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'I had quite an adventure' - World War Two hero celebrates 100th birthday

PUBLISHED: 09:47 19 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:58 19 August 2019

Ena Howes celebrates her one hundredth birthday with friends and family. Photo: Mick Howes

Ena Howes celebrates her one hundredth birthday with friends and family. Photo: Mick Howes

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A Lowestoft woman who was recognized by the King and French army for her contribution to the war effort has celebrated her one-hundredth birthday.

Mabel Howes served in the Wrens during the war effort. Photo: Mabel HowesMabel Howes served in the Wrens during the war effort. Photo: Mabel Howes

Mabel Howes, or Ena as she prefers to be known, celebrated her incredible life on August 18 with family and friends with a party at her home.

She reflected on her eventful life, which saw her serve as a telephonist supervisor with the Women's Royal Navy Service (WRENS) during the Second World War, for which she was awarded the British Empire Medal and the Legion d'Honneur.

As one of nine children and lived at her family home in Kessingland, she attended Lowestoft Seconday School and, on leaving, trained as a telephonist working at post offices in Methwold and Holbrook.

At the outbreak of the war, she applied to join the WRENS, initially serving at HMS Ganges. She was later chosen to be a supervisor of telephonists at Combined Operations HQ near Portsmouth.

Mabel Howes was also awarded the British Empire Medal. Photo: Mabel HowesMabel Howes was also awarded the British Empire Medal. Photo: Mabel Howes

She was responsible for a team of WRENS telephonists and Royal Corps of Signals personnel, working in the planning stages of D-Day.

Two months after D-Day in the middle of August 1944, Ena was one of three WRENS to go to France, chosen as she was able to speak French. These were one of the first groups of WRENS to be shipped to France in support of Operation Overlord.

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Landing at Arromanches she was transported by lorry to the town of Granville, within sight of enemy occupied Jersey, to set up and manage operation of the telephone exchange for the combined services.

Mabel Howes and her family celebrating her 97th birthday and awarding of the Legion d'Honneur. Photo: Mabel HowesMabel Howes and her family celebrating her 97th birthday and awarding of the Legion d'Honneur. Photo: Mabel Howes

Just a month later she transferred to Saint-Germain-en-Laye to work in the telephone exchange where she stayed for nine months. While there, victory in Europe was declared and she joined in VE Day celebrations in the centre of Paris.

In June 1945, she moved to the British base in Minden in Germany where she learned she was to receive a British Empire Medal from King George VI.

On her 97th birthday Ena was presented with the highest French military decoration, the Legion d'Honneur medal, by the town's Mayor.

Ena's son Mick Howes said: "Although more than one million Legion d'Honneur medals have been awarded - to receive one, a non French national must have served France or the ideals it upholds.

Mabel Howes and her husband, Frank. Photo: Mabel HowesMabel Howes and her husband, Frank. Photo: Mabel Howes

"The majority of the military medals have gone to men so for Mum to receive one was really special and having the Mayor here to present it made her day. All the family are so proud of her."

Ena met her husband Frank while working in Methwold and they married in September 1940, After the war they had two children and set up home in Lowestoft where Ena continued working as a telephonist at a fishing company until her retirement.

At her 100th party many nephews and nieces travelled from across the UK to join other family in celebrating with her.

Ena said: "Our family has a history of long life, with my mother Mabel reaching 99 years and one of my sisters, Mary, reaching 103 years. When I look back at what has happened in my life, I have had quite an adventure!"

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