Terminally-ill mum gets perfect Christmas present as her parents' Veterans' Walk stones added to Sunderland memorial

A terminally-ill mum got her Christmas wish when the organisers of Sunderland’s Veterans’ Walk unveiled stones in the walkway in honour of her parents.

Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 7:00 am

Yvonne Smith said it was ‘very emotional’ to see her parents’ stones added to the city’s unique pathway in Mowbray Park, which honours both living and deceased Forces Personnel.

Wanting to honour her parents’ role in the war – with mum Millicent Picton serving in the WAF and dad Gilbert Chambers in the Northumberland Fusiliers – Yvonne decided to buy a granite slab in each of their names, engraved with their years of service.

The stones are usually laid twice a year and Yvonne’s were due to be installed in the next phase in June.

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Leonard Smith with wife Yvonne Smith, daughter Nicola Ross and her partner Warren Taylor.

But, when her daughter Nicola got in touch to say Yvonne was suffering from cancer and may not make it until June, organisers Rob Deverson and Tom Cuthbertson decided to fast-track the process so the mum could see the stones in situ before Christmas.

Yvonne, who is undergoing treatment for lung and bone cancer, said: "Watching them put the stones down was actually very emotional and was so kind of them.

"I think the Veterans’ Walk is such a brilliant idea, I don’t think they get enough recognition for what they do.”

The great grandmother, who lives in Monkseaton, added: “We told the family we had a surprise Christmas present for them and got them to meet us at the cenotaph in Sunderland and everyone was so emotional, they said it was a lovely touch and was the best Christmas present they could have.”

The slabs honouring Yvonne's parents

Yvonne’s mum served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force from 1941-1946, while her dad served as a Corporal in the Northumberland Fusiliers from 1940 to 1952.

The pair met during the war, but Gilbert didn’t want to get married until he returned safely from war. He was captured and tortured during his service, a bravery which saw him awarded the Africa Star as well as a medal for bravery. His medals were stolen and Yvonne has struggled to get replicas since, so his stone has become the perfect way to honour Gilbert, who passed away in 1986, aged 69, and Millicent, who passed away in 2014, aged 97.

It’s proved so successful at honouring people’s service that there are plans for versions in Gateshead and Warrington, along with talks ongoing with other authorities across the country.

Veterans' Walk organisers Rob Deverson and Tom Cuthbertson

Organiser Rob Deverson said: “Each of the stones tells a story, and we always try to be sensitive to people’s situations, but when we found out about Yvonne’s case we knew we had to pull out all the stops and get it done for Christmas for her.”

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