A World War II veteran, who fought with the Eighth Army at the battle of El Alamein, celebrated his 100th birthday at a Bloubergstrand restaurant last week.
Stewart Tweedie’s family treated him to a lunch, and a birthday cake, fit for a centenarian on Thursday January 31.
Earlier, sitting on the couch at his home in Sunningdale, the old man answers questions patiently. His unruly thick grey eyebrows sit heavy on his forehead, hiding his eyes. Behind him floats bright gold-foil balloons making up the number 100.
Stewart was born in Klerksdorp in 1919 to Lawrence Roderick Tweedie and Ellen Mary Anne (nee Blake).
He was the first born along with his twin sister, Molly, and he had four younger siblings. He and Molly were close as children.
They all grew up in Benoni and he remembers the farm dams and the “near drowning” they saved each other from.
“One gurgles and the other shouts,” he says, smiling. In 2008, Molly died at age 89.
Stewart spent the bulk of his life in Umkomaas, a small town south of Durban. Between 1939 and 1945 he fought for the British in the Eighth Army.
He was part of the action in the second battle of El Alamein and although he described himself as a “lonely sergeant”, he remembers seeing some incredible sights, such as the pyramids and the city of Alexandria in Egypt.
In a citation, he is called “a cool and efficient soldier”.
“I had some very good days in the war,” he says.
Stewart is the oldest member of the Tommy Rendle Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) club in Rugby and still attends MOTH events.
In November 1945, he married Yvonne Finniss and had four girls. He still remembers her birthday, February 27, and says that for him it was definitely love at first site.
“Bells started ringing,” he says to describe the first time he saw Yvonne. She died three years ago, the same year the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
He loved her a lot, says Mandy Spencer, one of Stewart’s eight grandchildren.
Mandy and her sister, Debbie de Beer, are the next set of twins after Stewart and Molly.
Mandy, who moved to the UK a few years ago, jumped on a plane last Thursday to surprise her grandfather on his birthday.
“Gramp’s grandson in-law, Sean de Beer, still takes him out for a beer and a game at sports bars. He really helps to keep grampa social,” she says.
When asked why he thinks he has lived to such a ripe age his response is tongue in cheek: “I’m too bad to go where I should go.”
His son in-law, Cyril de Goveia, believes Stewart’s longevity has a lot to do with the hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs he tucked into most mornings.
“He’s been on a Banting diet his whole life before it even became a thing. High fat and low carbs. If you cut your fat off your steak he’d put it on his plate,” says Cyril.
Up until last year, Stewart used to walk around Sunningdale but a fall in the house has slowed him down a bit. He is also known for having cold showers all his life.
When asked why, he replies: “Why? Well, you never get burnt in a cold shower.”