Sheffield World War II veteran celebrates 100th birthday

Donald Ford celebrates his 100th birthday with wife Rose and the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Councillor Peter Rippon and Mrs Susan Ripon.
Donald Ford celebrates his 100th birthday with wife Rose and the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Councillor Peter Rippon and Mrs Susan Ripon.

He fought through a world war, rose through the ranks of policing, and even survived deadly Spanish flu as a child...

Now Donald Ford is marking another momentous milestone in a remarkable life – his 100th birthday.

The great-grandfather-of-seven’s extraordinary century has included brushes with death not just during World War Two – when he encountered victims of the Belsen concentration camp – but also as a little boy.

From the ages of four to 10 Don was often off school as he fought Spanish flu, a global pandemic which killed about 40 million people across the world.

Ninety years on, a fighting fit Don celebrated his 100th birthday with a visit from Lord Mayor of Sheffield Peter Rippon and surrounded by his family – including wife Rose, with whom he will celebrate his 75th wedding anniversary on New Year’s Day.

Don, who lives with Rose in Ecclesfield, Sheffield, and has a son, a daughter, and six grandchildren, was born on August 23, 1914, at Thomas Street, Parkgate, near Rotherham.

His father was a miner at Aldwarke Main Colliery and Don went to Parkgate National School. After leaving school at 14 he spent two years working in a brass foundry, before working at Parkgate Iron and Steel, only to lose his job at 18 due to the 1930s Great Depression.

So he decided to join the Army, and signed up to the Royal Signals at Catterick Camp in September 1932.

He became a wireless operator and, after his basic training, was posted to 5th Division Signals stationed at Burniston Barracks, Scarborough, where he served for the next three years.

His father was killed in an accident at Aldwarke Main Colliery in January 1933, and in 1935 Don was granted compassionate discharge so he could go home and help his mother, but he stayed in the Army reserve.

He became a lorry driver for two years, before joining Sheffield’s police force in 1938, when his responsibilities included crowd control at Sheffield Wednesday.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, reservists in the Police and Fire Services were not recalled immediately, but in December 1939 Don returned to Catterick.

After a month he was posted to Whitby, promoted to Lance Corporal, and worked as an instructor in Morse by key and flag, before being promoted again, eventually to Sergeant.

On January 1, 1940, Don married his fiancée, Rose Senior, and Rose moved to Whitby to be with him.

The war eventually took him to north-west Europe after the D-Day landings, and his division ended up stationed in Celle, Germany, close to the notorious Belsen concentration camp. He still vividly remembers seeing the survivors of the concentration camp and the efforts made by the British troops to help them.

Friend David Wing, who has helped write a short history of Mr Ford’s life for ‘The Wire’, the magazine for the Royal Signals, said: “Don has many memories of the move through north-west Europe – like many serving he saw time of intense activity, interspersed with periods of very little activity. One of his outstanding memories is being told to report in his best uniform. He did this in some trepidation – and found himself being presented with a Commander-in-Chief’s Commendation by Field Marshall Montgomery.

The Division ended the War stationed in Celle, and Don remembers seeing the victims of the Belsen concentration camp and the efforts by the troops to help them.

After the war he returned to work for the police, rising to the rank of inspector before retiring in 1968.

The last 18 years of his police career were spent in the road traffic department, where he set up a Police Driving School.

After leaving the police, Don worked in the stone quarrying industry in North Derbyshire, with jobs, including HGV driving instructor and transport manager.