February 18

Superstar Alma 98

Yesterday was another one of those days when I met some of the world’s most marvelous human beings. It was the yearly remembrance service at Westminster Abbey to honor our veterans.

I went there to say hello and hope to meet a few of our true heroes – our wonderful veterans – 3 days before Sunday, the 11th of November, when we celebrate Remembrance Day.

This is my favourite day of the year and I always go to the Horse Guards Parade to photograph our wonderful veterans. I just love this day simply because I feel so honored to be in the presence of some of the greatest people who fought for us in World War II.

So, It was 8:30 on Thursday morning and I see a tiny little lady wearing her medals and running across the road, between cars, outside Westminster Abbey.

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I ran over to take her picture as she ran and I said:

‘Hey, I love your coloured hair and crikey, you run like Usain Bolt.’

‘I have to keep fit at my age. Well, I go to the gym 5 days a week.’

‘Crikey! You are kidding me?!’

‘I can’t run on the bumpy pavements where I live so, 5 days a week I jump on the treadmill at the gym. I am 96, you know.’

‘You’re what? You can’t be 96.’

‘Well, I am.’

I almost collapsed. I gave her a giant hug and kissed her on the cheek.

‘What a marvelous and glamorous lady you are. I am now going to do a few sexy snaps. Do you have a picture on you of when you were younger?’

‘I sure do.’ and she unzipped her little pink handbag and pulled out a picture. ‘Duncan, that’s me aged 25, in 1942.’

‘Oh, wow!’

‘I had it coloured in to make me look more sexy.’

‘But you’re sexy anyway.’

‘Yes, I know. This picture was taken 71 years ago.’

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Alma seemed to love all the attention and after a few pictures, I said:

‘Oh, what’s that little book you have over there?’

‘Oh, that’s all about my life in the Second World War. I was a Prisoner of War to the Japanese and the book tells the story of me in the camp.’

“Would you take that out?’

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I simply could not believe what Alma told me, some stories that had us both in tears.

She was stationed in Singapore at Queen Alexandra Hospital and one night the Japanese soldiers came and started shooting at everybody – doctors, nurses, patients – everyone. One of the doctors managed to push her out, together with 12 other nurses.

Unfortunately, the Japanese caught them and took them prisoners, but they weren’t the only ones. The Japanese have caught some Australians too. On their way to camp, the soldiers separated the two groups and took the Australians on a beach and machine gunned them all. Alma and her 12 friends witnessed everything.

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When they got to the prisoner camp, the Japanese soldiers were cruel to the nurses until Alma took a stance and told them to stop otherwise they will stop treating their wounded.

“If you leave my nurses alone and you don’t rape them, we’ll treat you as we treat everyone else.”

They briefly stopped the assault, but they continued the beatings. Then Alma said something so shocking.

‘One day, a Japanese soldier asked us all to bow and one of my friends resisted. “I will not bow to you!” she said. The soldier pulled out a huge machete and cut her head off in front of everyone… And I’ll never forget that.’ said Alma with tears in her eyes.

We were both in tears. I could not believe what I had heard. What a harrowing story.

‘Well, that was 75 years ago…’ said Alma.

We started chatting about her last London Marathon that she ran when she was only 88. Yes, 88. Here she is with he medal.

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‘Will you post me a picture? I love pictures.’

‘Of course I will. What’s your address?’

She pulled out an envelope with her address on and I noticed it said “Lady Alma”.

‘Are you a lady?’

‘Of course I am.’ she giggled. ‘And an OBE too.’

Being in Alma’s presence was a humbling experience for me so I knelt at her feet and said:

Oh, Alma, what a beautiful human being you truly are.‘ as she patted me on the head, giggling.

I felt sad that she was another wonderfully fabulous oldie that the media seem to forget. Our media today just seem to be obsessed with celebrities.

One of my missions with this daily journal is to change this. I want to celebrate the people who really matter in society, especially our fabulous older generation, who everyone adores and loves. We only seem to celebrate people like Alma at their funeral or through an obituary.

I, however, am going to Alma’s house next week for tea and scones and I’m going to shoot a day in her life because I want to write more about this incredible human being.

I hope this humbling story of this truly wonderful lady has touched your hearts as it did mine. This is why Remembrance Day is, without doubt, the most special day of the year. 

May I suggest, if you have never attended this magical day, please go one year to London and I guarantee it will be a day like no other in your life. It is a day when we are reminded to treasure our old generation for the remarkable people they are.

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