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Salute to Stalybridge World War Two veteran on his 100th birthday
Wednesday 12th April 2017 @ 16:27 by Tom Greggan
News Stalybridge

A World War Two veteran from Stalybridge celebrated his 100th birthday in style with the Civic Mayor of Tameside on Tuesday.

George Watkins and Cllr Phillip Fitzpatrick were joined by George’s family for an afternoon tea at the Mayor’s parlour in Dukinfield Town Hall.

But a few other surprises were in store for George. Awaiting him at the steps of the town hall was a 105mm artillery gun, kindly provided by the 209 Battery 103 Regiment Royal Artillery. George spent six years, from 1938-1944, in North Africa and Italy with the Eighth Army.

After being serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’, George was asked to make a speech. He decided to show his playful side and addressed the room in Italian, a language he learnt during his time in the forces.

George cuts into birthday cake in the Mayor’s parlour.

Councillor Frank Travis, a founding member of the Tameside Armed Services Community, had helped organise the treat for George and in a speech in the Mayor’s Parlour, he hailed the Eighth Army’s crucial contribution to the war effort.

He also read out a letter from Regimental Colonel Darren Corrie of the Royal Logistics Corp, expressing his congratulations.

As George and his family enjoyed tea and a chocolate birthday cake, the Mayor expressed birthday wishes on behalf of the people of Tameside and thanked George for his service.

Cllr Fitzpatrick said: “I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Mr Watkins. I’ve visited several 100-year-olds in my time as mayor but this is the first time a 100-year-old has been in to the parlour at Dukinfield Town Hall to see me.

“Mr Watkins is incredible shape for his age and it was an honour and a pleasure to have afternoon tea with him and his family.”

Speaking about his milestone, George told the Tameside Reporter: “I don’t feel that I’ve reached 100. I’m not denying it but I live on my own and the way I’ve been looked after by my son, Paul, and his wife and our family; I’m as happy as a King!”

Paul is George’s only child and he has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was with his wife, Nelly, for 65 years before she passed away in 2009. Recalling the moment they first met, George said: “A friend and I were going across some spare ground and two girls were coming the other way and he said ‘Oh here’s my sister and her friend.’

“We stopped to talk to them. I knew his sister but I didn’t know her friend, I’d never met her in my life. We were stood talking and after we left I said to him, ‘I’m going to marry that girl there.’ He laughed his head off.

“The war came, I was called up and served in for six years. After I’d finished, I came home and she was still single, waiting for me. The first thing we did was get married.”

George spent the Second World War in a petrol unit in the Eighth Army, spending time in North Africa and then Italy. “The furthest I’d been from Stalybridge was Mottram Road!” he said.

George celebrated his 100th birthday at the Mayo’s parlour with his family. Cllr Frank Travis had arranged for the 105mm gun as a surprise for George on his arrival.

He still speaks Italian to this day, having learnt it to converse with colleagues and locals during the war.

“I enjoyed going to Italy because they couldn’t speak English and none of us could speak Italian, so I learnt the Italian language,” he said. “Paul has heard me do it when we’ve gone abroad. I still remember it because I keep practising it to myself on my own.

“I go to Church on a Sunday morning and there are a couple of Italian people who come and they like to get me going on it! They’re amazed that I can speak the language. But it isn’t a difficult language. Its’ a simple one to understand but I loved it because I could converse with the men and the women.

He continued: “That six years in the army made a different fella out of me than when I left. When I left this country I was unemployed, had no trade and had nothing really to call my own. I was 21 when I was called up and there was nothing I could tell them. I had to learn things in the army. When I came home, I’d made my mind up that I was going to change things from what they were.”

And George did just that, as he headed straight for the town hall, signed up for a clerical job and forged his career, working at various hospitals before retiring from Tameside in 1980.

As well as afternoon tea with the Mayor, George started the celebrations early, with a trip to his beloved Stalybridge Celtic on Saturday. George was the club’s guest of honour on the day and was treated to a meal, cake and perhaps more surprisingly, a win!