Motorbike fan age 108 is oldest war hero

Published on: Monday, 13th November 2023
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Donald Rose with a selection of cards on his 108th birthday
Donald Rose as a young soldier
Donald gets aboard a motorbike - ticking off an item from his own bucket list

A soldier with a passion for motorbikes has seen his heroism during World War Two marked by a visit from civic dignitaries on Armistice Day – as he revs up for his 109th birthday.

Ex-Desert Rat Donald Rose – the UK’s oldest surviving World War Two veteran – has been hailed as “one of a kind” by staff at Ilkeston’s Canal Vue care home.

A public appeal for people to send him birthday cards last year when he turned 108 saw him get more than 150 – many from total strangers.

Donald, whose birthday is on Christmas Eve, declared: “I’ve never had so many in all my life. It’s grand.”

Erewash Mayor Councillor Frank Phillips led a delegation to honour him following Saturday’s Armistice Day ceremonies at Ilkeston’s Cenotaph and Long Eaton’s War Memorial.

The poignant tributes came ahead of Remembrance Sunday took place at 11am – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Deputy Mayor Kate Fennelly, 53, who is the council’s Armed Forces Champion, said: "Having served in the RAF I feel our courageous old soldiers should never be forgotten, especially world war veterans like Donald.

“There are fewer and fewer left who we can talk to face-to-face about their experiences. Donald lives in my home town, which makes it more special.”

Donald is the world’s seventh-oldest surviving WW2 veteran. He was born in 1914 and served on the frontline with the 7th Armoured Division after joining the Queen’s Royal Regiment at age 25.

He saw action in North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany – later training as a sniper.

Last birthday he said when quizzed about his longevity: “Everyone asks this – there’s no secret.” He added: “It doesn’t feel like a milestone.”

Donald recalled how the postman told him when he turned 100: “Somebody has got you a telegram.” The old soldier replied: “Yes, it’s from the Queen.” 

Mayor Cllr Phillips said: “The borough and the entire nation owe an immense debt of gratitude to Donald – as we also honour all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest we forget.” 

Father-of-one Donald, whose wife died in 2001, used to work for the gas board. Son David Rose, 74 – a retired NHS hospital technician living in West Hallam – described the response to the cards appeal as “a real lump in the throat moment”.

He said: “We’re all gobsmacked.” His father’s medals include France’s highest award – the Legion D'Honneur. But David said: “He didn’t want the medals, he wanted no fuss and he just got on with it.”

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