War hero Len Gibson remembered as VJ Day walk makes its way from Sunderland to Newcastle

Sunderland war hero Len Gibson BEM and other veterans have been honoured on the eve of the anniversary of VJ Day.

Tomorrow, Monday, August 15, marks 77 years since the cessation of hostilities in the Far East brought a final end to the Second World War.

Dozens of people took part in a walk from Sunderland’s cenotaph to its counterpart in Newcastle today to mark the occasion.

The walk, organised by cancer charity Daft as a Brush, set off on its 24.5mile route from Sunderland at 7am and stopped off in South Shields for a wreath-laying service on the steps of the Town Hall, complete with a poppy drop from an overhead crane.

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Unfortunately the sea fret which has plagued the coast over the last few days meant a planned fly-past by vintage aircraft was unable to go ahead.

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After leaving South Tyneside, the walk was due to make its way through Newcastle, picking up more people on he way, with organisers expecting up to 150 people to reach the final objective.

Len Gibson, who spent more than three years as a Japanese prisoner of war, was a keen supporter of Daft as a Brush and one of the charity’s ambulances is dedicated to him.

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A touching tribute to Len Gibson.

Founder Brian Burnie said the walk was the reverse of an event which was first held last year.

“Last time we walked from Newcastle to Sunderland, this time we are walking from Sunderland to Newcastle,” he said.

"We hope we will be able to make it an annual event to allow the North East to mark VJ Day.”

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Brian said he had been overwhelmed by the numbers who had turned out to show their support: “These people are all volunteers who have given up their own time to be here,” he said.

The civic party on the Town Hall steps

"It is ten times bigger than last year and I am very, very moved.”

Brian paid tribute to Len Gibson, whom he described as ‘the greatest man I have ever met in my entire life’ and said he would have been delighted with today’s turn-out.

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"I think he would be very proud,” he said.

Len passed away last year at the age of 101: “He always said the best way to pay back his captors was just to outlive them,” said Brian.

Brian Burnie leads the walk into South Shields
Daft as a Brush founder Brian Burnie (left) with Len Gibson at a celebration of his 101st birthday at Herrington Country Park in May last year

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Sounding The Last Post
Poppies descend from the crane
Mayor of South Tyneside Coun Pat Ha lays a wreath