London’s oldest woman turns 108, says COVID ‘nothing compared to WWI’

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.

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.”

Betty Spear celebrates her 108 birthday at St Judes Nursing Home in Sutton, south London with members of her family residents and srtaff.
Sarah “Betty” Spear said World War I was much worse than COVID-19.
James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS

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.

Betty Spear recievedwith celebrates her 108 birthday at St Judes Nursing Home in Sutton, south London.
Sarah “Betty” Spear was unable to see her family in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS

“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.

Doves beeing released as Betty Spear celebrates her 108 birthday
Sarah “Betty” Spear was honored with a dove release.
James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS

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. 

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.”

Betty Spear
Sarah “Betty” Spear turned 108 on Wednesday.
James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS