A 100-year-old Linthorpe, Middlesbrough born Jo Allan who has 12 children, 37, grandchildren, 50 great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren, was surrounded by family and honoured for her war service as she celebrated her landmark birthday recently.
The centurion when asked about the secret to a long life, said: ‘There isn’t really a secret, but I do think it’s important to have a happy frame of mind and to try not to worry.’
Jo, was one of thousands of female workers who worked at a munitions factory and her job, based in Aycliffe in County Durham, was to check for bullets with faults during the war.
Gracefully, Jo was surprised during a small family gathering on her 100th birthday when the mayor of Middlesbrough, Andy Preston called in to make an amazing presentation on behalf of the council.
Jo was honoured with a certificate and brooch which officially recognise her as an Aycliffe Angel and thanking her for her contribution to the victory in Europe.
According to Preston: ‘These women were completely uncelebrated and unrecognised for too long but this is being put right now because we should tell the story about the efforts people like Jo made supporting the brave soldiers who were doing the fighting.
‘I’m sure the incredible work Jo and others did saved many lives. It’s time to acknowledge the efforts of all the Aycliffe Angels during the war that helped change the course of European history for the better.’
Jo had hoped to celebrate her centenary with the whole family but, despite a planned party being cancelled due to Covid concerns, she was left feeling very special on her big day.
She received a birthday card from Her Majesty as well as cards and video messages from family members from as far afield as Canada, USA and Australia.
Jo’s husband of 61years Dave for 61 years died in 2005 aged 82 and with her eldest child now 77years while her youngest great grandchild is just five months old.
Jo and her husband are blessed with eight daughters – Pauline, Joan, Judith, Barbara, Mary, Catherine, Susan and Steph together with sons, Doug, Bernard, Gerard and Dave.
Amazingly, Jo asked friends and family to make donations to Our Hospitals Charity towards the Stroke Unit at James Cook University Hospital, where Dave was cared for before his passing instead of birthday presents.
A total of £1,500 has been donated so far and despite a health scare two years ago, Jo is still going strong at her care home in Linthorpe on the outskirts of the town.
The only time she lived away from the North East was during the war when Dave served as an wireless operator and air gunner at RAF Valley. The recently married couple lived in Anglesey in Wales before a brief spell in Hereford at the end of the war.
Eldest child Pauline says: ‘Mum has always been the most loving, interesting and energetic mother, always on the go, putting us children first and herself last.
‘My earliest memory of her would have been 1947 when I came in from a walk and found Mum in the kitchen with hands and arms covered in red.
‘I was terrified but it turned out she was dying someone’s old curtains for our new house.’
Eldest son Doug paid tribute to his mother, saying: ‘She not only had 12 children, but then went back to full-time work until her retirement at 65.
‘Her favourite joke is that she knew what she was doing in bearing so many children – ensuring that she had sufficient carers as she grows old.
‘And she often complains that Covid is preventing her from going off on holiday, which is unfair as she might not have many years left!’