MORE than 70 villagers paid tribute to their local postmaster who has stepped down after more than 20 years.

Gurmit Dhendsa retired from Harwell Business Centre Post Office after 23 years last Friday.

But he was not aware that dozens of his regular customers were planning to give him a send-off with a surprise leaving party.

They collected £780.50 for him as a “retirement fund” from his loyal regulars but they also did something more personal.

Chilton residents and regular post office users Judy Goodhall and Rachel Downey she sent envelopes around to neighbours, asking if they would like to donate to the collection. They also included a little sticky label in case anyone wanted to send a personal message.

In the end, more than 70 labels were collected, each with a personal message to the postmaster and so they compiled them into a little book, along with photos of the shop to remember the good times by.

Mrs Goodall, 69, who has lived in the village since 1969, said: “He is a very, very special man. He was exceedingly good at his job but he always went above and beyond that.

“He would look out for all his customers, and if he hadn’t seen someone for a while he would ask after them. If you wanted to send a parcel to a strange part of the world, he would work out the cheapest way to send it.

“He was very gentle and quiet. It is difficult to describe what an amazing job he did.”

Mr Dhendsa, of Woodley, near Reading, had spent the afternoon preparing a spread of food for what he thought was going to be a small leaving do.

He made a speech thanking his customers for what they had done for him.

He said he had enjoyed his 23 years, and said he would be making a £1,000 donation to the cancer ward of the Churchill Hospital in Headington which had cared for some of his customers over the years.

Mr Dhendsa, 60, said: “It was a very pleasant surprise, I wasn’t expecting that many people to turn up. I would like to thank all the people from Chilton and Harwell for coming and for their generous gifts. It has been a privilege to be there and enjoy it.”

The post office shop will now shut, and a smaller post office is set to move into the shop next door.