A ‘forgotten hero of Dunkirk’ was overwhelmed after hundreds turned out so he didn’t have a lonely 100th birthday – including a military fly past.
Eric Taylor appeared in his front garden to wave in front of a giant Union Jack as dozens of well-wishers drove or walked by.
A brass band surprised him with a special rendition of ‘happy birthday’ while two fighter jets from a nearby Royal Navy base also flew overhead.
And after an appeal from his family – who had to cancel planned celebrations due to coronavirus – he received nearly 450 cards from people across the world.
The celebrations were split into two one hour slots on Tuesday afternoon.
Eric, of Helston, Cornwall, said: “I’m so pleased to reach this age and still able to enjoy what I’ve received today, with everybody helping to make a tremendous day on my 100th birthday.
“I’m thrilled to be here with the people and enjoy it.
“I hadn’t imagined it would be like this. It is really beyond my expectations seeing people turning up three or four times a day.
“I am a bit overwhelmed. It’s fantastic.”
Eric was just 19 when he was captured in France with the Royal Norfolk Regiment, while defending the get-away at Dunkirk.
His regiment became detached from those that were evacuated and joined the Scottish 51st Highland Division and as they were pushed back to the coast at St Valery en Caux.
A week after Dunkirk the French forces surrendered and the remaining forces were captured and became prisoners of war.
He was then marched to Poland and five years as a German prisoner of war, before being marched back in 1945 when America released them from the German army.
Eric was later awarded the British Empire Medal for his services and featured in the Channel 4 documentary Dunkirk – The Forgotten Heroes, which was recently shown again on TV with the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk.
His son Bruce Taylor, who organised the events, said people were desperate to pay tribute and felt it was an even more memorable occasion than it would have been if the original plans had been able to go ahead.
He said: “There were over 200 physical cards that arrived through the door, including from Her Majesty the queen and the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall.
“I’ve also had in excess of 250 emails and 200 e-cards from America, Canada, France, and all over the UK – from fellow veterans to young children.
“There’s been so many that all he’s done is open them and put them in a basket, he’ll read them when he gets the time.
“The response has been superb, and he’s had a fantastic day. I think he’s been overwhelmed.
“There was a good 100 people at the drive by, there were lots of motorbikes and cars beeping their horns for him, and two fighter jets from RNAS Culdrose did a fly by.
“He was aware that there were things going on, but he didn’t realise the extent. But he was delighted, he thought it was absolutely terrific.”
Bruce said despite reaching 100 his dad was still living an independent life and kept his “razor-sharp” wit.
He added: “We’ve had a fantastic day despite the lockdown and it has probably been even more memorable due to the circumstances.
“At 19 he was captured in France and was then a prisoner of war for the rest of the war. He had a difficult time during the war but lived to tell the tale and managed to live on to become 100.
“He knew we had bits organised but I don’t think he thought for one minute there would be so many people or so much going on.
“It’s been full of surprises and he’s been thrilled that so many people have turned up to wish him well and offer their congratulations for making it to 100.”
After the war, Eric went on to become a St Keverne Brass Band legend, playing the B-flat bass from 1950 onwards and in more recent years conducing the training band, teaching hundreds of children over the years.
He only gave it up five years ago and the band joined the celebrations by playing for his birthday.