'Isolated' D-Day hero, 96, left overwhelmed as Portsmouth rallies to celebrate his birthday during lockdown

A D-DAY veteran sheltering in isolation from the coronavirus outbreak was given a surprise birthday celebration after his party was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Heroic paratrooper Arthur Bailey, 96, was left overwhelmed after the community rallied round to throw him the birthday bash he deserved.

The decorated war hero is one of only a handful veterans still alive today who survived the bloody invasion of Normandy, on June 6, 1944.

He was meant to have a party at Portsea’s Ship Anson pub to mark the big day today but with the pub now closed amid the lockdown, his celebration was cancelled.

D-Day veteran Arthur Bailey, who turns 96 on Tuesday, was given a surprise birthday celebration while in lockdown. Picture: Malcolm Wells (141687-3662)

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The situation sparked fears from friends he would be left presentless and alone on his birthday, leading to a rallying call from the Portsmouth Parachute Regimental Association.

And it generated a huge response, with children from three primary schools writing him cards and drawing pictures while neighbours and fellow veterans united to buy him food and treats.

Siblings Monty Davenport, seven, and Matilda, nine, who live at Boundary Way on the top of Portsdown Hill, even recorded a video message singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

Arthur Bailey, 96, holding up some of the cards sent to him by children to celebrate his birthday. He is pictured with his dog.

A stunned Arthur, who lives alone with his 14-year-old border collie at their home in Hawthorne Crescent, Cosham, said: ‘It’s unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. I’m so proud. I’ll never forget it. Everybody has been so kind to me and I’m so grateful. Thank you so much.’

In their card to him, children from Paulsgrove’s Victory Primary School, Beacon View Primary Academy and St Paul’s Catholic Primary School, praised the Second World War hero, who fought in the Battle of Arnhem and was awarded France’s highest medal for bravery, the Legion d’Honneur.

The children wrote: ‘To Arthur Bailey, thank you for fighting for our country. Hope you are staying safe and well and healthy.’

A visibly moved Arthur said the cards reminded him of those given to him by thankful French school children whenever he visited Normandy to mark the anniversary of D-Day. ‘It’s wonderful,’ he added.

Arthur Bailey, right, pictured with Graham Parsons, welfare officer of Portsmouth Parachute Regimental Association, left.

The gifts were delivered to Arthur by Graham ‘Doc’ Parsons, welfare officer at the Portsmouth Parachute Regimental Association.

The former Royal Navy medic, of Hordean, said: ‘He was blown away by it all. He was very grateful.

‘It’s such a touching story. Arthur is our last D-Day veteran left in Portsmouth and his health is deteriorating as old age catches up to him.

‘He is completely isolated and feels very much a prisoner in his own flat. I felt like I couldn’t desert him.’

One of the cards sent by a schoolchildren in Paulsgrove to mark the 96-year-old D-Day veteran's birthday.

Mr Parsons, 62, said the gesture came at a time when Mr Bailey felt like his world was ‘falling apart around him’.

The veteran has been left unable to see his 90-year-old girlfriend on Mondays after her care home closed to visitors because of coronavirus.

Meanwhile he has been unable to carry out his weekly duties at the D-Day Story museum in Southsea, which has also closed, or attend association meetings, which have ceased to protect members’ safety.

He added: ‘It’s been lovely to see how people have gelled together, not just for Arthur but for others as well. In times of crisis, it brings out the best in people.’

So much food was given to Arthur that the selfless pensioner has decided to donate some to veterans who ‘have nothing’ at the Somerville Court care home in Waterlooville.

A message from the Editor

One of the birthday cards

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One of the birthday messages
Siblings Monty Davenport, seven, and Matilda, nine, who live at Boundary Way on the top of Portsdown Hill, recorded a video message singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for Arthur. They are pictured holding up their dog.
An image of the birthday cake made by Pompey Paras.