Tributes are paid to 'greatest gentleman' Len Gibson as launch of his book will remember life of Sunderland war veteran
A book launch planned for war hero Len Gibson’s life story will now be held as a celebration of his life following his death aged 101 at the weekend.
The Second World War hero, retired teacher and guitarist died in hospital on Saturday, July 31.
The launch of his revised book, A Wearside Lad in World War II, was already due to be launched tomorrow, Tuesday, August 3, in support of Daft as a Brush, the patient care charity which helps those with cancer.
It plans to press ahead with the event, as it says Len would have wished so, in recognition of his achievements, calling him a “remarkable gentleman and true inspiration.”
Founder Brian Burnie, 77, described Len as “The greatest gentlemen I have ever met” and added: “The book is a celebration of his life.
"It will be poignant and lasting memorial to a man who helped an unbelievable number of people over the decades.
“Our thoughts are with Len’s family and friends at this time.”
Len, from West Herrington, was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in recognition of his community and voluntary Service in 2019.
As a Far East Prisoner of War (FEPOW) he was forced to work on the Mergui Road building the 'Death Railway' in Burma after he was captured following the fall of Singapore in 1942.
He regularly led prayers and readings in honour of fallen comrades at commemorative events in Sunderland including its Remembrance Parade and Service, and community events including those run by Age UK Sunderland and Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
As an official Ambassador for Sunderland, Len was part of the bid for City of Culture in 2017, with the Cultural Spring among those to add words of tribute to Len, after he joined in its Great Night Out event in 2016.
He performed On The Street Where I Used to Live in tribute to wife Ruby, who had died just weeks earlier, winning a standing ovation from the audience.
The couple, who were married for 70 years, met when she was nurse and he was brought back to Sunderland to recover from his prisoner of war ordeal.
A Cultural Spring spokesperson said: “Len was a special man, kind, gentle and generous despite him seeing and experiencing the very worst of human behaviour.
"He taught Dave Stewart and countless others to play the guitar, he taught one of our own team to ballroom dance, but most of all he taught us to forgive.
“A teacher, a true hero and an inspiration. Rest in peace.”
Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Harry Trueman, said: “I know everyone is very saddened to hear of Len Gibson's death and our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his family and all his friends.
“He was a familiar figure across Sunderland and the North East region for his work and commitments on remembering and raising awareness of the suffering and sacrifices that so many people have given while in service.
“Len himself was no stranger to suffering because of his experiences as a prisoner of war on the ‘Death Railway’ in Burma.
“He led prayers and readings honouring his fallen comrades at many important events, including the city centre’s Remembrance Sunday service and parade where he would recite the Far Eastern Prisoner of War Prayer before the wreath laying.
“As an ambassador for our city he was very much a 'local hero' and a man who served his community.
"He truly was a very exceptional man.”
Sue Winfield, OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, presented Len with his BEM and said: “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.
"It was a delight to see him at his recent birthday celebration in Herrington Country Park, where although he was the star of the show as usual he made sure he shared the spotlight with the children from his former school, which clearly meant a lot to him and to them.
“He will be greatly missed and we will ensure his legacy lives on.”