Sunderland Death Railway survivor Len Gibson donates fascinating memoirs to Daft as a Brush cancer charity

One of the last survivors of the infamous Burma Death Railway has donated his fascinating memoirs to a cancer charity.

Sunday, 1st August 2021, 11:04 am
Len Gibson with a copy of his memoirs.

Centenarian Len Gibson, from West Herrington, Sunderland, has written of the struggles he faced as a POW as well as his time teaching neighbour Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics how to play the guitar.

His book, A Wearside Lad in WWII, will be available from next week and all proceeds will go to Daft as a Brush Cancer Patient Care, which provides free transport for hospital appointments.

Great grandfather Len first penned the book 15-years-ago but it has now been updated and republished to mark his centenary.

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Len Gibson.

Len's own account of his extraordinary life will help the charity open new volunteer centres, starting in Aberdeen, Londonderry, Cardiff and London next year.

Former bombardier Len survived the horrors of being a Far East Prisoner of War to become a much-loved musician and teacher, inspiring young people, including his neighbour, Dave Stewart who went on to found the world-famous band, the Eurythmics.

The reprint includes new material and a foreword from Dave Stewart.

Len, 101, said: "It's very important that we remember that people sacrificed their lives for the hope of peace in the world.

Len Gibson in his younger days.

"Not everyone was lucky enough to survive and have the opportunities I have had so it's always been a privilege for me to be able to honour the memory of those brave colleagues I lost and the many millions of others who died.

"War brings out the worst and the best in people and it is not an experience anyone would want for their sons or daughters today. So I am delighted the book is back in print and doubly so that it is also helping Daft as a Brush help cancer patients."

Brian Burnie, the founder of Daft as a Brush, said: "It was an honour and a labour of love for the team to work on updating and republishing Len's book.

"It will help us raise awareness so that we can recruit more volunteers and raise cash to help realise our ambition to bring our services to patients who desperately need them nationwide."

In 1942 Len was with the 125 Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery when the ship taking them to the Far East conflict was bombed by Japanese planes.

Len was rescued from the ocean but his beloved banjo went down with the ship.

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 (now Myanmar) until liberation in 1945.

While in the camp he determined to build his own musical instrument and worked out how to make a guitar.

He entertained fellow prisoners around a fire each night.

Despite over two years of forced labour, physical cruelty, malnutrition, scorpion bites, typhus and malaria, he survived but was critically ill on his return to Sunderland. He spent many months in hospital, where he met a nurse, Ruby, who was to be his wife for 70 years.

Daft as a Brush was founded by former businessman Brian Burnie and is powered by over 400 volunteers, who provide around 40,000 individual journeys each year so that patients at the cancer centres in Newcastle and Cumbria do not have to worry about how they will get to their appointments.

The book will be launched on Tuesday August 3rd and will be available on-line (at £12 plus postage) from or by phone on 0191 28 55 999.

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