A Teddington war hero enjoyed “the best day of his life” on his 100th birthday, when members of the Royal Tank Regiment marched in his honour.

Denis July, who turned 100 last Friday (May 24), had joined the army at the age of 19 along with his brothers Alfred and Jack, training at Bovington, before joining the tank regiment.

But during the height of the Second World War, as Churchill launched a desperate offensive in France to allow for the Dunkirk evacuations, Mr July was captured by the Germans in Calais after his tank was hit 19 times.

He helped save the lives of his fellow tank crew by shouting for the driver to move off the road, and recalls the German soldier who arrested him saying: “For you, Tommy, the war is over”.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Denis with his mother and brother, Jack

But being shot at and captured would not be the hardest challenge he would face, after he was imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp for five years, and was forced to join the Long March through France to Silesia, a region now mostly within Poland.

The men on the march endured terrible conditions of intense cold, huge physical effort, and barely any food. They survived on morsels of food thrown to them by the French, or eating raw vegetables from the ground, or any scraps they came across.

When organising his birthday celebrations, Denis’s three daughters contacted the Royal Tank Regiment – initially being told only one member would attend.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

But the whole family were given a wonderful surprise, when six members of the tank regiment eventually came along, including Lieutenant Colonel Paul Macro, who personally thanked Denis for his service.

Denis was brought out into the front garden for the celebrations wearing his original army beret, where he was astonished to see crowds of neighbours and the men of the tank regiment come marching in, bearing the standards of the regiment.

Denis said after the celebrations: "This has been the best two days of my life.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

“My Battalion, the Royal Tank Regiment has done me proud. I will always treasure the fabulous day when I reached 100 years young.

“The army could not do enough for me, and it almost made those five long years in captivity worthwhile! This amazing day was then combined with a lovely family meal at the Petersham. I feel very blessed and am looking forward to beating Harry Patch's record for longevity!"