Broadstairs Probus Club’s oldest member celebrates 100th birthday

Ewart with wife Mima

Ewart Rayner, a former President of Broadstairs Probus Club, has celebrated his 100th birthday at Maurice House, the Royal British Legion’s home, where he lives with his wife Mima.

His family and friends were there on 9 November to help him celebrate and the current Probus Club President, Michael Bon, presented him some flowers and a card signed by all the club members. Ewart, who has been a Probus member since September 1989, was President in 2001-02 and was delighted to receive a birthday card from the King.

Ewart was born in 1923 at Rochester on the east side of the River Medway and thus he is a Man of Kent rather than a Kentish Man.

He was educated locally, at Troy Town School and Rochester Technical School. When he was 13, his family moved to a newly built house on his father’s smallholding in Borstal, on the city’s outskirts, where he and his older Sister Esmé helped their parents, Sidney and Annie, tend the huge garden. Ewart also helped a local farmer at harvest time for which he was paid the princely sum of 3d an hour, which he thought was a pretty fair wage at the time!

Ewart with Michael Bon, President of Broadstairs Probus Club

In July 1939, as the Second World War loomed, Ewart left the Tech and he and a couple of friends dug out the foundations for an Anderson shelter. In his memoir, The First Ten Decades, Ewart writes in detail of the shelter’s construction, including an emergency exit, and how all the corrugated sheets had to be bolted together. They covered the shelter with a good depth of soil which gave protection against the bombs and shrapnel that fell on Rochester – an area targeted by the Luftwaffe for the many armaments factories nearby.

Ewart became an apprentice with Short Brothers at its Strood factory making floats for the Sunderland flying boats. In 1940 he completed his apprenticeship and moved to become a toolmaker at Pobjoys, a subsidiary of Shorts at Rochester Airport where his sister, Esmé, was also working. At this time, Ewart was employed to make Spitfire wings, and the company also produced Hurricane tailplanes and fuel tanks for Sunderlands. However, the Battle of Britain was about to begin and Rochester Airport was a prime target for the German bombers. Consequently, Ewart and Esmé often had to shelter from the attacks.

Later, he and his father joined the Home Guard and he had many tales that would not have been out of place in an episode of Dad’s Army.

Ewart with his father in the Home Guard

In 1946, he was called up and served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).

In 1949, he married Hilda Marrows, a schoolteacher from Nottinghamshire, and settled in the village of Borstal, near his parents.

The couple had two sons, Stephen, a journalist, and Philip, who became a senior bank manager. Ewart worked first at the engineering firm CAV in Rochester and then as a planning engineer at Elliot Brothers which later became part of GEC and now owned by BAE Systems.

In 1985, after a working life in the avionics industry, he moved to Broadstairs where he loved his retired life. Sadly, Hilda died in 1994.

In 1997 at a Burns supper, Ewart met Mima, who was President of the Thanet and District Caledonian Society. They married in 2002 and Ewart gained three stepdaughters, Barbara, Sheelagh and Patricia. Ewart and Mima continued to live in their bungalow until 2022 when they moved to Maurice House where they are very well cared for and visited by all their family, including five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Ewart has always loved his sport, playing football, cricket and tennis. Even now, he is a follower of Gillingham Football Club – the Gills.