'A legend to us all' - Tributes to Second World War veteran, and builder
- Credit: Supplied by the family
He was on the frontline in the Second World War, built a house for his family to live in, and not long before his death at the age of 96 was still taking his wife a cup of tea in bed every morning.
Now, tributes have been paid to Thomas Warnes, from Stalham Green, who died on December 5.
His grandson, Christopher Everett, 29, said: “He was a legend to us all. He often came across like he was two steps behind everyone, then he’d come out with something and show he was actually two steps ahead.”
Mr Warnes was born in Sutton, near Stalham, and had four siblings. Their dad was a fisherman who worked on trawlers based at Great Yarmouth, and when not out to sea he cut reeds on the marshes.
Mr Warnes left school at 14 and took a job at a poultry farm before joining the army when the war started.
He did his training at Bury St Edmunds and was then posted to Gibraltar. One of his tasks was to paddle a canoe about the moored Royal Navy ships, watching out for rising bubbles - a sign underwater saboteurs were around, trying to attach explosives to ships' hulls.
It was when serving in Italy that an enemy mortar shell exploded next to him in a trench, killing a fellow soldier.
His daughter, Shirley Sandell, 62, said : “He spent his 21st birthday in an Italian hospital because he had jaundice. They also found he had a perforated eardrum because of shell explosion.
"He was no longer considered A1 fit so he didn’t go back to his unit. He was transferred to the Pioneers, who helped the engineers, and in 1945 he was sent to Austria to guard prisoners of war.”
Mr Warnes also served in Egypt before he was demobbed and returned to Norfolk, where he worked as an apprentice bricklayer with Toolley and Youngs of Stalham, before becoming a builder in his own right.
He met his wife-to-be, June, over fish and chips after going roller-skating at Gorleston, and they married at the North Walsham registry office in 1949.
Mrs Warnes later said it was a simple ceremony.
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“I had never had anything special to wear and we just had a cup of tea to celebrate,” Mrs Warnes said.
Mrs Sandell said her parents both pitched in to build their Stalham Green house, where they lived since 1971.
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She said: “He worked on it on weekends and evenings. Mum worked on a farm, and she would mix up a load of cement on her way home to meet us after school.
"When dad left off for the day on the building site he would go to the new house he was building, use the cement mum had mixed up for him and then come home to have his tea."
Mr Warnes worked on houses where other members of his family lived and known for always pitching in where he could.
Mrs Sandell said: “There were several elderly widows who used to tease him about his ‘hareem’.
"Quite often there’d be a lady knock on his door saying ‘Tom, can you fix a loose tile on my roof?’ or ‘can you come and unblock my drain?
“He was always helping people around where he lived.”
The couple also had children Alan, Sally - who died when she was just six - and Valerie, and there are seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Mr Warnes stayed fit and active until very late in life, building sheds in the garden, growing vegetables and doing jigsaw puzzles with June, who still lives at the house they built.
Last year they received a message of congratulations from the Queen to mark their 70th anniversary.