Life story

The incredible life story of a war hero as he celebrates his 103rd birthday

A Yate war hero has shared his life story after celebrating his 103rd birthday with friends.

REG Holbrook took 50 of his friends to celebrate his milestone birthday at the restaurant, he enjoyed his 80th and 100th celebrations.

Reg, who now lives in additional care accommodation in Yate, invited his Probus friends and their wives to lunch at Henry’s Oriental to return the favor after they threw him a party for his 100th birthday.

A naval war veteran who was bombed by the Germans and captured Japanese prisoners of war as well as owner of one of Bristol’s largest builder’s merchants has told his life story to the Gazette.

Reg Holbrook was born at Watermore Cottage in Coalpit Heath on June 26, 1919 to parents Charles and Ann Holbrook. He had three older siblings.

He was struck by the first of his many tragedies when his mother sadly died of an embolism when he was just 10 years old.

He left Frampton Cotterell school at 14, and although most of the children worked in the mines in the area, Reg went to work in pottery at Fishponds, working six days a week for ten shillings.

Reg met and married his first wife when he was just 18, had his first and only child Anthony in 1941 and soon after in 1942 he joined the Home Guards.

He wrote to the navy and asked to be called up, he received a response just three days later and due to his spitfire work in the Home Guard he was posted to the Fleet Air Arm, which was in charge of aircraft carriers.

Reg was registered as color blind and therefore unable to train as a pilot, instead he was sent to Scotland to become an aircraft fitter and after six months of training he was picked up for service aboard HMS Golden Hind.

He said: “A lorry stopped and picked us up, we were taken from the east coast of Scotland to Glasgow, picking up army and navy personnel before boarding a large cruiser called the new Amsterdam.

“We were going towards HMS Golden Hind, at the height of Hitler’s war and submarines in the Irish Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic were continually bombarding us – how we got across, I don’t know.

“It took us another five weeks to get to the ship which was moored about eight miles off Sydney.

“We were assigned a ship in Sydney Harbour, HMS Deer Sound – the ship was carrying 12,000 aircraft spares, which are used in aircraft carriers because they land vertically.”

Reg explained his job was in the British Pacific Fleet, he said he hadn’t slept for three years – instead of sleeping in a makeshift hammock he said they had to go up and descending from carriers regardless of the situation they were in, “We climbed onto aircraft carriers at sea regardless of the danger – we were skilled,” he added.

Reg was still based off the Australian coast when the Americans dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.

When the Japanese surrendered in August, Reg’s fleet was ordered to Hong Kong and given guns as they bypassed the Japanese troops and took them to the POW camp on the Chinese mainland .

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After another year, Reg left the Navy, receiving three medals, the Pacific Star, War and Defense Medal for serving in the home guards.

He divorced his first wife and moved back to Coalpit Heath to care for his one-armed father, taking his young son with him.

With £38 he bought a used van and started a small business selling fish and vegetables.

Reg’s father was later killed in a tragic car accident and Reg was left homeless.

He said: “I was sacked but had child support so I borrowed £25 to buy an old bus and made it a home for me and my son, we’ve been there. lived in a field until a nice lady offered me a cottage next to the Live and Let Live pub.”

Reg then met the love of his life, his second wife Pamela Jean, after getting married in 1955 they planned more children but after suffering a miscarriage, Jean, as Reg affectionately called her, n couldn’t have children.

He managed to buy back his father’s house in Alexander Road, after the local policeman informed him that the house and an acre and a half of land were on the market.

Reg borrowed £1,700 from the bank and agreed to repay £3 a week for the loan after he acquired a lorry and started moving building materials and scaffolding for a local tradesman.

After building up a huge clientele, Pamela and Reg removed an orchard from their land and opened Holbrook Builders Merchants, a hugely successful business that Reg sold much later in his life.

Reg was struck by another tragedy when his son died in 1982 and his beloved wife Jean also suffered a fatal embolism in 2010.

He had lived alone for many years and had recently moved to an Extra Care facility in Yate.

He added: “The best thing to do is smile – I smile every day and these lovely caregivers smile too. Life has been wonderful so far – and I hope the 104th will be at Henry’s next year!”

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