Veteran neigh slowing down: John celebrates 100th birthday in style

John meets Geordie the Clydesdale at his home in Carnoustie during his 100th birthday celebrations.
John meets Geordie the Clydesdale at his home in Carnoustie during his 100th birthday celebrations.

Celebrating a 100th birthday is pretty special — but having a Clydesdale horse as a guest at your party really makes the event something out of the ordinary.

John “Pop” Gray, an Angus farmer and war veteran, celebrated his centenary year on Monday, with around 100 guests coming out to enjoy the occasion.

There was one special guest — a Clydesdale horse, which was a nostalgic tribute to his first experience of the working world.

As he met four-year-old Geordie, who is stabled at Balmalcolm in Fife, John said he was “delighted” to see the Clydesdale.

He added: “I worked three of these horses when I was a boy.

“Things are not the way they used to be, but Clydesdales were a big part of my life back then.

“I was really quite delighted to see Geordie.”

John has farmed out at Auchrennie, near Carnoustie, since 1947 but his first job as a teenager was working with Scottish draught horses before the Second World War.

John was part of a large family. He was always destined to be a farming man — until war got in the way. He didn’t wait to called up but volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1940 and joined the Fleet Air Arm.

John when he was in the Navy.
John when he was in the Navy.

He was an aircraft rigger and served at naval air stations.

One of the pilots in his first squadron was none other than Academy Award-winning actor Laurence Olivier.

Demobbed in 1945, John went back to the land and he and his wife, Fife-born Williamina — who prefers to be known as “Bill” — had three sons, James, Charles and Henry.

Today, the couple have three grandsons and five great-grandchildren.

John, who was born in Kippen, Stirlingshire, puts his longevity down to starting the day with porridge, avoiding alcohol and enjoying “everything in moderation”.

The war veteran added: “I also still enjoy being out and about.”

But perhaps there’s something in the Gray genes, because John’s sisters, Madge — who lives on the Isle of Man — and Margaret, who lives in the United States, are both in their nineties and still going strong.

Alex King, Angus Council’s depute provost, attended John’s birthday celebration along with John’s family and friends.

He said: “I was happy to visit Mr Gray on behalf of Angus Council to pass on our birthday wishes.

“John is a bit of a local celebrity and a lot of folk turned out for his birthday party.”

Mr King added that it looked like John was really enjoying himself at the party.