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D-Day veteran celebrates 100th birthday at surprise party thrown by family

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D-Day veteran celebrates 100th birthday at surprise party thrown by family

A D-Day veteran who was shot by a tank appeared overcome by emotion as he celebrated his 100th birthday at a surprise party organised by his family.

Bill Gladden was 20 years old when he flew into Normandy on a military glider with a tank and six motorbikes on June 6, 1944.

He moved to an orchard just outside the French village of Ranville, near the strategically important Pegasus Bridge that the 6th Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment was tasked with protecting.

But he was severely injured when he was shot in the leg by a German tank 12 days after he arrived.

He was flown back to the UK and spent the following three years in hospital.

He turns 100 on Saturday, and his family organised a surprise party for him on Friday.

Mr Gladden was open-mouthed as he saw the crowd of people waiting for him at the community hall in Haverhill, Suffolk, and they began to sing Happy Birthday.

As people set off party poppers the veteran, who was brought into the room in a wheelchair, raised his cupped palms to his sides and mouthed “thank you”.

When asked later by a guest if he had any idea about the surprise, he replied: “No idea whatsoever.”

His niece Kaye Thorpe, who organised his surprise 100th birthday party, said: “I just think he’s a legend, what he’s been through, what he’s seen, what he’s done.

“He’s just amazing, and he’s still bright as a button on top.

“Not many people reach to 100 now, so I had to do something.”

Former carer Mrs Thorpe, 59, said Mr Gladden told family he didn’t want “any fuss”, so they told him they were going out for a meal to get him to the surprise party.

The gathering was attended by family, friends and people from the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans – who have taken Mr Gladden back to Normandy in recent years.

The hall was decorated with balloons and there was a cake with a military beret, aircraft and medals in icing.

Mrs Thorpe said her uncle, who moved to Haverhill from Welling in south-east London, hopes to return to Normandy for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in June.

She said Mr Gladden was “very proud”, adding: “He’s very kind and generous, very emotional, as we all are.

“He’s very family orientated. He loves telling stories.”

She said that he was not in Normandy for long after D-Day.

“He always says he didn’t do much because he got injured, he got wounded,” said Ms Thorpe.

“He was only over there for about 12 days then he was three years in hospital.

“He had his ankle virtually blown off, shot off.

“It was hanging on by the Achilles heel. He was in a bad way.”

She said he was carried to a barn near to the orchard for medical attention.

He returned to the barn on a visit to Normandy, which Ms Thorpe described as “emotional”.

Mr Gladden has a daughter, 61-year-old Linda Durrant, who has Down’s syndrome, and they hugged one another at the party.

Mr Gladden was in the building trade before the war and subsequently worked in various jobs in factories and in payroll, Mrs Thorpe said.

She said he loves singing and painting, and has created watercolour artworks from his memories of the Second World War.

Her husband, Alan Thorpe, drove Mr Gladden to the surprise party and he said the veteran had no idea.

The 48-year-old, who runs an office supplies business, said: “I had to tell him a white lie unfortunately – I said we were bringing him out for dinner.

“He had no idea.

“When he starts welling up, we got him.

“He’s an inspiration, he really is.”

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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