Express & Star

War veteran celebrates 100th birthday

It was a daring dash on a motorbike across the freezing Arctic tundra with the Nazis in hot pursuit.

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George pictured in 1940

George Pratt was part of a crack team tasked with building landing strips in the north of Norway during the Second World War.

But left vulnerable to attack due to having no air defence, they were chased out by the Germans.

However, George returned to see if all was okay on his old BSA single-cylinder m20 496cc motorbike – and says he ended up breaking the land speed record in the Arctic circle.

Last weekend George marked his 100th birthday with a special party at his home in Rugeley.

Recalling his time serving in Norway, he said: "We were bombed day and night because it never got dark.

"They aimed at this strip we were trying to clear of ice and so we all got chased out.

"I went back to headquarters on the bike to make sure that is was all okay.

"I held the land speed record in the Arctic circle at 59 miles-per-hour on my old BSA single-cylinder m20 496cc in retreat (from the Germans)."

George, a grandfather, joined the army in 1940 in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and became a dispatch rider.

He served in the British Expeditionary Force where he was first posted in France.

But he soon found himself in the frozen depths of the Arctic Circle in a daring operation which he later received an award for his bravery.

He said: "While in France we were told by a lady in a cafe that we were going to be sent to Norway. We knew nothing about this and couldn't believe it - but it turned out to be true.

"We went into what was called the North West Expeditionary Force, where we were defeated like nobody's business."

After the operation George was posted to England in September, 1940, as part of the Battle of Britain, where he was based at airfields in Kent.

Two years later he was posted out to Kankinara in India. There he was tasked with converting a factory into a production company for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

During this stint he achieved the rank of Warrant Officer Class One.

His service also saw him awarded with the Burma Star and the Arctic Star. George served up until the end of the war and left the British Army.

George, who was born in Birmingham, has three children and three grandchildren. His wife Ethel, who he married in February 1946, died in 1983.

In the past few years George has found it difficult to leave the house. But he has enjoyed the benefits of attending the veteran's breakfast club at Wetherspoons pub in Rugeley.

His birthday party was organised by Help a Squaddie which has helped George through its weekly breakfast club for veterans.

He was inundated with birthday wishes, cards and gifts as he recalled jaw-dropping tales of his service in the war.

Help a Squaddie volunteer Kerry Urquhart said: "I met his carer at one of our events. She said he hadn't been out of the house for years. I said bring him to our breakfast club and he has been coming ever since."

The charity raised £400 to throw the birthday party.

Members of the Royal British Legion and Staffordshire Regiment gave him a guard of honour.

Singers from D-Day Darlings – a female singing group who dress in military uniform and perform songs from the war era – gave a special performance for George.

He was also visited by a local scout group.

Money was raised at his birthday for military charitable organisations Help a Squaddie and Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association.

Despite his old age, George still has a sharp mind and has no problem communicating.

His son John said: "He is in exceptional health for his age which is down to his stubbornness."

He added: "We have always had a great interest in cars. We have a very close father and son relationship."