WWII veteran celebrates 102nd birthday

Eric Wilson had family and friends celebrating his 102nd birthday at Howick RSA on Saturday. Times photo Wayne martin

By PJ (Phil) Taylor

There’s no stopping Eric Wilson as the much-loved former serviceman in the NZ Army in World War II marches to his 102nd birthday.

And to prove he’s feeling strong and healthy and mentally agile as ever, Wilson will head the Howick RSA parade on Anzac Day at Stockade Hill.

A driver ultimately under the leadership of General Bernard “Tiny” Freyberg VC, the commander of the 2nd New Zealand Division, through his service in WWII, Wilson was embraced by a large brigade of family members representing four generations, and friends, at his “first” birthday party this month.

Wilson officially turns 102 on April 29 and was appreciative of the opportunity to have the celebration at the Howick RSA last Saturday.

Feeling “fit as a fiddle” and saying he’ll “be here for a few more years”, Wilson was pleased to gather those close to him because last year’s Covid-19 level 4 Lockdown prevented a big 101st birthday event.

He says one thing that he and his late wife had in common was they were both from families with six girls and two boys. Wilson is now the last surviving member of those collective 16 siblings.

“That’s why there is so many family members,” Wilson says, of his numerous relatives.

“I look forward to it each year. I love getting the families together. It’s something special.”

An active and contributing resident at Gulf Views Rest Home in Howick Village, Wilson is known for his disciplined attitude to life – physical exercise in the morning, having a balanced and healthy diet, and plenty of social interaction with people.

That was evident last week when Wilson sold poppies for the 31st year for the Howick RSA outside the NZ Post Shop at Pakuranga. When donators realised he’s turning 102, most asked for a selfie photo with the genial veteran.

His daughter Noeleen Hegh says his longevity “is in his genes”.

“His mum lived to one month short of 101, while one of his sisters lived to 104, and an aunt to 107.

“It’s also because of his positivity and enjoyment of socialising and love of people. He’s interested in everybody and everything.”

Wilson’s schedule is not quietening down as he, accompanied by Noeleen, is travelling to Wellington to commemorate the official 80th anniversary of New Zealand’s participation in the famous Battle of Crete in WWII.

He was one of last NZ servicemen to evacuate the Greek Island in the retreat from advancing Italian and German forces in May 1941 and is one of only two known living Kiwi veterans from that campaign.