Now, 106 years on, supercentenarian Haji Ghulam Mohammed, who turns 107 on December 8, is thought to be the oldest man in Sheffield.
Having survived the Great Influenza Epidemic, or Spanish Flu, and now Covid-19, the great-great grandfather from Burngreave has truly experienced it all.
Mr Mohammed, who was born in the area now called Indian-administered Jammu Kashmir in 1914, recalls vividly the time he served in World War II, which left a lasting mark on his life.
As a Muslim growing up in an Indian territory, he witnessed a lot of violence between Hindus and Muslims, forcing him to flee his home and migrate to Pakistan’s Azad Kahsmir.
He then joined the British Army and fought on the front line in Burma and other South-East Asian countries and still recounts stories of horror even after decades of the partition of India and Pakistan that left almost two million people dead.
“It was 1947 when the partition was created. The border between the new nations of India and Pakistan had just been created and a moment in which a subcontinent was divided by Britain,” he said.
“Hindus massacred. Muslims were massacred. Train platforms were awash with blood.
“Trains arriving from India were full of dead Muslims, and vice versa. It was horrifying!”.
Mr Mohammed, who is one of the survivors who endured the deadly aftermath of Britain’s historic decision to divide the two nations, said Britain’s victories in World War I and II are indebted to the Muslim soldiers from the areas constituting Pakistan, well before the USA and Russia joined forces in World War II.
“These 400,000 to 600,000 Muslim soldiers had made unparalleled sacrifices while protecting the British Empire,” he said.
He also recalls the time when he was invited to work in the UK and live after his armed service, when he was granted British citizenship.
He went on to work in the steelworks in Sheffield and shared a two-bed house in Attercliffe with 14 other people, but said after moving to an unfamiliar land where most people had a different skin colour, he encountered racism amid the rising teen sub-culture in Britain, the “Teddy Boys” of the 1950s.
He said: “Whilst one person was out working, one was sleeping in the bed and vice versa. We were very poor, but the times and people were much better. That kind of love, respect and loyalty has been lost.
“With facts that are 100 years old, I can firmly tell you that I am that history. I fought and saw friends and family die for the security and history of Europe.
“The history that has been forgotten,” he said, adding that education can help tackle contemporary issues such as Islamophobia and racism.
Mr Mohammed first got married before moving to the UK and he and his wife had one child, a daughter, who is now 66 years old.
He then went on to marry his second wife in the 1950s, Hajjah Khurshid Begum, but she passed away 11 years ago from cancer. He is now blessed with 23 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
His immense contributions did not go unnoticed, as he was honoured at Sheffield Town Hall on October 9, 2018, by the Lord Lieutenant for South Yorkshire, the Lord Mayor and the city councillors.
It is no surprise that Mr Mohammed is considered a ‘hero’ in his family and the local community.
Daughter Shameem, 37, who works for the NHS, said her dad has been an inspiration to his children as he always treated them equally growing up.
She said: “We come from the Pakistani community. In our culture, there are some restrictions, but my dad never restricted us kids. He even made me and my sister take taekwondo.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s been our biggest inspiration. When my marriage didn’t work out, my dad was my biggest supporter. He told me to get out of my little pothole, get out and enjoy life.
“I went into this career because of him. Without his support, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.
Another daughter, Tasleem, 40, added: “Our dad encouraged us to go out and play with people who were different from us.
“Every Sunday, we would go to Christ Church and mingle with other ethnic backgrounds because he didn’t get that chance when he was young.
“As adults, I’ve got so many English friends and a lot of our family friends are English.
“He has always encouraged us to study and put our heads down. If we did badly, he would say we were good.
“When we were young, we used to feel embarrassed, especially when he attended our school’s parents’ evening, which he never failed to do because he was always so proud of us.
“We used to feel embarrassed, because he was so old, like a granddad. Looking back, I know we shouldn’t have because he is our hero.”
Asked about his secret to longevity, Shameem said their dad only eats home-cooked meals.
She said: “He doesn’t eat takeaways. Always homemade food and one chapati. He won’t eat more than one chapati and that’s his evening meal with a homemade curry.
“During the day, he snacks on biscuits and fruits and that’s it.”
His youngest son, Khaleel, 34, said: “My father is very proud to have fought in World War II, and we are proud to have a military background in the family.”
Mr Mohammed has several souvenirs from his army days, even though some of his medals were unfortunately stolen.
Along with his medals, he has his army discharge papers, which note his ‘exemplary character’, and two birthday cards from the Queen in recognition of his 100th birthday and 106th birthdays.