A volunteer at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity is asking people to help a 100-year-old veteran, former Second World War...
A helping hand across the years
As George’s story shows, Stoll is there to help Veterans whatever their age. You never know when you may need help …
George Higgins grew up as one of six siblings during the Second World War. In 1942, at the age of 12, George’s siblings and mother were evacuated, leaving George and his father in London. With no brothers and sisters around to entertain him, and no school, George was keen to volunteer as a runner for the Home Guard delivering messages.
‘I had one brother in the Navy, one in the RAF and one working in a tank factory. My father was in the Royal Artillery and said, ‘Don’t you dare join the Forces.’ He was an Air Raid Warden at the time and knew all too well the dangers of war. I had to climb out of the window in secret when it was time for me to report to the Home Guard. I couldn’t wait until I was 14 to sign up officially.’
The war ended in 1945 when George was 14. ‘I decided to get a job once the war was over so I could earn some money for my family. The whole nation was rebuilding itself. I trained as a carpenter and finally, at 18, I enrolled as a Royal Engineer for my National Service and completed my basic training. I loved it. It was exactly how I imagined. There were some young lads that couldn’t make their beds, but because I’d had to do that for myself from a young age, I got on well.’
George committed to five years’ service and a further seven years as a Reserve. He was transferred to the Royal Artillery, following even closer in his father’s footsteps. ‘I was in Woolwich, sweeping stones on parade, and made sure my commanding officer knew I didn’t like doing that one bit. Next thing I knew, I was being posted to Hong Kong.’
I have my independence living here. I’m part of a friendly community
In 1949, George travelled to Hong Kong to be a driver operator. ‘Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to drive, or operate a transmitter radio. Well, I couldn’t do what they thought I could! So I ended up being the carpenter for the Head Quarters. The next year, the Korean War broke out and I was posted out, but ended up in hospital in Japan, then back to Hong Kong for three more years.’
George left the Army in 1956 and worked in construction. ‘I was a few weeks in to my new role and it was a Wednesday afternoon. I was so fed up with civvy street already, I decided to go and sign up again. The Army was my life.’
George was posted to Austria in 1953 and then to Cyprus in 1955 as a Sergeant. He was married and his wife was heavily pregnant. ‘I was responsible for security. My wife and I lived in a bungalow in the Turkish quarter, on safe land. One day, our bungalow was attacked while my wife was inside. She was seriously hurt and we lost our baby. We knew it was time to return to England.’
George’s marriage sadly ended when he was back in the UK. He continued his career in carpentry and building but, in 2010 at the age of 82, George faced homelessness. ‘I was sleeping here, there and everywhere – on friends’ sofas and the like. At 82, that wasn’t how I imagined my living situation to be. I ended up going to a hostel in Victoria and making contact with Veteran’s Aid, who put me in touch with Stoll. Shortly after that, I had my own flat in the Mansions – a place to call my own. It was marvellous, I was over the moon! Since moving into Stoll, I’ve been diagnosed with cancer and my kidneys are failing. I have support from Stoll, but I do have my independence living here. I’m part of a friendly community.’
Find out more
Stoll has been providing support to the Veteran community for more than 100 years and is here to support the next generation of Veterans. For more information about finding a home with Stoll or accessing support, please visit www.stoll.org.uk or call the Outreach Team on 020 7385 2110.
446 Fulham Road
London SW6 1DT
Tel: 020 7385 2110
Stoll’s drop-in runs every second Wednesday of the monthat its Fulham site (see above), in the Community Hall
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