My friend Wilfrid Cockbain, who has died aged 105, was a chartered surveyor, passionate motorist and seasoned traveller who lived through two world wars – in the second of which he served with distinction. We met when I was 41 and he was 101; I was out walking my dog in the park, and we got chatting. From that day on we were very close and he got to know all of my family.
Wilfrid was born in Birkenhead, to Rosie (nee Ludlow), who ran a haberdashery shop, and her husband, Ernest Cockbain, an education clerk. He was their second child; his brother, Basil, two years older, died of diphtheria aged 19. After secondary schooling at Birkenhead Technical Institute, Wilf trained and qualified as a chartered surveyor.
In 1939 he joined the 56th London Infantry Division and was deployed to Iraq. He rose from bombardier to tank corporal and later fought at the Battle of El Alamein before joining the Italian campaign, starting with the landings at Salerno and then fighting at the Battle of Monte Cassino. He survived intense German attacks, moving up through northern Italy along the Gothic Line until his service ended in Trieste.
Demobbed in 1946, he returned to the UK to work as a chartered surveyor in various government works departments. At his retirement in 1980 he was head of the works department in Preston.
In the early 1960s Wilf met Ada Hornsby at a tennis club. In 1964 he managed to get 12 weeks off work so the two of them could get married in Australia before setting off on a three-week honeymoon drive across the Nullarbor Plain and then heading off to Honolulu and the US.
Wilf loved cars, and in Merseyside he was for many years the chief secretary for a regional motor rally club. He also took part as an MG crew member in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1961 and 1962. He and Ada were inveterate travellers who made extensive road trips all around Europe. He held a clean driving licence for 78 years, giving it up voluntarily at the age of 94.
Wilf was endlessly curious about the world and after Ada died in 1995 he continued to travel, alone and independently, until the age of 103, when he sold his home of 50 years in Southport and moved into a care home, where his constant good humour ensured his popularity.
Reflecting on the positivity that characterised his life, he said: “I just live in a way that helps my fellow beings. I live comfortably with my neighbours, and if they’re not very good neighbours, then I treat them just the same.”