Helping hand for veteran

A 93-year-old veteran facing loneliness and isolation is now enjoying life as a Chelsea Pensioner following support from the Veterans Wellbeing Assessment and Liaison Service (VWALS).

A 93-year-old veteran facing loneliness and isolation is now enjoying life as a Chelsea Pensioner following support from the Veterans Wellbeing Assessment and Liaison Service (VWALS), a mental health and wellbeing service supporting veterans and their families in the north east run jointly by the Trust and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW).

Veteran George Skipper saw war service in North Africa, wACas on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur medal by the French government for his part in the Normandy campaign. Following the death of his wife in 2015, George, then living in Whitley Bay, became extremely lonely and isolated in his community. He was referred to VWALS by the Royal British Legion and met with VWALS support worker Dave Findlay.

Dave, a veteran himself, provided specialist support for George’s isolation issues and helped him rebuild his life through getting out and about in his local community and taking part in groups and activities with local people his age. In building up his relationship with George, Dave, using his knowledge of armed services life, was able to suggest to George he consider applying to become a Chelsea Pensioner.

Mr Skipper followed Dave’s advice and is now happily resident in the Royal Hospital Chelsea. He recently met with Dave in London to personally thank him for his support.

George said: “In my mind, the day Dave first came to see me was the best day’s work he’s ever done.

“That was the first time that being a Cheslea Pensioner was put in my head, and I have to say how pleased I am with how the VWALS team works so well together.

“Inviting him down to see me settled was the least I could do. It has changed my life coming here and I can spend what time I have left enjoying it.”

Dave, said: “When I first met George, he was on his chin straps and feeling very low. But by working with him, we were able to get him in touch with local groups and eventually encourage him to apply to the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

“Heading down to London to see Mr Skipper was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was pretty amazing. I’d been there before in my Army days, but to go down and have a one-to-one with a Chelsea Pensioner – it was so inspiring.

“He’s now happy as anything and that’s wonderful to see. That’s what our team is here for.”

The pair was able to enjoy lunch together and Mr Skipper was proud to give Dave a tour of his new home.

VWALS offers a single point of access for veterans and the team, many of whom are ex-Forces themselves, can direct ex-military personnel to appropriate mental health services, as well as offer practical help, such as with housing or pensions.

Dave said: “We’re there to help any veteran and their family with their wellbeing. It’s about the holistic approach and making sure these incredible people who have served get the right support for them.

“This was a gentleman who was never getting out, but now he’s heading to Ascot and West Ham United. He’s been lauded at the French Embassy and he’s out and about all the time. It’s been an honour and a privilege working with him.”

Mr Skipper served as Acting Sergeant with the Royal Army Service Corps. Just a teenager, he headed to El Alamein and in total spent 14 months in the desert as a Bren gunner.

He was awarded the French Government’s highest military honour for his role in the D-Day campaign. He landed at Gold Beach, again as a Bren gunner, aged only 21 on June 6, 1944.

Later that year, he served in the Ardennes with the 11-man 43rd Field Security Unit, acting as a sharp shooter. After the liberation, he ended up in Germany, where he was tasked with transporting people who had been imprisoned in concentration camps.

Once back in the UK, Mr Skipper worked as a fuel tank driver for Redline and Esso, and became active in his local Conservative Party, before taking on the role of president of Warkworth and Amble District Royal British Legion Branch.

For more information about VWALS in partnership with Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion, phone 0191 441 5974 or visit our VWALS web page. Veterans can contact VWALS direct - or you can get a relative, someone who supports you, or your GP to get in touch on your behalf.