A Leeds war veteran received a unique long-distance gift for his 90th birthday – with a touching message and photo sent from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
Harry Thrush, of Robin Hood, Leeds – who served as a gunner in Italy during World War Two – was presented with the special package at his 90th birthday celebrations at The Old Colonial pub in Mirfield.
It was organised through his son Geoff’s partner, Jo-anne Holmes, who worked at Doncaster Royal Infirmary with trauma surgeon Mansoor Khan - now a surgeon commander with the Royal Navy in Afghanistan.
Mr Thrush Snr said: “I was really proud. All of them are smiling – it’s a really good photo. I shake all their hands. It was really nice to read it out to all who had come to the party.”
Mr Thrush was one of four brothers who served in the war. He signed up when he was 18 in 1942 and was sent to Italy where he fought with the 7th Mountain Regiment.
In the personal message from Afghanistan, the ‘Role 3 Hospital Doctors’ wished him happy birthday and said they had “utmost respect” for him.
Mr Thrush’s son Geoff said: “He was a bit overwhelmed when it happened. But he is proud as punch now.”
His other son David said he is quite active for his age and regularly disappears on the bus or train, leaving a note to tell his family where he has gone. He also – without fail – travels across Yorkshire to the funerals of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. David said: “He meets the families to say he’s thinking of them.” In 1943 the Thrush family featured in the Yorkshire Evening Post where we told the story of the four brothers and two of their sisters, who were also helping with the war effort.
WHAT THE MESSAGE SAID:
FAO Gunner Thrush, of 7th Mountain Regiment, Salerno war veteran:
Happy 90th birthday. Have a wonderful birthday night celebration. We and all the trauma team and soldiers out in Afghanistan send our best wishes. We have the utmost respect for you and many thanks for your service.
Role 3 Hospital Doctors, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
Harry recalls facing the horrors of war aged just 18...
After training in Yorkshire, Gunner Thrush sailed from Portsmouth on one of a number of Gibraltar-bound ships. He said: “Two sunk. They were full of troops and no-one could pick them up because they couldn’t stop the convoy. The survivors in the water were just left to drown. Hundreds of people. That was a horrible experience. It was frightening as well at that age. You thought you were next. You were expecting this shell to come.”
Later, after a gruelling trek with mules carrying their guns, they reached the mountainous region of Salerno in Italy, where they went into action. He said their Screw Guns were like “pea shooters on wheels” as they had to get so close to the Germans. He said: “You could hear them talking.”
He recalled having to use his jacket as a stretcher when two were injured – and later died – when a gun blew up.
He spent eight months in Italy. “The Germans were squeezed out of position. I’m hoping being so close to them, we made them move.”