A 99-year-old community hero has been awarded the prestigious British Empire Medal (BEM).

The BEM is given to people who have made outstanding contributions to their communities, professions, country or walk of life. The medal is awarded as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Len Gibson, from West Herrington, Sunderland, received his medal in a ceremony in the Mayor’s Parlour in Sunderland Civic Centre. The medal was presented by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan Winfield OBE.

As well as being a retired teacher, Mr Gibson is a veteran of World War II. As a Far East Prisoner of War (FEPOW), he was forced to work on the notorious Death Railway in Burma.

Mr Gibson often leads prayers and readings at events to remember fallen soldiers, such as the Remembrance Parade and Service in Sunderland City Centre.

He is also involved with Age UK Sunderland and the Sunderland Antiquarian Society and frequently speaks at their events.

In addition, Mr Gibson was an ambassador for Sunderland during its bid for City of Culture 2017, featuring in a cultural celebration during which – at 96-years-old – he won a standing ovation for his singing and guitar playing.

The ceremony at which Mr Gibson received his British Empire Medal was hosted by the Mayor of Sunderland, Cllr David Snowdon. Also present were Mr Gibson’s sister Ena Gardiner, his daughter Jennifer and her husband, one of his granddaughters, three of his grandsons and five of his great-grandchildren.

His family members were escorted to their seats by the Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet.

Len Gibson BEM said, “I have lived in Sunderland for almost one hundred years, in a city which I love surrounded by good friends and a marvellous family – what more could a man wish for?”

“I am honoured to be awarded the British Empire Medal, and proud to accept not only personally but on behalf of the fallen friends and comrades whose memory and sacrifice I work with the people of Sunderland to remember.”

“My only regret is that my dear departed wife isn’t here to share this day; she would have been so proud.”

Len Gibson’s daughter Jennifer said, “All my father’s family and friends were delighted to hear about this special presentation.”

“They all know how tirelessly he has worked to support his fellow members of the FEPOW, more recent veterans, and also the city and community of his beloved Sunderland of which he is a proud and lifelong resident.”

Cllr David Snowdon said, “Mr Gibson is a true hero of his city, his community and his country and I was honoured to be able to join him and his family for the presentation of his British Empire Medal.”

“His presence at remembrance and community events throughout the year is greatly valued and appreciated, where he represents veterans across the armed forces and across history with valour and distinction.”

(This article’s featured image shows Len Gibson BEM.)

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