Sunderland Death Railway veteran Len Gibson has died aged 101, according to reports
Sunderland Death Railway veteran Len Gibson has died at the age of 101, according to reports.
The 101-year-old, from West Herrington, died in hospital on Saturday – just days before the release of a memoir about his life, which will raise funds for the Daft as a Brush cancer charity.
Len was was one of the last survivors of the infamous Burma Death Railway and endured over two years of forced labour, physical cruelty, malnutrition, scorpion bites, typhus and malaria as a prisoner of war.
Sue Winfield OBE and Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear said in a tribute released to journalists: "Len was a wonderful man who not only survived such hardship as a prisoner of war but went on to contribute so much to local communities and ensure the memory of those who sacrificed their lives in the World War II was not forgotten.
"I first met him when he was awarded his BEM which was much deserved.”
Len’s friend Clinton Leeks said in a statement on Facebook: “He was tireless at veterans’ gatherings, telling his stories and playing his beloved guitar (often playing music he had composed in the prison camps).
“He was one of Sunderland’s greatest sons.”
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.
Len survived and returned to Sunderland, but was critically ill.
He spent many months in hospital, where he met a nurse, Ruby, who was to be his wife for 70 years.
His memoirs will included a forward from his former neighbour Dave Stewart, of the Eurythmics, who he spent time teaching how to play the guitar.