Queen’s Birthday Honours: Former Prisoner of War, 99, honoured for his services to Sunderland
A 99-year-old former Far East Prisoner of War has been honoured for his services to World War Two Remembrance and the community in Sunderland.
Len Gibson, who lives in Herrington, will receive the British Empire Medal and has been invited to attend the garden party at Buckingham Palace next year.
He said: “In a way I’m almost disappointed that I’m 99 and I can’t make use of it very much because years ago I was doing lots of work for the Far East Prisoners of War. I was entertaining older people, I was making money doing talks for the blind veterans.
“I seem to be doing a lot then that now I’m retired I’m not working so hard at it.
“It seems the wrong time to be awarded for things I’ve done in the past but I’m honoured really.
“I haven’t told my children yet, I think they may have worked it out though, but I know they’ll be really proud of me. They’re proud of me anyway.”
Len, who is father to David and Jennifer, worked for almost 40 years as a teacher finishing his career at Hasting Hill School aged 60.
Each year, the great-grandfather, who still lives independently, is asked by the city of attend Sunderland’s Remembrance Parade to read the FEPOW Prayer.
Thirteen years ago he joined forces with the History of Education Project to write his life story, his early years, life as a POW and his life after the war.
He spent three and a half years as a prison of war and helped build a railway that led to the death of thousands of men.
On his return, while at hospital in Ryhope, Len met the love of his life Ruby they were married 10 months later and were together for more than 70 years.
Few who survived the conflict were prepared to speak of their experiences, what they had endured and what they witnessed, yet he continues to relive his experiences in order to ensure that future generations learn of what happened and that we never forget.
He has been an active and vocal champion for Sunderland, most recently being involved in supporting the city’s bid for City of Culture in 2017.
In 2016 he worked with WildWorks theatre company as part of Sunderland’s Cultural Spring to create an event for the people of the city. He finished off the evening singing and playing his guitar to a standing ovation at the age of 96.
Len is one of a number of people from the North East to receive an honour on the Queen’s official birthday.
Bob Anderson, who carried the Olympic torch through Peterlee in 2012, will receive a British Empire Medal for voluntary service to sport in Peterlee.
Bob, 70, said: “I’m a bit embarrassed. I know so many people that do such amazing work that I feel deserve it more.
“It’s lovely and I feel really humbled but it’s for doing something I love doing.
“I didn’t think much of it when I found out I was nominated so it was a shock when I was told I would receive a BEM.
“I carried the Olympic torch in 2012. The day I found out that I was going to do it was the day my dad died. It was around March time, when I found out about this honour it wasn’t long after my mam had sadly passed away.
“I just think she would have been so proud of me.”
Since 1984, he has run the Peterlee Martial Arts Club, during which time he has trained thousands of people from the age of five up to 75 and several generations of families.
Four years later, he set up the Peterlee Celtic Football Club which developed into a senior team and joined the Peterlee and District Sunday League. If short of players, he will often step in himself to the amazement of both his own team and that of their opponents – he was still playing at the age of 69 against players 50 years his junior.
He is also on the Peterlee and District Sunday League’s Committee and held the position of secretary for many years.
He has tackled long-standing issues of discipline and a lack of referees and through his efforts saw that poor discipline was reduced by 90%.
Bob said: “I just want to encourage people never to give up. When I was at school my PE teacher told me I would never make it in sport. I wish he could see me now.”
Cricketer Kyle James Coetzer has received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
The former Durham batsman has been a lynchpin of Scottish cricket for 20 years with 163 caps and is regarded as one of the finest batsmen the country has ever produced.
He captained his country at U15, U17, U19 and currently in his second spell as captain of the national side.
He is Scotland’s all-time leading International run scorer with 5,434 runs and holds the record for most runs scored by a Scotland player in one season – 1,271 in 2017.
Kyle, who has lived in Houghton for the past three years, said: “It was a bit of a shock and a surprise when I found out.
“I’m obviously really honoured to receive an award of this magnitude. It’s not something I ever expected.
“I guess I’m quite vocal in terms of how we can continue to develop the game and find opportunities for players in the North East and players in Scotland.
“I want to see people get involved in the sport and maybe even have a potential career in cricket.
“Sport has been my whole life so I do what I can to try get people involved and take it up.”
“My wife called me and she was the one that old be about it which is really quite nice. I was actually playing cricket at the time and she never calls me so I was worried at first – this was something that never crossed my mind to happen.”
Dad to Louisa, five, and Gabriella, two, Kyle says his family and wife Sarah-Louise are ‘extremely proud’.