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REMEMBERING LEN: Sunday’s VJ Day memorial walk


A 25-mile VJ day memorial walk in honour of Burma Death Railway survivor Len Gibson and all other Far East POWs began in Newcastle city centre on Sunday.

The mammoth trek kicked off with fanfare at the cenotaph in Old Eldon Square before a bagpiper led the crowd down to the iconic Millennium Bridge and over the River Tyne.

The hike, held just weeks after the death of 101-year-old Len, also took in Souter Lighthouse before ending at Mowbray Park in Sunderland, the place of the great-grandfather's birth.

The event, attended by friends and family of Len as well as the public, was been organised by cancer charity Daft as a Brush, which recruited the veteran as a volunteer earlier this year.

Sadly Len, who endured forced labour and malnutrition as a Japanese POW, passed away last month, just days before the re-launch of his book, A Wearside Lad in WWII.

Proceeds from the sale of the new edition of his memoirs are being donated to Daft as a Brush, after the inspirational pensioner made national headlines for his work with the charity.

Brian Burnie, founder of Daft as a Brush and a close friend of Len's, said on Sunday:
"I've known Len Gibson for over 25 years, his recent passing is terribly sad. I've said it before, he is the greatest gentleman I've ever met.

"This Memorial Walk is to remember Len and all the Far East Prisoners of War. It will be an honour to lay a wreath at both Newcastle and Sunderland Cenotaphs on VJ Day, 15th August 2021.

"I hope communities can come together on Sunday and walk just a few paces, a mile or two or perhaps a little further for support and to remember the 'forgotten army'. The reception in Sunderland will be very moving."

The 24.5mile also took hikers past a Greggs outlet at the Bede Industrial Estate before ending at around 5pm.

Len was with the 125 Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery in 1942 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.

Whilst receiving critical hospital treatment following his return home to Sunderland, Len met nurse Ruby who was to be his wife for 70 years before she passed away in 2014.

He was famously a neighbour of the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, and taught him how to play the guitar when he was just a lad.

Speaking at a belated birthday celebration in May, Len reflected on life by saying: "When I was a prisoner of war on the Mergui Road there was a time when I thought it was so bad I was in hell.

"So I have experienced hell, and to be here today is heaven.

"I think what has kept me going all these years is a British spirit and I love

"Music helped me during my prisoner of war times and has helped me ever since.

"I am probably the luckiest man in the world and I really think that.

"I am so lucky and I have such lovely family and friends and I am at peace with
the world.

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