Sunderland war veteran Len Gibson celebrates 100th birthday surrounded by friends and family

A Second World War veteran who spent four years as at a Japanese prisoner of war camp has celebrated his 100th birthday.

Monday, 6th January 2020, 9:08 am
Updated Monday, 6th January 2020, 2:04 pm

Described as an ‘absolute gentleman’, Len Gibson BEM has touched countless lives in his 100 years.

Mr Gibson was a member of the 125 Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery when he was captured by the Japanese in 1942.

He then became a POW on the Burma Death Railway before his liberation three and a half years later in 1945.

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Len Gibson giving a speech at Sunderland War Memorial.

Faced with death by starvation, torture and disease everyday, Mr Gibson’s lust for life lifted the spirits of other prisoners when they were at their lowest.

Always the entertainer, Mr Gibson, who now lives in New Herrington, constructed a guitar out of an old wooden crate and pilfered telegraph wires and would sing and play to fellow prisoners in the camp.

Nearly 200 of the 125 Regiment died during captivity and Mr Gibson is now the lone survivor.

The veteran returned to his hometown of Sunderland a sick man and fell in love with one of the nurses, Ruby, who brought him back to health.

Len Gibson at his 100th birthday party.

The couple spent their lives together before Ruby sadly passed away months before their 70th wedding anniversary.

Mr Gibson became a music teacher, working at schools in Sunderland, before becoming a deputy headteacher.

He touched hundreds of young lives and family members recall former students attending his talks and thanking him for the life lessons he taught them.

Looking back on the last century, Mr Gibson, who turned 100 on January 3, said he’d do it all again.

One of Len Gibson's birthday cakes.

Speaking to the Echo at a birthday party held for him at The Stables, Mr Gibson said: “I didn’t think I’d live to be 100.

“For four years I was a prisoner of war. I was a slave. These were horrible times – they starved us and beat us and they didn’t even clothe us.

“But I would do all that again because I have had such a marvellous life afterwards.”

Dozens turned out to celebrate Mr Gibson’s big birthday with friends and family laughing along as the born-entertainer addressed the crowd.

His daughter, Jennifer Gladwell, said: “Every day has been a gift.

“He’s always been an entertainer. When we were younger he’d spend all of the summer holidays with us – we have such happy memories.”

Mr Gibson’s nephews, Alan and Mel Robson, say Mr Gibson was always the ‘fun uncle’ adding that the stories he tells are truly ‘unique’ and ‘inspirational’,

Alan said: “He has time for anybody who speaks to him. I think one of his overriding characteristics is that he is such a gentleman.

“You can’t go through experiences like he did not known if you’d survive without it profoundly changing you.

“Even in the camp he seemed to have this lust for life.”

Clinton Leeks OBE, who helped organise the village party on Sunday, January 5, said: “He’s just a great man – he’s a Sunderland legend really.”