Centenary party for Burma ‘star’

Lewis Gray with his card from the Queen for his 100th Birthday. NNL-150519-114316001
Lewis Gray with his card from the Queen for his 100th Birthday. NNL-150519-114316001

A Burma Star veteran has celebrated his 100th birthday with a card from the Queen.

Lewis Gray was given a party with his wife of 70 years, Dorothy, children and grandchildren at Green Pastures Nursing Home.

“His proudest moment over the past years has been to receive his card from the Queen,” said manager Anthea Speich.

Mrs Gray said as a young man, her husband was sent to elocution lessons to rid him of his village accent.

These proved useful when he was selected as the main communicator during the Burma Campaign of the Second World War. Mr Gray spent four years in India and Burma.

“While in Burma Lewis would often have to work from the back of a lorry and sometimes he had to set up radio communications in a dug out,” she said.

“Once he and his comrades had to run a cable across a river. They joined two ends of cable together using melted tar from the road and swam across the river to link communications on the far bank.”

Soldiers were only allowed to leave the camp in twos or threes and they would often go for walk. On one walk Lewis and a comrade came across a village that had been attacked by enemy forces and robbed of all their salt and other cooking items. The village chief invited them to his very basic hut where they used home made wooden bowls as cups.

Mr Gray noticed hens around the village and arranged with the chief to exchange salt for eggs which he would take back to camp after his visits, said Mrs Gray.

On another walkabout they came to a dry river bed. Diggingwith a stick he eventually dug a deep enough pool to take a bath. Seeing Lewis and his companions so clean, the commanding officer accused them of stealing water rations.Mr Gray explained about his dug out bath and so the officer went off to have a bath, followed by the rest of the camp’s soldiers. The men even improvised a shower by looping a hose pipe through trees.

Towards the end of the war Lewis overheard a strange dialect over the radio. It turned out to be Japanese. The Japanese were planning a mock retreat the following day, to make everyone think they had left and then reverse the action and attack the camp. Thanks to this interception they were able to avoid terrible consequences.