Iconic Spitfire fighter planes set to fly over Derbyshire town next week – in tribute to one of the oldest surviving WW2 veterans

Derbyshire residents will be able to see Spitfire fighter planes in the skies over the county – part of a tribute to a 109-year-old WW2 veteran.
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Two of the iconic warplanes are being sent to honour WW2 hero Donald Rose. They will dip their wings in tribute, six months after the Mayor of Erewash made a November pilgrimage to shake the ex-Desert Rat’s hand on Armistice Day.

Donald was 108 at the time, but has since celebrated another birthday.

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The RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was keen to pay to tribute to the 109-year-old, after staff at the Canal Vue home on Awsworth Road in Ilkeston contacted them.

Erewash Mayor, Councillor Frank Phillips, shaking Donald’s hand on Armistice Day.Credit: Erewash Borough CouncilErewash Mayor, Councillor Frank Phillips, shaking Donald’s hand on Armistice Day.Credit: Erewash Borough Council
Erewash Mayor, Councillor Frank Phillips, shaking Donald’s hand on Armistice Day.Credit: Erewash Borough Council

Donald is the world’s fourth-oldest surviving WW2 veteran. He was born in 1914 and served on the frontline with the 7th Armoured Division after joining the Queen’s Royal Regiment at age 25. He saw action in North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany – later training as a sniper.

The dad of one, whose wife died in 2001, was repeatedly decorated, including being given France’s highest award – the Legion D'Honneur. But his son David Rose, 74 – a retired NHS hospital technician living in West Hallam – said: “He didn’t want the medals, he wanted no fuss and he just got on with it.”

Donald has said when quizzed in the past about his longevity: “Everyone asks this – there’s no secret.”

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When TV cameras captured the Mayor of Erewash Councillor Frank Phillips shaking his hand, the unassuming hero said of the fanfare: “I’m not worth all this.”

Two Spitfires will fly over the town next week.Two Spitfires will fly over the town next week.
Two Spitfires will fly over the town next week.

A crowd of onlookers chorused: “Yes you are!” Donald is described by care home staff as being “mad about motorbikes”. He got to sit on a souped-up machine when riders staged a cavalcade for him at the care home. Erewash’s Mayor said:

“The borough and the entire nation owe an immense debt of gratitude to Donald and all those like him – lest we forget.”

The spectacle on May 6 – which is Bank Holiday Monday – is expected to draw huge crowds to a wartime-themed party for the modest old soldier, who turned 109 on Christmas Eve. VIP guests Winston Churchill and King George VI will solemnly reprise their famous speeches from the era – or at least their lookalikes will.

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Lily Lovejoy – an award-winning “vintage vocalist” – will be belting out wartime hits. Ilkeston Town FC will be opening its bar at the nearby New Manor Ground.

Donald Rose as young soldierDonald Rose as young soldier
Donald Rose as young soldier

The event starts at 1.00pm – with the flypast set to take place at 1.45pm.

Deputy Mayor Councillor Kate Fennelly will be attending the event in her capacity as the town hall’s Armed Forces Champion.

She said: “Having served in the RAF I have the utmost respect for our courageous old soldiers, especially world war veterans like Donald. There are fewer and fewer left who we can talk to face-to-face about their experiences.”

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The Spitfire salute has been organised by Donald’s care home activity co-ordinator Naomi Allsop, who described it as something that had been on his “bucket list”. She said of the old soldier: "He's a beautiful soul inside and out. All the staff love him.”

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