It was a birthday like no other for 107-year-old James Easton in Auckland today.
CAPTION: 107-year-old James Easton celebrates his incredible milestone birthday with representatives of the Australian Army, good friends and members of his extended family from Australia at Grace Joel Retirement Village in Aukland. Photos supplied.
James, or Jim as he is affectionately known, is believed to be New Zealand’s oldest man – and Australia’s oldest surviving World War II veteran.
A special afternoon tea was held at his Auckland retirement village, with two Australian Army representatives – Captain Shani Edwards and Corporal Matthew Woods – flying in specially to help Jim celebrate his remarkable journey and milestone.
Extended family members from the Hunter Valley, NSW, also made the trip to surprise Jim on his birthday, including his nephew Jim Schofield, who brought his wife Dyann, son Michael, granddaughter Whitney and niece Anne Victor.
Originally hailing from Scotland, Jim served as a signalman in 8th Division Signals of the Australian Army.
His wartime service in Singapore spanned less than three months before he was captured.
He spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in Singapore, Thailand and Burma.
When released from the prison camp – where he was mistreated and malnourished, getting down to a low of 47kg – medics told him the experience would likely knock at least 10 years off his life.
Jim moved to Auckland in 1947 where he ‘worked in showbusiness’, managing crews who set up games and equipment for A&P (agricultural and pastoral) shows around New Zealand, many of whom still visit him each week, and helped him celebrate his special day today.
Not surprisingly, and with his customary sharp wit, when asked by Corporal Woods what he enjoyed most about his Army service, Jim replied – “Trying to get out!”
Captain Edwards said Australia’s Signals Corp would definitely maintain their relationship with their most senior veteran.
“I was very impressed by his quick wit and how he shoots right back when someone says something.
“He is so sharp!”
As a gift for Jim, Captain Edwards and Corporal Woods brought a statue of Hermes as depicted in the Royal Australian Corps of Signals, with a special plaque attached – plus two commemorative coins representing their Corps.
Jim’s retirement-village manager Murray Parkes commended Jim’s incredible resilience and spirit.
“It’s a testament to the indomitable human will,” he said.
“His enduring spirit has touched the lives of many, and his perseverance embodies the very essence of veterans and their unwavering strength.
“Having outlived his wife and daughter, Jim is loved by all in the village as well as a loyal surrogate family comprising friends and former employees from his more than 60 years of work at the showgrounds.”
Jim’s favourite – chocolate cake – was in plentiful supply for today’s party, although Jim suggested a bigger cake for his 108th birthday.
Jim’s advice for living better for longer…
“I have never drunk a drop of alcohol or smoked a cigarette, and I do a lot of reading.
“That has kept the alzheimer’s at bay,” Jim said.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY Jim from CONTACT and all our readers. We’re already looking forward to cheering you on again next year.