THE last surviving member of a Second World War parachute squadron - who was taken prisoner at Arnhem and forced to work in a lead mine - celebrated his 100th birthday this week surrounded by family and friends.

Tom Hicks was born on August 14, 1919 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and when he was ten, he and his family moved to Eastend Crescent, Royston, where Tom still lives today.

“When a man was 20 they had to do a compulsory six months in the army because the government knew a war was coming and they wanted to train people up,” said Tom.

“I was just meant to do the six months when war broke out so I ended up in the army for six years.”

Tom signed up for the First Parachute Squadron RE and was in the army from 1939 to the end of the war in 1945. Throughout this time, Tom fought all over the world including Africa and Italy.

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“In 1942 we flew by air from Cornwall to Algiers and when we were there the weather got really bad, which you wouldn’t think in Africa, so we had to move and go and fight in the mountains for six months.

“Then I went to Sicily and helped chase the Germans out of there, and then to Italy where I got malaria.

“The mosquitoes out there were as big as sparrows and I got malaria so I had to come back to England to convalesce.”

On September 17, 1944, Tom and his squadron parachuted into Arnhem, Netherlands, as part of the daring Operation Market Garden.

“I got wounded three times during the Battle of Arnhem,” said Tom. “During that time I got taken prisoner and forced to work in a lead mine.

“Food was scarce and we would get a few slices of bread every now and again but we used to get these Russian cigarettes for free. I don’t know what was in them but it wasn’t tobacco, but I used to save mine and exchange them for more rations.

“I’ve never smoked a day in my life so it worked out quite fortunately for me because I could barter them for more food.

“I had a bit of luck really. The roof of the mine fell on me and two Ukrainian miners saved my life but I was sent to the camp hospital for a few weeks before eventually going back down the mine.”

Tom left the army in 1945 at the end of the war and married his wife, Sadie and together they had two sons; Norman, 70, and Christopher, 69. He spent the rest of his career as a steam engine driver, which he retired from aged 63.

Together Tom and Sadie played tennis at Notton Tennis Club and enjoyed jazz dancing - something Tom still enjoys today, despite feeling ‘too old’ to continue to play tennis.

“I played tennis from being about 16 but gave it up a few weeks ago because I think I’m a bit old. I can’t keep up with the kids I play with so I just watch now.

“I still go jazz dancing and for a breakfast with other army folk on a Saturday. I’m the only one left of my squadron but it’s nice to talk to other people who have been in the army as well.

“I only stopped parachuting a few years ago. I started again when I was 73 and nearly every year I did a drop into Arnhem to remember my friends who died. I don’t do the jump anymore but I still go to the site and go to their graves.”

To celebrate his birthday, the Jazz Club, veterans breakfast and Notton tennis club all organised a party for him.

“Ben Parkinson came to my birthday on Saturday and Dan Jarvis has wished me a happy birthday.

“Overall the thing I am most proud of, aside from my children, is being in the paratroopers.

“It was dangerous and exciting and it was a pleasure to fight alongside the men in my squadron.”