A World War Two Veteran is to be granted his “final wish” to return to the beaches of Normandy, thanks to help from a service provided by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL).
At 97 years old, Mr James Belcher, came into WWL’s Same Day Emergency Care (SDEC) unit with his daughter Lyn Bond, and began chatting to Joanne Lee, a Health Care Assistant (HCA) and one of WWL’s 50 Armed Forces Champions.
“Being an Armed Forces Champion means that if a serviceperson or veteran comes into WWL I will visit them and ask how I can help,” says Joanne, “some Veterans suffer from particular issues or may find being in hospital difficult so asking them how I can be of service is an important part of the role; particularly if they are suffering with mental health issues.”
As Joanne cared for Mr Belcher, his daughter, Lyn, revealed he was a D-Day Veteran and, after a short stay at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, Wigan, Joanne went in on her day off to check in on him and discovered he was waiting for his daughter to take him home.
Joanne continued: “When I said I recalled he was a D-Day Veteran, he beamed at me and said he couldn’t believe I had remembered, but how often do you meet someone involved in such a momentous part of our history? I was in awe and admiration and sat with Mr Belcher a while, listening to his stories.”
Mr Belcher, who carries a Royal Marines Lifetime Membership Card, regaled Joanne with stories of his time in the service but disclosed that he could no longer find his medals.
Joanne, whose husband is also a veteran, also heard how Mr Belcher’s final wish was to visit Normandy on the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings next June to pay respect to his fallen pals.
With help from Armed Forces Community HQ CIC, based at Molyneux House in Wigan. Joanne investigated how they could locate Mr Belcher’s medals and later contacted the Royal Marines to enquire about how to help him make the trip to Normandy.
Joanne was delighted when she received a response and said: “When they came back to say they would be honoured to take Mr Belcher as part of their own anniversary expedition, I cried – I couldn’t believe we were going to make this happen for him.”
Joanne visited Mr Belcher three days before his 98th birthday along with retried Navy Commander, and Director of the Armed Forces Community HQ, Charlie Neve.
Joanne continued: “Mr Belcher met us at the door with the biggest smile on his face and looking so well. We told him we were going to find his medals, which, after a visit to the Armed Forces Hub with Charlie, was confirmed that he had been awarded the 1939-1945 WWll Star Medal, France and Germany Star, Pacific Star and Italy Star.”
After presenting a birthday card from all the Armed Forces Champions, Joanne revealed the news about the trip to Normandy. “He just smiled and kept saying thank you and then we left him to ring his family and tell them the news,” she added, “it was an honour to meet Mr Belcher and I will look forward to hearing all about his trip to Normandy.”
Leanne Cobham, WWL’s Armed Forces Healthcare Lead commented how proud she is of Joanne’s commitment to Mr Belcher’s care, adding: “Joanne is a shining example of why our Armed Forces Champions are so important to the Trust. Our Armed Forces Community often have lots of needs that are not always health related, and Joanne has shown why we need to be approaching our Veterans with a view to providing holistic care.”
“Without Joanne, Mr Belcher would unlikely to have been able to achieve his final wish to visit Normandy and give one last goodbye to his comrades who never returned home, or to regain his medals that are so very important to him – a priority recognised by Joanne despite Mr Belcher’s ill health at the time.”