101 year old World War II veteran from Sunderland visits school on charity mission

Len Gibson visiting Hasting Hill Academy in West Herrington, Sunderland Credit: North News

One of the last survivors of the infamous Burma Death Railway has undertaken his first volunteer mission for a cancer charity at the age of 101.Earlier this year World War II veteran Len Gibson, from Sunderland, signed up for work with Daft as a Brush, which provides free transport to hospitals for patients.

Today, Len has visited Hasting Hill Academy in West Herrington, Sunderland, where on his return from the horrors of the Japanese prisoner of war camp he became head teacher for 40 years.

Len Gibson speaking to school children in Sunderland Credit: North News

The great-grandfather says, "It's always been a privilege to be able to talk to young people who are so keen to learn. I hope they'll help me spread the word so we can provide more transport needed for cancer patients all over the country."

Former Bombardier Len Gibson is helping with a drive to roll out the organisation, which provides free transport to and from hospitals, across the UK.The charity aims to be operating in Aberdeen, Londonderry, Cardiff and London by 2022 and Len has been appealing for volunteers and fundraisers in those areas to step forward.

Len with Brian Burnie from Daft as a Brush Credit: North News

The indomitable veteran survived the horrors of being a Far East prisoner of war to become a musician and teacher who inspired thousands of young people, including his neighbour, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.In 1942 Len was with the 125 Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery when his ship was bombed by Japanese planes and he lost his beloved banjo.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 until liberation in 1945.While interred he built his own musical instrument and entertained fellow prisoners around a fire each night.He endured two years of forced labour, physical cruelty, malnutrition and malaria, and was one of few who survived but was critically ill on his return to Sunderland.He fell in love with a nurse, Ruby, who cared for his while he was in hospital, and she went on to become his wife for 70 years, before she died in 2014.

Len and Brian looking at the pupils' Daft as a Brush display Credit: North News

Brian Burnie, founder and Trustee of Daft as a Brush, said: "We've already extended our services from Newcastle to Carlisle."Our aim is to recruit enough volunteers and funds to be operating in hospitals in Aberdeen, Londonderry, Cardiff and London in 2022 - and Len is helping us appeal for volunteers and fundraisers in those areas. He's also donating the proceeds of his memoirs "A Wearside Lad" to the fund."He is an amazing man who has set out to ensure that no one forgets how important it is to have peace across the world and that's his message to young people."The school has invited him to meet groups of pupils and we’ll be showing off the brand new Daft as a Brush ambulance - named ‘Len Guitar Gibson’ in his honour – which they helped to design."

Len and Brian with a pupil from Hasting Hill Academy Credit: North News

You're never too old to help

Len says, "You're never too old to help someone if you can. Daft as a Brush isn't so daft – it's a lifeline for cancer patients - and I want to help them open their services all over the country."When you know the hardship and sacrifice others have made you want to be able to spread joy and happiness. "I've had my music, worked with children and young people all my life, and have had the privilege to be able to keep alive the memory of those who gave everything for their country.  "Cancer is stressful enough without having to worry about how you are going to travel and we can all help Daft as a Brush win this battle for hospital patients everywhere it's needed."