Gerry Rayner is not short of friends – and that was certainly proved when he was thrown not one, not two, but three birthday parties for his 100th birthday.
The centenarian, who lives in Havant, is well-known in his community and enjoyed get-togethers at his independent living block, the Meridian Shopping Centre and at The Plaza, Havant Borough Council.
Sixty-year-old Eileen Ball, Gerry’s carer and friend of three years, organised the party at the living block. She says: ‘Gerry is amazing. I set up a bingo session at his home a few years back and he came along, that’s how I got to know him.
‘Soon after he was taken to hospital and needed help, so I started to care for him.
‘Each time I see him he comes out with a different, brilliant story.’
Gerry has lived in Portsmouth for many years but is originally from Ardwick, Manchester. He served as a sergeant in the Army catering corp during the Second World War.
‘During the Malta siege we barely had anything to eat, no water,’ says Gerry.
‘It was hard but I enjoyed being a chef.’
After the war Gerry returned to his home city and worked for Manchester Water Works. He also worked for Goodman’s and did a lot of cycling as a young man. He then moved to Portsmouth to be near his sister.
Gerry adds: ‘I’ve never been out of work. I worked as a chauffeur and also as a porter at the Nuffield Club at Paulsgrove.
‘I think I’ve had a good life. I’m flattered I had three birthday parties, they were all very nice and there were lots of cakes.’
As well as working hard, Gerry liked to spend his spare time helping armed forces charity SSAFA, who provided him with a mobile scooter and furniture, to fundraise. He would collect for them and attend Remembrance Day services in his uniform, with his medals.
Even at the age of 100, Gerry stills visits the Meridian Shopping Centre a couple of times a week. He’s left an impression on many including centre manager, Rob Fryer, who says: ‘I’ve been at the centre for five-and-a-half years now and Gerry used to come in every day.
‘We originally got chatting because he was involved in the Second World War and so was my dad.
‘He’s an encyclopedia of history, a real old-fashioned gentleman, and well-loved by people in and around the centre, who are like family to him.
‘He’s also one of the last of a generation that we owe our great thanks and support to.’
Councillor Faith Ponsonby, Mayor of Havant, threw Gerry a tea party at The Plaza, Havant Borough Council. She says: ‘Gerry is a fascinating person with lots of stories about his wartime experiences in Africa, Malta and Italy.
‘He told me he walked 1,000 miles up the spine of Italy chasing out the Germans.
‘I was really impressed by him.’