A woman whose life was changed by a New Year's Eve kiss next to a fountain in war-torn Belgium has celebrated her 100th birthday in County Durham.

Solange Johns met her late husband Tony, who was serving as a leading aircraftsman in the RAF during the Second World War, in Brussels after the liberation.  

Romance blossomed after that first kiss, and in a life swap she came to England to live with her father’s family in Spennymoor to prepare for their wedding in August 1945.The Northern Echo: Solange and Tony Johns

Solange, who will be fondly remembered by many generations as a school dinner lady in the town, marked her 100th birthday with family and staff at the Sandringham Care Home, in Bishop Auckland.

Born Solange Romanie Hyronette Decock in Lauwe, Belgium, on March 14, 1924, she was a middle child in a larger Catholic family of nine children - six girls and three boys.

Solange attended a convent school and hated it and couldn't wait to leave and went to work as a nanny in France when she was only fourteen.The Northern Echo: Solange wearing an RAF badgeSolange wearing an RAF badge (Image: Family)

Her daughter Susan Paterson said: "Usually one girl from the family became a nun but my mother refused and instead her older sister Margarite went to the convent.

"My mother was 16 years old when Belgium was invaded by Germany and she often told of how she helped her brothers to hide from the Nazis, to avoid being taken to work in labour camps in Germany.

"They hid in the cellar and attic and also in the farm at the back of their home.The Northern Echo: Solange, left, with her family in the 1930sSolange, left, with her family in the 1930s (Image: Family)

"On visiting her family home, many years later, she pointed out holes in the brickwork where the Nazis had fired riffles at the house to scare them into giving up their sons. This didn't work and all her brothers avoided being taken."

She added: "In 1945 in Brussels, on New Year's Eve she met my father who was serving in the RAF during the Second World War.

"The story is that they kissed next to a fountain and said 'Joyeux Noel' - and that was that. In a life-swap, my mother came to England in the spring of 1945 to live with my father's family in Middlestone Moor, Spennymoor, preparing for their wedding."The Northern Echo: Susan with her mum Solange, celebrating her 100th birthdaySusan with her mum Solange, celebrating her 100th birthday (Image: Family)

He was then stationed in Wevelgem Aerodrome, about two miles from Solange's family, so he visited her family frequently.

Solange spoke three languages fluently - her native Flemish, French and English, which she learned on meeting Tony.

"My father obtained a 48-hour pass and returned to England to marry my mother on August 21 1945. They honeymooned in Byers Green for one night in a relative's house," Susan said.The Northern Echo: Solange with daughter Susan

"He returned to Belgium and was part of the D-Day invasion. My mother lived with her in-laws in Spennymoor, where her first child Jack was born in June 1946."

Tony was due to serve in the Far East and was kitted out with his tropical gear, but the bomb was dropped on Japan and this brought that part of the war to an abrupt end.

After the war Tony returned home to family life and a second son Albert was born in 1949, followed by a daughter Susan in 1955.The Northern Echo: Four generationsFour generations (Image: Family)

Tony worked hard as a pump man in Spennymoor pit, to get money to allow my Solange to return to Belgium, nearly every year, to visit family.

Susan said: "She wasn't afraid to travel on her own (after all she originally came to this country on her own aboard a troop ship) and could navigate the London Underground with three kids and lots of luggage in tow.

"Up to the age of 98 she still travelled on buses as far as Newcastle, Sunderland and her favourite Tynemouth for fish and chips."The Northern Echo: Solange Johns

"Solange was a homemaker - she was an excellent cook and baker. She introduced foreign dishes no-one had heard of. She could decorate, hang wallpaper, sew curtains, quilts, cushions etc. I wore hand-smocked dresses and had beautiful knitted cardigans.

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"When I started school she started work at King Street School in Spennymoor, first as a dinner lady then as a lunchtime nanny. She loved looking after the children and is very well known in Spennymoor."

Solange is a devoted grandmother with seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

Susan said: "My mother has always been resourceful, determined and independent and was able to live in her own home until just before Christmas when she broke her hip and moved into the care home."The Northern Echo: Solange and Tony

The Northern Echo: Soon after meeting n BrusselsSoon after meeting n Brussels (Image: Family)