In our latest 100 second interview celebrating the community’s centenarians, we speak to Jewish Care service user Alf Collis.
Date of birth: 24 October 1919
Place of birth: London’s East End
Where do you live? How long have you lived there? Where did you live before?
We lived upstairs with my aunt and uncle. My dad used to deliver milk, and we lived on 49 Dempsey Street, but it’s not there now.
I grew up in Stamford Hill and moved to Stoke Newington where my children grew up. Later, I married, Isabel Simmons on 31 December 1941 in East London and we were very happily married for 42 years.
I moved back to Stamford Hill and after my wife passed away, I remarried and moved to Ilford in the 1980s. I now live in Redbridge and I’ve enjoyed going to the monthly Jewish Care’s supportive communities tea party in Redbridge for the past year or so. We get together to chat and have some tea and cake in people’s homes. They made me a lovely tea for my 100th birthday.
What was your occupation before retirement?
I didn’t stop driving until I was 94 when I decided it was time to give up my license and I worked well into my 80s. I had a removals and haulage company called Collis Transport. It was my dad’s haulage business and I started driving the lorries at 14.
During the Second World War, I served in the army for six years. First, in the Royal Tank Corps in the army as a driver among other jobs and later I was attached to the Royal Pioneer Corps. One of my jobs was driving those killed in action away from the battlefields.
After the war, I went back to Collis Transport and used to work seven days and six nights a week and I had the company until 1965. Then I started my own car hire company with my drivers. I’d take people to their hospital appointments or to the market to do their shopping, and on Sundays we’d go to Petticoat Lane Market.
I love doing all my own repairs on cars and other things too. I find things to keep me busy, I enjoy my garden and I’ve painted and decorated wheel hubs on the back fence lit with solar lights.
Were you married? If so for how long. To whom?
I had three wives, they were all darlings and they sadly passed away.
How many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren do you have?
I have two children, my son Jeff Collis and daughter Lindy Medway. I have seven grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren aged between 0 and 27, with the youngest born on 9 October.
At home, we never argued. We look after each other. I’d do anything for my children, I really would. I idolise them and they and my grandchildren come and visit me and listen to what I have to say about things.
What is your happiest memory?
I’ve always been happy, but I had the most wonderful wife, Isabel, who passed away. It makes me happy when I look at her photo. She came from a big family of 10 children. We lived in Stamford Hill then and I’d come and see her on Saturday. We had our son and daughter together.
What do you consider to be your greatest/ proudest achievement?
Driving and repairing vehicles. I’m very proud of my work.
If you could offer a piece of advice to today’s youngsters, what would it be?
Never give up. I go out with two sticks and I walk alright, I won’t give up. I’m a fighter. I won’t give up on anything. I’ve always been like that. And think about other people.
The secret for a long life is… to keep working and to help people. I’ve always tried to help people.