A HEREFORDSHIRE man has celebrated his 103rd birthday with a surprise visit from friends.

Bredenbury's Barry Holmer believes the secret of his longevity lies in his genes.

"My father died 10 days short of his 94th birthday, his grandmother lived to 94 and his great great grandmother, who was born in 1788, died in 1892 at the great age of 104," said Mr Holmer.

Irene and Barry Holmer acknowledge their neighbours birthday wishes as Barry turns 103

Irene and Barry Holmer acknowledge their neighbours' birthday wishes as Barry turns 103

Mr Holmer was born in Birmingham and studied a two-year course in industrial engineering at Handsworth Junior Technical College.

But, his parents were told by the headmaster, Mr Holmer was not really cut out for the hurly burly of the factory floor. His father, a public librarian, spotted an ad for a junior in an advertising agency, paying 10/- a week "and, after 16 months I was earning 16/-. I asked my boss for a rise, but he refused so I asked him for a reference instead!"


Lucas Industries then offered him a job for 25/- a week and he would stay with them for 44 years. "I worked my way up from a mere junior to the manager of the central advertising department."

His career at Lucas Industries also took him into the world of motor racing when the company became involved. "And I found myself leading the ad department's motor racing activities from 1954 until the day I retired." The job also gave him the opportunity to jump out of a plane with the Red Devils ("I broke my ankle, but I would have done it again") and ride with the Royal Signals motor cycle display team.

Neighbours turned out despite the rain to wish Barry a happy 103rd birthday

Neighbours turned out despite the rain to wish Barry a happy 103rd birthday

It was a working life interrupted by WWII, which saw Mr Holmer join the medical arm of the RAF, spending four years in the Middle East, responsible for tropical hygiene and sanitation.

Mr Holmer had known his second wife Irene, a classical pianist, for several years when she had worked at Lucas, but it was when she was invited to a party at the company that they reconnected. "Unknown to us, members of the display department had opened a book as to when the wedding would be!" The couple have now been married for 58 years and have two sons, Michael, 57, and Charles, 55, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

The couple moved to Bredenbury in 1992, a decision made on the toss of a coin: "Irene said she needed a break before our son's wedding. We didn't want to go too far and came to Bromyard Downs. On the last morning we literally tossed a coin to see whether we stopped in Bromyard or went back to Birmingham."