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World War II hero celebrates 102nd birthday in style


When a World War II hero faced spending his 102nd birthday on his own, his friend was determined to help him fulfil a life-long dream.

John Morris is the last surviving member of the Raiding Support Regiment, elite special fighters who took part in the campaign to liberate Italy and Yugoslavia.

Eight decades later, John is a Chelsea Pensioner and it had always been a dream of his to go for lunch at the luxury Ritz Hotel in London.

Friend and Irish Guards Charity Ambassador, Friederike Krum, made that dream a reality; the famous venue gave John the full five-star treatment.

"The Ritz always had a wonderful relationship with the Chelsea Pensioners, so they generously said 'yes, bring John along'," Friederike explained.

"[We had a] lovely lunch, champagne and celebrated in style".

Friederike, who is a professional mezzo-soprano opera singer and has performed for royalty, sang 'Happy Birthday' to John during the event, accompanied by one of the Ritz's grand pianos.

In April 2022, John became one of the last people to received a 100th Birthday card from Queen Elizabeth II before she passed away.

John thought the late Queen was "wonderful" and joked "I actually worked longer than she did. She gave up work at 96. I gave up work at 98."

Before joining the Special Forces, teenage John Morris began his military service in Sittingbourne, Kent, as part of the 89th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

He and his comrades were tasked with shooting down German bombers who were targeting London during the Blitz.

John said: "I joined the Territorial Army when I was 16. I was called up at the outbreak of war on September 9th."

"We had the old three inch guns...the first ones we had were very antiquated and we used to use open sites. We used to actually try to break up the formation [of the Luftwaffe] so the [British] fighters could get at them."

John joked: "the only thing I shot down was actually a chimney. A kitchen chimney, accidentally, by mistake. Nobody had any breakfast that morning. I wasn't very popular".

John's brother was a British bomber pilot based in Halifax, West Yorkshire. He was shot down over Germany and spent four and a half years as a prisoner of war.

Afterwards, he moved to South Africa and died five years ago, aged about 96.

John kept in touch with his brother after the war, but never saw him again because he was unable to travel to South Africa.

This week, local children from Christchurch Primary School, near to Royal Hospital Chelsea where John lives, delivered a number of handmade birthday cards to him.

John believes it is vital young people are taught about the sacrifices made by older generations.

"I think kids should know more about the sacrifices their forefathers made", John explained.

In 1943, John was sent to North Africa with the Royal Artillery, and volunteered to join the Special Forces.

"They came around asking for volunteers for the Raiding Support Regiment, which was a branch of the SAS. I, being young and stupid, volunteered."

John continued: "The SAS tests you. You're selected. Not many get through."

Upon passing selection, John went through six weeks of intense training that included parachuting out of a Wellington bomber's bomb doors.

John fought hard to push the Germans out of North Africa, before turning focus to Italy.

"The Germans really fought very hard, especially on the Tunisia border, the Kasserine Pass, I think it was."

"A lot of our troops were killed there. The Americans lost a lot of men as well."

"Italy itself was even worse. 75,000 British or colonial troops were killed in Italy. In Cassino, where I went to visit last year, there was actually 8,000 British killed. 3,000 prisoners of war and 22,000 Germans were killed in three months in Cassino. Heavy casualties."

Italy surrendered to the allied forces in September 1943, and John remained stationed in Italy.

The Royal Chelsea Hospital hosted a separate birthday party for him on Saturday, with his fellow Chelsea Pensioners, a few days before his 102nd birthday.