Help to give Wigan war veteran a hero's birthday as he turns 100 in self-isolation

Harry MellingHarry Melling
Harry Melling | jpimedia
Nobody should have to celebrate any birthday without their loved ones, not least their 100th.

But sadly, that is exactly what Second World War hero Harry Melling will be doing when he marks his centenary on April 18, due to the restrictions of the nationwide lockdown.

That is why we are calling for as many Wiganers as possible to send a birthday card to Harry, who lives at Alexandra Grange care home, so that he is reminded of just how many people care about him and his remarkable achievements.

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Wigan’s community spirit is shining brighter than ever during the current Covid-19 crisis, and we are asking for that spirit to show itself once again with a gesture of appreciation, for one of our war heroes on his landmark birthday.

Harry’s great-nephew Matthew, better known as The Wigan Runner for his feat of running 5km every day since January 1, 2017, said Harry would be taking the day in his stride, despite the unusual circumstances under which he finds himself approaching 100.

He said: “Nothing fazes him. To him it will just be another day, but we’ll make sure he will have a proper party after all this.

“He won’t be concerned about it, he just wants everyone to be okay.

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“At the moment I get to see him through the window, because nobody is allowed in the care home.

“But he’s on top form at the moment, laughing and joking. Hopefully, soon we’ll be able to see each other more than just through a window.”

Mr Melling is Britain’s oldest-living submariner from the Second World War.

The pensioner made national headlines in 2017 after he was the victim of a callous and cowardly attack.

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An intruder pushed him to the ground, pulled his trousers down and stole his wallet.

The veterans community rallied around him, with a JustGiving page rapidly reaching the £500 total, eventually raising £1,500 with the help of 20 junior submariners who raised £305.

Command Warrant Officer Andy Knox was so moved after hearing of Harry’s plight that he paid a visit to him in Wigan and invited him to a prestigious Gambit Dinner marking 117 years of operations beneath the waves.

His service between 1939 and 1945 was remarkable, with him and the other crew members of HMS Osiris serving in the Mediterranean where they played a role in the Allied invasion of Sicily and even travelling as far as Kenya.

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In a previous interview with the Observer, he spoke at lengths about his time in the war.

He said: “The Mediterranean was a hot sea, it was far too busy and it was very dangerous.

“However, it was a good life on board. I got to do things and see things I would never have normally done or seen.

“We had to go all round the south of Africa and then up to Kenya because it would have been too dangerous otherwise.

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“I must admit for someone of my ilk to be going to the middle of Africa was an eye-opener. I was only in my early 20s so it was a real education.

“On board a submarine it was quiet. When you dived you stayed down as long as you could and you were waiting for something to happen. It was quite claustrophobic and the smell after diving was foul, although you got accustomed to it.

“It wasn’t hectic on a submarine, you got your sleep. We got on each other’s nerves a bit but when we went into combat it broke that up.”

He went on: “We could only stay below for eight hours. Now they can virtually stay under water forever, seven days or longer.”

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Harry will be 100 years old on April 18. If you would to wish him a happy birthday, cards can be addressed to: Harry Melling, Alexandra Grange, 8 Howard Street, Pemberton, Wigan WN5 8BD

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