It was a milestone birthday like no other for 107-year-old Grace Joel Retirement Village resident James Easton.
James, or Jim as he is affectionately known, is believed to be New Zealand’s oldest man and Australia’s oldest surviving World War II veteran.
A special afternoon tea was held at the St Heliers, Auckland village that he calls home today with two Australian Army representatives, Captain Shani Edwards and Corporal Matthew Woods, flying in specially to celebrate Jim’s remarkable journey and milestone.
Extended family members from the Hunter Valley, NSW, also made the trip to surprise Jim on his birthday including his nephew Jim Schofield, who brought his wife Dyann, son Michael and granddaughter Whitney and niece Anne Victor.
Hailing originally from Scotland, and a Signalman in the 8th Division Signals of the Australian Army, his wartime service in Singapore spanned a mere 2-3 months before his capture, where he spent 3.5 years as a prisoner of war in Singapore, Thailand and Burma.
When released from the prison camp, where he was mistreated and malnourished, getting down to a low of 47kg, medics told him the experience would likely knock at least 10 years off his life.
Captain Shani Edwards and Corporal Matt Woods arrived in uniform from Australia to celebrate James Easton's 107th birthday with friends and extended family members.
Defying the odds, he moved to Auckland in 1947 where he worked ‘in showbusiness’, managing crews who set up games and equipment for A&P shows around New Zealand, many of whom still visit him each week and celebrated his special day with him.
Not surprisingly, and with his customary sharp wit, when asked by Cprl Woods what Jim enjoyed most about his Army service, he replied: “Trying to get out!”
Jim’s friend Russell Jones played bagpipes for the occasion and the veteran showed the younger Army personnel some of his photos from war time.
Jim 'Curly' Easton in uniform at Kawoomba in 1945.
Capt Edwards said how much she enjoyed talking to Jim about his favourite books, and looking at his old photos. She added that the Signals Corp would definitely maintain their relationship with their most senior veteran.
“I was very impressed by his quick wit and how he shoots right back when someone says something. He is so sharp!
“I’ve got some good book recommendations too.”
As a gift for Jim, Capt Edwards and Cpl Woods brought a statue of Hermes with a special plaque attached and two commemorative coins representing their Corps.
Grace Joel Village Manager Murray Parkes commended Jim’s incredible resilience and spirit.
“It’s a testament to the indomitable human will,” he said.
“His enduring spirit has touched the lives of many, and his perseverance embodies the very essence of veterans and their unwavering strength. Having outlived his wife and daughter, Jim is loved by all in the village as well as a loyal surrogate family comprising of friends and former employees from his over 60 years of work at the showgrounds.”
Blowing out the candles - thankfully not 107!
Jim’s favourite – chocolate cake – was in plentiful supply, although he suggested a bigger cake for his 108th birthday!
And he gave his advice for living better for longer.
“I have never drunk a drop of alcohol or smoked a cigarette, and I do a lot of reading. That has kept the Alzheimer’s at bay,” he said.