Eric Taylor is a veteran of the British military and is known as the “forgotten hero of Dunkirk” by his family and friends.
He also recently celebrated his 100th birthday and was expecting to have a pretty quiet celebration. After all, many people around the world are still generally adhering to social distancing measures, which make it difficult to throw a big birthday party.
Eric was happy standing in his front garden waving to a few dozen people who drove or walked by his home, but the celebrations quickly took on an even more celebratory air when a brass band showed up and played him “Happy Birthday,” and two jets from a Royal Navy base flew over his home.
Talk about an incredible way to begin such a momentous birthday!
Eric’s family had also put out a call on social media, and the veteran was surprised when he received almost 450 birthday cards and greetings from people all around the world. But happily, that wasn’t all they had planned for him.
So many people wanted to toast Eric on his birthday that his family ended up splitting the day into two one-hour shifts. Eric was completely overcome. “I’m so pleased to reach this age and still able to enjoy what I’ve received today, with everybody helping to make a tremendous day on my 100th birthday.”
“I’m thrilled to be here with the people and enjoy it. I hadn’t imagined it would be like this. It is really beyond my expectations seeing people turning up three or four times a day. I am a bit overwhelmed. It’s fantastic.”
Eric is definitely something of a local military hero. He was only 19 years old when he was captured in France while defending Dunkirk. He and the rest of the prisoners of war were marched to Poland, and then they spent five years in a prisoner camp in Germany. They were all released by the American army in 1945.
Once he returned home, Eric was given the British Empire Medal, and he also took part in a documentary about Dunkirk called Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes. The documentary recently re-aired to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the battle.
Eric’s son, Bruce Taylor, led the effort to organize his birthday surprise, and he was bowled over by how many people wanted to say happy birthday to his dad. “There were over 200 physical cards that arrived through the door, including from Her Majesty the queen and the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall.”
“I’ve also had in excess of 250 emails and 200 e-cards from America, Canada, France, and all over the UK — from fellow veterans to young children. There’s been so many that all he’s done is open them and put them in a basket, he’ll read them when he gets the time.”
Bruce added, “The response has been superb, and he’s had a fantastic day. I think he’s been overwhelmed. There was a good 100 people at the drive by, there were lots of motorbikes and cars beeping their horns for him, and two fighter jets from RNAS Culdrose did a fly by.”
Bruce also said that Eric knew there were plans in the works to mark his milestone birthday, but the exact details were kept under wraps. “He was aware that there were things going on, but he didn’t realise the extent. But he was delighted, he thought it was absolutely terrific.”
Happily, Bruce says that Eric is as sharp as ever at age 100. Being able to celebrate his birthday like this amid the health crisis is pretty special. “We’ve had a fantastic day despite the lockdown and it has probably been even more memorable due to the circumstances.”
And truly, his dad has survived so much — a big celebration is definitely appropriate. “At 19 he was captured in France and was then a prisoner of war for the rest of the war. He had a difficult time during the war but lived to tell the tale and managed to live on to become 100.”