A centenarian has told how he was caught in the crossfire of a gangster shoot-out and attended a function with the notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone.
Archie Kipling’s 100th birthday has brought memories flooding back about his remarkable adventures as a young man, which included getting to know Hollywood comedy legends Laurel and Hardy.
After receiving special birthday cards from Her Majesty the Queen and First Minister Carwyn Jones, he enjoyed a party at his home in Llandudno where he danced the night away with family and friends.
Archie was riding his bicycle to do his shopping until the age of 93.
He is a tenant of housing association Cartrefi Conwy and they have recorded his amazing life story for posterity.
The transcript will be given to Llandudno Museum and buried in a time capsule at Cartrefi Conwy’s new Cysgod y Gogarth development in Llandudno so that future generations can read all about it.
Cartrefi Conwy chief executive Andrew Bowden said: “Archie is a remarkable man with a remarkable story. His memories give us a fascinating insight into the history of the 20th century.”
Speaking at the bungalow where he has lived for the past 40 years, Archie recalled that he went to sea at the age of 13 to work for the Cunard Line.
He said: “I worked on some special ships like the Mauritania but my favourite was always the Aquitania, she was beautiful. You just get used to a ship and she was special.
“I loved the job and worked my way up to be a First Class steward. I saw the world and had a wonderful life.
“I always enjoyed visiting New York and was there when I was still a teenager during the prohibition years. I met up with my brother Bill there. We were walking down the street and all this gunfire started. We were caught up in a gangster shoot-out and ran for our lives.
“Prohibition never bothered us, we knew where to go. You could get anything you wanted and we had favourite ‘speakeasy’ where we could go.
“I remember being at this function where Al Capone was pointed out to me. Everyone said he was a big gangster but I had no idea.”
Archie also had the pleasure of a number of celebrity guests as he criss-crossed the Atlantic.
He said: “Laurel and Hardy were on board for one voyage. I spoke to them every day; they were just ordinary men really. They were on their way over to Britain. We always had some star or other on board there were so many I can’t remember them all now.
“This was before you could jump on a plane and be over the Atlantic in a flash. It used to take a week or more on ship.”
He added: “I used to box a lot on board and was Cunard champion at lightweight for a few years when I was a young man.”
Archie spent the war years working as a merchant sailor and came through the conflict remarkably unscathed but was to later suffer a serious accident which almost resulted in him losing his right leg.
He said: “We were sailing from Ireland across to Liverpool and I got a mooring hauser wrapped around my leg as we were docking. I was stuck for an hour and had 12 fractures before they could untangle my leg.
“My wife, Josie, twice signed the consent for them to amputate my leg but for some reason they didn’t. I managed to walk again and it never stopped me working. They didn’t think I’d survive but I did.”
After leaving the Cunard line Archie worked at the North Wales Golf Club and then spent 27 years running the aptly named Archie’s Bar at Llandudno’s Hydro Hotel.
He said: “I liked working as a barman and making cocktails. A Bronx was my favourite, made with gin and orange juice.
“When I got to 65 I had to finish at the Hydro but then came out of retirement to work at the County Hotel and helped get it back on its feet.
“I first came to Llandudno to visit my brother, Bill, who lived in Chapel Street. I liked it and this is where we decided to live, although I was at sea a lot of the time.”
Archie married his sweetheart, Josie, in Southampton in 1937 and they had four children, Tommy who passed away 12 months ago aged 78, Archie, 75, who lives in Liverpool, Wendy, 72, and Neil, 65, who both live in Llandudno.
Josie, who was lady captain of Maesdu Golf Club, passed away 30 years ago.
According to daughter Wendy, Archie is good health apart from the old injury to his right leg which now requires daily dressing by a nurse.
She said: “He has 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He still enjoys a laugh and has a great sense of humour.
“He likes watching TV and likes political programmes and documentaries. He’s also a big fan of the X-Factor, Strictly and Coronation Street. He likes Strictly as he used to dance a lot when he was younger.”
She added: “We still call and see him every day and he has an Independent Living Coordinator on hand if he needs help urgently.”
Archie’s son, Neil added: “It was a huge shame he lost most of his old photographs and things like menu cards from the ocean liners he worked on during the 1993 floods. There were a lot of important memories he lost.
“We are all really proud of him.”