Tributes to well-known former Fakenham undertaker Ken Canler who has died at the age of 100

Ken Canler

Ken Canler - Credit: Archant

Warm tributes have been paid to a well-known former Fakenham undertaker and second world war veteran who has died at the age of 100.

Ken Canler, who died peacefully at his Highfield Road home following a short illness, was a strong-willed, well-respected man who enjoyed a lively debate and had a caring side that not everyone saw, according to Joy Swift who was his friend for more than 25 years.

Mr Canler was well-known in Fakenham for running Canler and Son funeral directors, which he set up with his father Ralph, for 34 years.

He had a distinguished army career, was a Royal British Legion member and he led Remembrance Day parades through Fakenham.

Mrs Swift said: 'Ken used to joke that they only asked him to lead the parades because they knew he had a bowler hat but he was very proud to do it.

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'People will have mixed memories of Ken. He did like to have good discussions and was sometimes quite strong in his views, but people respected him for it.

'He was very old school and was known for having a stiff upper lip but he had a soft, caring side that not everyone saw.'

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Mr Canler was born and brought up in Great Clacton in Essex and was the son of a builder.

After serving in the Essex Yeomanry Territorials he was commissioned into the Essex Regiment in early 1943 and had an early posting to Ismalia HQ in the Canal Zone.

He then joined the 1/4th Battalion of the Essex Regiment just in time to take part in the final battles in Tunisia.

The battalion was transferred to the Italian front in November 1943, initially on the east coast in the Sangro River area.

Mr Canler was wounded at Castle Hill during the third battle for Monte Cassino.

He returned to the battalion in July 1944 as an intelligence officer but the effects of his wounds limited his effectiveness in this post and on medical grounds he was posted back to base in an administrative position.

In 2003, Mr Canler returned to Cassino Battlefield as a guest and guide to 'E' Company (Essex and Hertfordshire) The East of England Regiment who were undertaking a tactical tour of the battlefield as a training exercise.

He was also present in 2006 when the Essex Regiment Association undertook a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino to dedicate a memorial on Castle Hill to all ranks of the Essex Regiment who gave their lives during the liberation of Italy in 1944.

Mr Canler continued his association with the regiment into his 90s, attending dinners and events.

After the war he moved to Fakenham with his parents Ralph and Ida Canler.

Mr Canler and his father became general managers of local builders Fisher and Son, and planned to take the business over.

These plans never materialised and in 1947 they bought the old tannery works on Highfield Road and set up their own building business which, at its peak, employed 16 men.

They also built their own home on Highfield Road, where Ken lived until he died, on August 9 this year.

In 1951 local undertaker Bertie Coleman retired and Mr Canler and his father accepted his invitation to take over the business.

Mr Canler retired at the age of 72 and sold the business to Blyth and Sons of Sheringham who continue to run the business under the Canler name.

Mr Canler had a long and active retirement, enjoying sailing at Wells, rugby and theatre.

Mrs Swift said: 'Ken's retirement was very happy and he was active and aware of what was happening right until the end.

'About four years ago he went into a care home for a few months after an operation and he didn't like it. He accepted an offer from my husband, David, who had been his friend for more than 25 years, to care for him at home.

'Ken said he wanted to make it to 100 and David said he'd get him there.'

Mr Swift died of leukaemia about 18 months ago so his Mrs Swift continued to care for Mr Canler up until he died.

Mr Canler turned 100 on April 23.

Mrs Swift said: 'Ken was always extremely strong-willed and I think that helped him make it to 100.

'I believe in the last 10 days he thought, he'd had a long happy life, had lots of fond memories and it was time to go so he wound himself down.'

Mr Canler was also a member of the Fakenham Men's Probus Club and he belonged to the Masonic Lodge in Fakenham.

Mrs Swift said: 'A lot of people didn't see it but Ken was a very caring man and always helped people who were less fortunate than others.

'I remember him giving money to a beggar when on the way to a theatre show in London.

'He also gave money to the homeless charity St Mungo's and Talking Books, which he used a great deal when his sight deteriorated because he loved reading.'

Mr Canler never married. He has five cousins living in the Clacton area.

He is remembered in a bench on a patch of grass near the Oak Street and Wells Road roundabout, which has his initials inscribed on it.

Mr Canler arranged for this to be done about a year ago.

Mrs Swift said: 'Ken always thought this would be a good way of making sure he was remembered.

'I remember him smiling and telling me he was happy that it was in a good spot as he often saw people sitting on it.'

Mr Canler's funeral will be at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Fakenham on August 27 at 2pm.

Family flowers only. Donations will be shared between St Mungo's and Talking Books.

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