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FAMILY members from across the world zoomed in on the 100th birthday celebrations of a Whitecliffe House resident who worked for military intelligence during the second world war and married into a prestigious Blandford family.

Sylvia Spooner, nee Blest, was born in Streatham, London, in November 1920, and in her late teens was staying with an English lady and her husband, a German General, on an arranged stay in Bavaria when she attended a Hitler rally in Munich and had a chilling foretaste of looming trouble in store for the world. She was later taken to visit Austria after its annexation by Germany.

Back in London and training as a secretary with German language skills, Sylvia was taken on by the MI5 section responsible for handling intelligence on threats to rail transport, and her first posting was at Wormwood Scrubs prison.

Her son Edward said: “She always used to say how she and the other secretaries had to be very careful not to let the doors of their offices close, because of course they were cells and couldn’t be opened from the inside.”

Near the start of the London Blitz which began on 7 September, 1940 and continued for 57 days and nights, Sylvia and her colleagues were moved to Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill.

In their spare time they received art history lectures by Anthony Blunt, the MI5 employee later exposed as a Soviet spy, and skated on Capability Brown’s lake. Her office was in one of the cold wooden huts built in the Great Court. So she was one of the original “Blenheim Girls” who lived in Keble College, Oxford.  

Sylvia transferred to Ghana on the west coast of Africa where she met and married a colonial officer from Dorset, Arthur Spooner. Arthur was one of the sixth generation of the family with strong Blandford connections.

He was the son of Dr William Caswell Spooner, who lived at Coupar House, where Arthur was born, in the early part of the 20th century, and was District Medical Officer, Public Health Vaccinator and Certifying Factory Surgeon for Blandford, initiating the Blandford detachment of the Red Cross. He died in 1922 aged 46.

Arthur’s brother, Dr William Henry Casswell Spooner , born 1909, followed in his  father’s footsteps practicing in Blandford, latterly from the Old Bank House, and died in 1958 in a boating accident.

Sylvia and Arthur had two sons, Charles and Edward, who was born in Blandford Hospital. But Arthur continued working in Ghana, with further assignments in The Gambia and Nigeria, until the family came to Dorset to live in Tarrant Gunville from the early 1960s.

Prior to her move to Whitecliffe House, Sylvia lived in Ryan Court, Blandford.

Asked for Sylvia’s secret of longevity, Edward said: “The most important aspect is that she has always been connected with people, helping everyone and anyone.

“Aside from that, plenty of exercise, including going up and down the village on her old bike, and keeping her mind active by reading.”

Having arranged the centenary Zoom call, team members at Whitecliffe House helped Sylvia open her cards, presented her with a homemade cake and invited all callers to sing Happy Birthday.

They helped her welcomed 26 Zoom groups for chats and good wishes during her special day from family members and friends in the UK, Canada, Australia, The Gambia and the United States.

“It worked really well even though people were in different time zones around the world,” said Debbie Easter, the home’s Companionship Team Leader. “In Vancouver and Seattle it was 3:00 at night for example. Sylvia acknowledged all the greetings and the cards people sent, including her card from the Queen. Sylvia is a very bright lady and we were delighted to help her celebrate her 100th birthday with a party that involved her whole family and many friends.”


Sylvia Spooner celebrates her 100th birthday at Colten Care’s Whitecliffe House care home in Blandford, Dorset.