Community pays tribute to Alf the ‘Old Sailor’ in Plaistow

Members from the Royal British Legion head the funeral procession for veteran Royal Naval officer Al

Members from the Royal British Legion head the funeral procession for veteran Royal Naval officer Alfred Gittins at the East London Crematorium. - Credit: Archant

War veterans, family, and friends paid tribute to an “Old Sailor” today who was much-loved and respected in his local community.

Alfred Gittins died on April 2 at the age of 83 after losing his battle with cancer.

Members of the West Ham Royal Naval Association (RNA) joined six standard bearers from the Royal British Legion for the funeral at the East London Crematorium in Grange Road, Plaistow.

Alf, also known as Alfie, went to Custom House School before going on to Holborn Road Secondary School where he was bombed out of his home during the war, causing the family move to Eclipse Road, Plaistow.

He trained to become a blacksmith when he left school before joining the Royal Navy in June 1947 as a stoker mechanic.


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Alf served on nine different ships in 18 campaigns mainly in the Far East and the South Asia where he was wounded twice, receiving the Korea Medal and the UN Korea Medal.

Much loved by his community, Alf returned home to inspire youngsters as President of the West Ham Sea Cadets (T5 Thunderer Unit), Chairperson of the West Ham branch of the RNA, and he attended Korean Veterans meetings.

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Elaine Williamson, RNA branch welfare officer, said that everyone who knew Alf was saddened by his passing as he did so much for others.

Elaine added: “He didn’t only do things for the military, he also did a lot for charity and the community.

“He was great with the kids for the Sea Cadets. They used to call him the Old Sailor.

“He was quite a character, our old Alf.”

Alf was well known for fixing people’s car engines for the love of problem-solving, making pieces of furniture that still reside in his neighbours’ and relatives’ homes, and convincing friends of the healing properties of a tot of rum at his popular barbecues.

The order of service read: “Alf was loved and respected by his local community.

“He was proud of his achievements and how he lived his life and especially proud of the fact that, even though he was a bit wild in his younger days, he was never, ever, banged up.”

Alf is survived by his widow Nida, five children, two step-children, and eight grandchildren.

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