D-DAY veteran Don Sheppard celebrated his 104th birthday with half a pint of Guinness and a roomful of love and laughter- demonstrating once again that despite his age, he’s still very much young at heart.

Just a few weeks ago the Basildon Normandy veteran was on the brink of death in hospital, but on Saturday he was in high spirits as he enjoyed a birthday bash surrounded by more than 50 family members and friends.

Despite increasing frailty and ill health over the past few years - which has included bouts of pneumonia and a broken pelvis, Don is more determined than ever to be around for the 80th anniversary of D-Day next month.

He is one of the few surviving Normandy veterans left alive in the world and was just 24 years old when he took part in D-Day, serving as a sapper with the Royal Engineers Don – who grew up in Laindon and has lived in Methersgate, Basildon, with wife Sandra for the past 60 years – completed his army training at Colchester Garrison before serving in Sicily and north Africa.

By the time D-Day came along Don was considered a seasoned soldier.

He landed on Juno Beach in Normandy in June, 1944.

While fighting at Pegasus Bridge, a German bomb exploded near Don, leaving a piece of shrapnel wedged in his lungs.

He still has it today.

Gazette: Don and grandson, Sam, a trainee doctor, thrilled party-goers as they performed a duet of the Frank Sinatra classic, Young At HeartDon and grandson, Sam, a trainee doctor, thrilled party-goers as they performed a duet of the Frank Sinatra classic, Young At Heart (Image: Emma Palmer)

Don was chairman of the Southend Normandy Veterans Association for many years and has spent the decades since the war fighting to ensure those who did not come back from France are as celebrated and honoured as the veterans who did.

But on Saturday it was time to relax as Don enjoyed a slice of birthday cake and a tipple of Guinness with Sandra, his grandchildren, children and close friends beside him.

Continuing a long-standing tradition, Don and grandson Sam, a trainee doctor, thrilled party-goers as they performed a duet of Frank Sinatra classic Young At Heart.

“We sing this every year on my birthday,” said Don. “It’s been a fantastic day. The reception that I’ve got from everyone has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve got a room full of presents.

“I’m supposed to be 44, I think? I mean 104! I can tell you what it’s like to be 104 years old - take my advice, stay away from it!”

For many years, Don and his family travelled to Normandy to mark D- Day.

As old age took its toll on Don’s mobility, they spent the anniversary at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Don will be at the Living Memorial located at White House Farm, Rettendon, for the landmark 80th anniversary on June 6.

Gazette: Family and friends at Don's birthdayFamily and friends at Don's birthday (Image: Emma Palmer)

The memorial was created by Fran and Peter Theobald in 2008 as a space for peaceful reflection and commemoration, and includes a small museum, seating areas, plaques and more than 700 trees planted in memory of those who died during conflicts, as well as firefighters who have died on duty.

Last year Don was guest of honour to unveil a new special D-Day memorial at the site, parts of which he personally helped to design.

Memories came flooding back as Don hauled himself onto a vintage army motorcycle at one point, relishing the chance to sit on the same type of bike he rode as a young army despatch rider.

Gazette: Don's 104th birthday cakeDon's 104th birthday cake (Image: Emma Palmer)

Don and his family have set up a campaign to raise funds for the Living Memorial in time for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Daughter Jo said “Dad is relentless about making the 80th anniversary something very special and he really hopes that lots of people will come to mark the anniversary. It’s really important to him that we track down any veterans left, or their families, so we can invite them to the ceremony.

To support the campaign, visit gofundme.com/f/dday-landings-normandy-june-6th-1944.