SAILORS, a bugler, bagpiper and a surprise flypast from RNAS Culdrose gave a World War Two veteran a 100th birthday to remember yesterday.

As reported by the Packet, people from all over the world were asked to send Helston's Eric Taylor cards for the big day – and he ended up getting plenty more surprises too.

Eric received more than 200 cards and 250 emails from all over the UK, America, Canada and France, including letters from fellow veterans and their families.

Sailors from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose made the short journey into Helston to stand in the street outside Eric’s home.

They presented him with an aerial photograph of sailors marking out the number 100 while four members of the HMS Seahawk Band played Happy Birthday.

Another sailor, Chief Petty Officer Maitland, played The Heroes of St Valery on the bagpipes, a tribute to Eric’s service with the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the 51st Highland Division in the defence of Dunkirk in June 1940.

A pair of Hawk jets, on their way back to Culdrose from a training exercise, then flew over the street as an additional treat for Eric and his family.

Falmouth Packet:

Eric Taylor in his garden watches as two hawks from 736 NAS fly over. Picture: Royal Navy/L Phot Kyle Heller

Eric said: "I was really surprised and absolutely thrilled. I couldn't believe how many people turned up, walking, driving or flying by!

"I was just thrilled by it all!"

Falmouth Packet:

Eric with son Bruce and daughter Theresa. Picture: Kathy White

Commander Martin Barlow said: “On behalf of everyone at RNAS Culdrose, I’d like to wish Mr Taylor a very happy 100th birthday and I hope he has enjoyed this special day with his family and friends.

“In this year, as we remember the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it is truly remarkable to think that Mr Taylor was 25 years old on VE Day. He is a direct link back to a time in our history that should never be forgotten.

“While his war-time story is one of survival as a prisoner in impossibly difficult circumstances, he did come through that ordeal and enjoyed a long and happy life here in Cornwall with his wife Florrie, his children, grand-children and great grand-children.”

“As he used to play the bugle while in captivity and was heavily involved with St Keverne Band in later years, I was extremely pleased that members of our own HMS Seahawk Band were able to play happy birthday for him.

“It was also a real poignant moment when CPO Maitland played The Heroes of St Valery to mark the debt we owe to him and his comrades for their bravery defending the evacuation at Dunkirk.”

Falmouth Packet:

Eric in 1945

Later in the day Helston Town Band was due to play for Eric, who is also known as a brass band legend.

People were also encouraged to drive or walk past his Church Hill home between 2pm and 3pm and then again between 5pm and 6pm to wave, beep their horns or stop for a socially-distanced chat. Many people showed up for this, with around 120 walk-bys, 40 cars and around 40 motorbikes taking part in just the first time slot.

It all came about due to the coronavirus pandemic, which meant his family, including son Bruce Taylor, a well-known Helston estate agent, and grandson Sean Johnston, a partner with Truro estate agents Philip Martin, were forced to cancel most of their plans to celebrate the landmark birthday.

Bruce said: "Dad was overwhelmed, he had absolutely no idea what was going to be happening.

"He was gobsmacked by all that went on.

"He was in a gazebo in the front garden, and looked almost like royalty.

"It was great to see so many smiling faces, especially in the current climate."

"It's touched a lot of people as well as dad.

"He hasn't even had time to read all the cards yet!"

Falmouth Packet:

Eric's great-grandchildren Beth, Ella and Eva. Picture: Kathy White

Eric was just 19 when he was captured in France with the Royal Norfolk Regiment, while defending the get-away at Dunkirk.

His regiment became detached from those evacuated at Dunkirk and joined the Scottish 51st Highland Division and as they were pushed back to the coast at St Valery en Caux.

A week after Dunkirk the French forces surrendered and the remaining forces were captured and became prisoners of war.

He was then marched to Poland and spent five years as a German prisoner of war, before being marched back in 1945 when America released them from the German army.

Eric was later awarded the British Empire Medal for his services and featured in the Channel 4 documentary Dunkirk – The Forgotten Heroes, which was recently shown again on TV with the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk.

He went on to become a St Keverne Brass Band legend, playing the B-flat bass from 1950 onwards and in more recent years conducing the training band, teaching hundreds of children over the years and only giving it up in the last four or five years.