ONE of our living legends, decorated Second World War Anzac Bob Wood, has celebrated his 100th birthday.
In military circles, Bob is renowned for escaping a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy but, for friends and family, it's the example that he has set in life as a father and mate for which he is best known.
A national treasure in his homeland of New Zealand, Bob has in recent years become a well-known Sawtell resident and intrigued many with his war stories.
After he enlisted in the 19th Wellington Battalion's First Echelon in 1939, Major Bob Wood was captured by axis forces in the Middle East in 1942 and imprisoned in Italy.
With the fall of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, he and his fellow POWs faced the grim prospect of being sent to a Nazi German camp, but there would be no keeping this man behind the wire as German officers took control of the camp.
"I climbed up a drainpipe and removed some tiles from a roof and was able to get inside the cavity and, when the first move of prisoners took place when they were mustering prisoners to go off to Germany, another guy and I got inside ... and the draft went off to Germany without us," Bob said.
"There were guards there, but they didn't see us and they were shooting away at someone else from the tower, but we got clear just near the town of Modena and finally we tried to get some sleep in a maize paddock."
Taken in by Italian families along the way, Bob and another escaped soldier walked almost 600 kilometres to meet the advancing allied troops in Southern Italy.
After his return home to New Zealand, Bob set out on a second tour of duty and saw out the war in Venice, with "10 days absence without leave" in the "best hotel in Europe overlooking the Grand Canal".