Commemorations take place in Sunderland after memorial walk from Newcastle in honour of war hero Len Gibson
Commemorations have taken place in Sunderland to mark the end of a memorial walk in memory of war hero Len Gibson and his comrades who suffered alongside him on the infamous Death Railway.
The 101-year-old great-grandfather passed away on July 31, aged 101 – just days before the launch of his book, A Wearside Lad in World War II.
A 25-mile memorial walk organised by cancer charity Daft as a Brush began at the cenotaph in Old Eldon Square, Newcastle, on August 15 before a bagpiper led the crowd down to the Millennium Bridge and over the River Tyne.
The route took walkers through Jarrow, South Shields, and Whitburn before finishing at the Sunderland Cenotaph at Mowbray Park in the late afternoon.
Mayor of Sunderland Councillor Henry Trueman and Daft as a Brush founder Brian Burnie were among those to speak at the event, where Rev. Juliet Stephenson conducted the memorial service.
A bugler also sounded ‘The Last Post’ at the ceremony.
Brian said: “I’ve known Len Gibson for over 25 years, his recent passing is terribly sad. I’ve said it before, he is the greatest gentleman I’ve ever met.
"This Memorial Walk is to remember Len and all the Far East Prisoners of War.”
The 24.5mile walk took hikers past a Greggs outlet at the Bede Industrial Estate, and light refreshments were served at The William Jameson Wetherspoon Pub in Sunderland at the end.
Speaking before the day’s events, Brian told how Len had joined him towards the end of his fundraising 7,000-miles walk along the coastal path of Great Britain and Ireland.
"Len Gibson, albeit he was ‘only’ 100 years of age at that time, walked with me the last half-mile to the finishing line on the Newcastle side of the (Millennium) Bridge.
"It was raining and to keep our spirits up, Len and I and all the walkers sang 'This Old Man'. I have so many happy memories of Len."
Len was with the 125 Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery in 1942 when his ship was bombed by Japanese planes and he lost his beloved banjo.
After making it to shore, he was captured and as a prisoner of war was forced to work on the infamous Mergui Road building the Death Railway in Burma until liberation in 1945.
Whilst receiving critical hospital treatment following his return home to Sunderland, Len met nurse Ruby who was to be his wife for 70 years before she passed away in 2014.
He was famously a neighbour of the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, and taught him how to play the guitar when he was just a lad.
Speaking at a belated birthday celebration in May, Len reflected on life by saying: "When I was a prisoner of war on the Mergui Road there was a time when I thought it was so bad I was in hell.
"So I have experienced hell, and to be here today is heaven.
"I think what has kept me going all these years is a British spirit and I love music."
"Music helped me during my prisoner of war times and has helped me ever since.
"I am probably the luckiest man in the world and I really think that.
"I am so lucky and I have such lovely family and friends and I am at peace with the world."