A DECORATED veteran of World War II has received almost 200 cards after celebrating his 100th birthday at the Teesside care home where he lives.
John Podzukites, who resides at Ingleby Care Home, Lamb Lane, Ingleby Barwick, was inundated with well wishes on his century – including a card from King Charles III.
Children from Mrs B’s Community Hive afterschool club and pupils from St Thérèse of Lisieux RC Primary School, also on Lamb Lane, visited the care home to hand deliver birthday cards they made in class.
John received dozens of gifts, including biscuits and chocolates he shared with his friends at the care home, who helped him celebrate with a party.
He also made a visit to the Last Post Memorial Bar and the Don War Memorial Museum and Hub, both in Thornaby, with friends and family to mark his big day.
John said: “I’ve had a marvellous day. I love living at Ingleby. The staff go out of their way to take care of everyone who lives here.
“It’s so kind of so many people to take the time to send me a birthday card. Thank you all so much.”
John was born in South Bank, Middlesbrough, on 11th December 1922, and joined the Merchant Navy at the height of the Second World War.
In March 1944, he was posted to the merchant vessel Fort Vercheres. John and his crew were tasked with delivering essential supplies to the Soviet Union as part of the “Artic Convoys” – named the “worst journey in the world” by Winston Churchill.
The perilous journey saw the convoy come under 18 attacks in two days from German U-boats and aircraft. Naval escorts fought off each attack, sinking three U-boats and shooting down six German torpedo bombers.
By May 1944, the convoy arrived safely at its destination without loss.
John spent seven years as a ship’s fireman during his twenties, also seeing action in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.
In 2016, at the age of 93, John received the Medal of Ushakov from the Russian Federation. The medal was a Soviet military award created in 1944 and adopted by the Russian Federation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The honour was given to sailors, soldiers and seamen for courage and bravery in the defence of the Soviet Union in naval theatres.
After leaving the Merchant Navy, John became a contract worker and then a rigger for British Steel. He then took a job as an ICI rigger, which he held for 22 years, before retiring in 1987.
He moved to Ingleby Care Home in 2013 with his wife, Joan, after he had been her carer at home for four years. Sadly, Joan passed away in 2015, with the couple having spent more than 60 years together. They had two children, Joan, a retired Nurse, and Tony, a social worker.
At the care home, John found a passion for gardening during the warmer months of the year, sparking a friendship with the former maintenance man and fellow green-fingered enthusiast Walter “Wally” Shutt, who retired in June 2022.
John said: “‘It’s not been the same since Wally left but he comes to visit me every month. Wally’s part of our big family.”
Asked his secret to a long life, John said: “Keep busy and a small glass of wine on a night.”
Kirsty O’Connor, activities coordinator at Ingleby Care Home, said: “John is a true gentleman, and I’m honoured to be making sure his day is as special as John is.
“Nothing is too much trouble for him. John is just a wonderful human being and makes working at Ingleby Care Home such a pleasure.”