxing - perhaps reflecting the gritty, devoted calibre of Britain's Wwii stock.

Horace had already completed 21-years Army service in 1939 and just two weeks after he left the Army with a full pension, Hitler invaded Poland and Horace was signed back up.

Having spent much of his peacetime career in Crete, Horace was to return there as a prisoner of war one month into the war, where he remained until its liberation in 1945.

"He never grumbled about it," said Florence.

After the war the light-weight boxer with 96 cups had two children and became a nurse at a hospital in Southgate, Barnet, North London.

Peter

Once a milkman always a milkman, Peter saw the days when everyone brought their milk from United Dairies and did rounds in Welling and Danson Lane before and after the war.

Blessed with a home posting, the father-of-nine became a cook for the Royal Artillery, serving up meals for anti-aircraft gunners based in Shooters Hill and Danson Park.

Benjamin

A week ahead of the D-Day landings Benjamin landed in Normandy scout for sites to shell whilst serving with the Royal Artillery.

A shell exploded next to him on the landing beach and blew half the private's leg off, which had to be amputated there and then below the knee.

"Sand got into the wound as they amputated and it meant he could never wear his aluminium leg, which was sad because he and his wife were beautiful ballroom dancers," said Florence.

The Army posted Benjamin to the Royal Academy in Shooters Hill as a storeman.

He raised two boys in Abbey Wood but, unlike wounded soldiers today, he never received compensation for his injury.

William

The only child from George William Haines' third marriage, William was considered the 'odd one out' by Florence.

The ticket collector on the Surbiton-to-Victoria line lost contact with his siblings after joining The Royal Kent Infantry.

He survived the war and was last seen when he popped in to say hello at David's pub in Derbyshire in 1972.

James

The only brother to die during the war was a dispatch rider with the Royal Army Service Corps.

James and David met by chance just three days before he was killed by a landmine.

The Corporal had survived the Dunkirk evacuations and was also landed in Normandy on the first day of the D-Day landings.

Before the war the former Boys Brigade Captain worked in Groom's Bakery, Bexley, where he delivered groceries.

He died with no children.

Robert

Florence's twin brother not only survived the war unscathed, but also worked in the Woolwich Arsenal filling shells with deadly cordite.

Before being deployed to fight for Montgomery in North Africa, "Bob" the tank driver actually drove his Chieftan tank into Plumstead to surprise Florence.

She said: "He rolled right up to the house just to drop in and say hello. It was quite a surprise."

The Kings Royal Rifles Corporal survived the El Alamein unscathed, fighting with the Desert Rats for four years.

After the war the father-of-one, of Renfield Gardens, Eltham, went to work in the Royal Mint and died in the 1990s.

David

The youngest and only surviving brother, David was a pipe fitter in peacetime, once fitting industrial boilers at the Royal Arsenal at its peak of munitions manufacturing.

The infantry private landed on Queen Beach in Normandy on D-Day three and later served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

He survived the fighting unscathed to become a pub landlord in Derbyshire. He now enjoys spending time with his three grandchildren.

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