Honours at 100 for Cheshire man

Second World War veteran is oldest on honours list

Hero image

An inspirational 100-year-old man from Cheshire will receive his British Empire Medal (BEM) on 27 March, surrounded by children at the primary school where he volunteers – for which he will be honoured. The medal, presented by the Lord-Lieutenant, is given for “meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown”.

Peter Offord Davies, who fought in the Second World War as a glider pilot, is the oldest person on the King’s first New Year’s Honours list.

“It’s a great privilege – one that hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. The thing with me is I’m just Pete Davies – an ordinary person. It means the world to me to be recognised for helping children learn to read.”

“I stepped into life”

Davies volunteers eight hours a week at Dean Valley Community Primary School in Bollington, where the headteacher is Vicky McPherson. He has done so for the past seven years, since Jean – his wife of 72 years – died.

“After my wife passed, I could have given up but I stepped into life, into the community, and it has been very rewarding,” he said. “I was a glider pilot during the war, and now I’m a freeman of Coventry and an honorary alderman of Macclesfield. But this means more to me than anything else I’ve done in my life.”

It was Davies’s daughter who suggested the activity, and the centenarian explained that going to the school twice a week has become an essential part of his routine.

“I get more out of it than the children do, believe you me. You can’t put a value on it. All these young people, age six and seven, they’re lovely kids.”

He added that it’s amazing how over the course of the year their skills improve.

“I’m spending time with a different generation, and they’re the future,” said Davies. “I have the advantage that I’m not a teacher, so the children treat me differently. Now, no matter where I go in the village, kids call out: ‘Hello Mr Davies!’”

He’s happy that the ceremony will take place at the local school at his suggestion, with more than 100 children attending.

“It’s important the children see the ceremony – we lose an awful lot of our history if we’re not careful,” he said.

When the pensioner received a letter from the Cabinet Office in November, informing him that he’d receive a BEM for his volunteer work, he thought it was a “joke”. But he was delighted when the authenticity of the letter was confirmed.

The medal will sit alongside his war medals. “I’ve five already – none for bravery, I might add. I’ve run away from the enemy more than I ran towards them. That might have something to do with my longevity,” he laughed.

During the war, Davies flew Hamilcar gliders, most notably as part of Operation Varsity, the largest airborne military assault ever launched. The operation involved more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft.

The landings meant the Allies could get across the River Rhine into Germany in March 1945. The gliders that Davies flew carried heavy cargo, including tanks, and deposited them behind enemy lines. His glider was hit several times during the battle and crash-landed, but he made it out.

“When I was in the Army Air Corps, our motto was, nothing is impossible. Whenever I’m struggling to do something, I say: ‘Come on, Davies. You can do it. Get stuck in.’”

That attitude stood him in good stead in his nineties. Age 97, with encouragement from a friend, Davies started writing about his childhood and memories, and promptly won a short story prize for people over 90 called Growing Old Disgracefully.

Davies is philosophical about his achievements and reaching the milestone of 100 years of age.

“I just hope that the example I’ve set for some people is worthy,” he said. “I’ve lived a long time, I’ve seen a lot of changes, but I live in today’s world – I don’t live in yesterday’s world. When I was younger, I used to think I could change the world, and now I realise I can’t.”

And if he could have known, as a young man, how things would look today, he would be “proud of how things have turned up”, he said. “I’m just an ordinary person, it’s almost unbelievable that I should get any form of recognition from the King.

“I’m still interested in life. I’m certainly not an old cabbage, that’s for sure. We’re only here once and if you don’t make the most of it and enjoy it, then God help you.”

On Monday before the ceremony, Davies will be going out for lunch with his daughters. He doesn’t feel nervous.

“I’m sure I’ll feel proud but, at the same time, there’s an awful lot of people who do far more than I do, who haven’t had any recognition. People who volunteer their time or donate their money – I feel that far outstretches what I do.”

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Honours at 100 for Cheshire man

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.