London's oldest woman turns 108, says COVID-19 is 'nothing compared to World War I'

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World War I was much worse than the coronavirus pandemic, according to Sarah “Betty” Spear.

Spear should know, having experienced both. She turned 108 on Wednesday, celebrating the milestone with family and friends in south London.

“The first world war was the worst thing; [COVID-19] is nothing in comparison,” she remarked in an interview with South West News Service.

Spear was born in Ireland in 1913, nearly a year before World War I began. When the war ended, Spear was 5.

Sarah "Betty" Spear celebrated her 108th birthday on Aug. 4, 2021, at the St Judes Nursing Home in Sutton, U.K.

She moved to London at the age of 18 and became a nurse. According to SWNS, she practiced medicine in Carshalton, a historic suburban village in south London. 

“I don’t think the [National Health Service] have coped very well during [COVID-19],” Spear told SWNS. “People are not so friendly anymore.”

In 2020, Spear was unable to see her family while she stayed at her nursing home due to coronavirus restrictions, but this time around, she was able to have a small gathering with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was admitted into St. Judes Nursing Home a year prior after living in an apartment in Sutton for an extended period.

Spear has outlived her husband, whom she married in 1947 at the age of 34, which notably took place two years after World War II concluded. She’s also outlived her daughter Anne.

When asked if the coronavirus pandemic is the worst event to happen in the last century, 108-year-old Sarah "Betty" Spear told South West News Service that she thinks World War I was worse.

“She’s been through a lot, you know, because she lost her daughter. She stopped working at 90 and then quit smoking when her daughter – my mum, passed,” Spear’s granddaughter, Jane Welch, 50, told SWNS. “Two years later she fell down a flight of stairs from top to bottom and broke her hip – she’s a tough nut. … She’s been through the wars and always comes out fighting, and I’m very proud to have her as my grandmother.”

At her party, Spear spent time with close relatives and was honored with a dove release, according to SWNS. A pink-and-white floral cake was brought in, and there was also live entertainment and gifts.


The British news agency also claims Spear received a birthday letter from Queen Elizabeth II and a personal visit from Sutton Mayor Councillor Trish Fivey. 

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    Sarah "Betty" Spear received 25 cards for her 108th birthday and one of the cards reportedly came from Queen Elizabeth II, according to South West News Service. (SWNS)

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    Sarah "Betty" Spear was honored with a dove release at the the St Judes Nursing Home. (SWNS)

Spear credits her longevity to drinking strong tea, “hard work and a tipple of whisky once a week,” according to SWNS.

Her 16-year-old great-granddaughter Ella disagreed with that theory when she spoke with SWNS, saying, “She’s very strong-willed, so I think that’s probably what got her here. Not the whisky.”

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