Teesside health boss humbled by Hartlepool WW2 veteran – North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust
A health chief at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has spoken of the ‘humbling experience’ of meeting a World War 2 veteran this week during his stay at University Hospital of North Tees.
Julie Gillon, Chief Executive for the Trust met with 103-year-old Terrence Lewis (Terry) this week, alongside colleagues Steve Hall, Deputy Chair and Ian Simpson, Non-Executive Director from the Trust board of directors.
Talking about the experience Ms. Gillon said ‘Terry is almost certainly the last WW2 veteran of his age left in Hartlepool, and I dare say sadly, one of the last of across the country. Sitting with him, and hearing his experiences, and his utter resilience when facing some of the most enduring challenges of his life truly humbled me’.
In 1939, Terry was called up to serve in the forces as part of the Military Training Act. A 21-year-old young man from Hartlepool set off to Harrogate to start his career serving to protect his country and the world at large. He explained to his visitors how in the midst of the terror of fighting on foreign soil, his early demise actually almost occurred on a street corner in Hartlepool.
On 48 hours leave from the battlefield Terry returned home to see his family in the Whitby Street area of Hartlepool. On his first night back, he had enjoyed a catch up with family and friends, chatting on the street corner. The very next night, a bomb fell on the very same corner he was stood the night before.
During 1940 and 1943, there were an estimated 43 air raids on Hartlepool, with 70 deaths and over 7,500 buildings across the town destroyed.
Terry’s war took him through South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria…where he “wasn’t quite sure how he did it – but he won a donkey” he laughed. The soldier assured the party he left the animal in the safe care of a local convent.
The veteran’s time in Syria brought other challenges, which he regaled ‘I had the opportunity to play in a football match against a local team. As I stepped onto the pitch as a strong inside left, the referee quipped you are not playing in that Hartlepool shirt now’.
Terry served through Dunkirk and faced some of the greatest challenges of his military career before returning home to Hartlepool to recommence his career in education.
Ms. Gillon spoke with colleagues who attended the visit remarking ‘throughout our lives – professionally and personally we will face some enormous challenges. Some of them we feel are unjust and unfair; it is how we choose to respond that shows the true character of our being. Terry reminded me of that as he thanked us for our visit, ending our chat with a wonderful line ‘as they say in the north east Julie – keep ganning’.