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Veteran in Recent VE Day Coverage Takes on Charity Challenge

Normandy Veteran, Len Gibbon, 96, who was featured heavily in the recent coverage of VE Day, is taking on a cycling challenge in aid of charity, Care for Veterans.

Len has decided to recreate his historic journey across the Channel by cycling the distance from Portsmouth to Gold Beach on a static bike. He aims to complete the 104-mile distance by 6th June, which will mark the 76th anniversary of the first Normandy landings.

Fellow Normandy veteran, Peter Hawkins, 95, is supporting Len with his challenge by cycling his own 104-miles. Peter also landed at Gold Beach a few days after the invasion started. The men are cycling on separate occasions, of course, to ensure they keep their distance.

Both men are residents at Care for Veterans, which is based in Worthing, West Sussex. The charity has provided care and rehabilitation to physically disabled ex-Service personnel and their families since 1919. It receives no regular government funding and must raise £1.9 million this year to provide its award-winning care to the veterans who live there.

Len came to live at Care for Veterans in December 2019. He realised he needed extra help after having several falls at home and his walking had become unbalanced. He loves dancing and so the physiotherapists at the charity incorporate this into his sessions; he loves to do the ‘Cha Cha’.

He said,

“Although I’m 96, I still like to be doing something. I like to have a dance at the concerts they have sometimes. I have physio as well, which I really enjoy. I’m doing this challenge to help raise money for Care for Veterans because it’s a wonderful place. It’s going really well so far, hopefully I’ll finish on time!”

Len’s challenge comes at a time when the charity needs it most. Due to the current situation, many of the events and initiatives that Care for Veterans had organised to raise vital funds have been postponed or cancelled, so he hopes to raise as much as he can to support the charity that cares for him.

You can show Len your support by donating via his JustGiving page: www.justgiving.com/campaign/lens-d-day-challenge


Len was featured heavily in the coverage of last week’s VE Day celebrations. Here he is outside Care for Veterans watching the Spitfire flypast. (Photo credit: Kieran Cleeves Photography)


Len cycles to complete his distance


Young Len in the Royal Army Service Corps


Peter Hawkins cycles to complete his distance

NOTES TO EDITOR:

Images should be fine for reproduction, but if you would like original copies, please contact stewart.gillespie@careforveterans.org.uk 

About Len GibbonOriginally from Elephant and Castle in London, Len joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a Despatch Rider when he was just 20 years old. In early June 1944, Len got married and four days later he was posted to Normandy as part of the Normandy Landings. He arrived on the 14th June, eight days into the operation. He explained, “You had to climb down this rope netting which hung down the side of the boat. Each of us was carrying a pack of ammunition on our back which weighed pretty much the same as you. Then when we got down to a certain point, someone shouted ‘Jump!’ and you had to fall backwards, someone caught you and pushed you onto the smaller landing craft to take you to shore.”

As a Despatch Rider, jobs included delivering despatches to units or escorting convoys. Len explained, “You were often on your own for long periods of time. I used to carry a tin with me that had holes punched all around the sides, half filled with soil. Then you would add some fuel and light it, and that was your stove! I’d cook my tins of meat and veg on there for dinner.”

Len was in Normandy through to the end of the invasion, then went to the Netherlands via Brussels, and was part of Operation Market Garden in September of 1944. From there, he was posted in Germany, which is where he was when the War ended: “I was on my way to Hamburg, riding my motorbike along the autobahn by myself. The woodland which ran alongside the motorway was alight where they’d destroyed the German ammunition stores. Suddenly a Spitfire was flying above me, came right down as if it was going to and on the road, then flew back up and did a loop! The pilot shouted down to me with thumbs up, shouting ‘victory!’ Then I knew it was over. I stood up on my bike, arms in the air, cheering!”

Len left the Army in 1947 and returned home. He started out as a fitter in the building trade, then went on to become manager of plant and transport for a large building company, which is what he did until he retired. In 2006, Len received the Medal of Remembrance “Thank You Liberators 1945” as a token of gratitude for contributing to the Liberation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. Then in 2017, he received the Chevalier in the Ordre nationale de la Légion d’honneur ‘in recognition of his acknowledged military engagement and steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War.’

Len came to live at Care for Veterans as he realised he needed extra help. He had had several falls at home and his walking was unbalanced. He also has a foot drop from an old ankle injury. He explained, “I thought I’d give it a try. I’d been to another place before, but the residents just sat around doing nothing. I like it here as there’s so much to do. I’ve been drawing and painting and today I got to pot some tomato seeds for the gardens. They keep you occupied, which I like.”

At Care for Veterans, the physiotherapists have been working with Len on his ankle strength, overall endurance and also his balance. Len is able to walk safely around with a mobility frame and supervision. He feels that his leg strength and overall fitness have improved with physiotherapy.

Len has worked with four physiotherapy students that have been on placement at Care for Veterans from Brighton University, and has been very helpful, participating in assessments with them so they can practice their skills.

Len loves dancing and so our physiotherapists incorporate this into his sessions; he loves to do the ‘Cha Cha’.

About Peter Hawkins

Originally from Worthing, Peter was 18 years old in April 1943 when he was called up for Army Service and posted to a regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps at Catterick. A year later, with training complete, he was then posted to the Royal Tank Regiment at Deepcut Barracks and found the battalion was in an advanced state of preparation for the imminent assault. The Battalion landed in Normandy and was soon in action, and Peter’s first operational experience was as a crew member in a Churchill Tank. Peter recalls this and other subsequent events of that moment in time, and says he remembers those who he was with who now lie in Saint Manvieu War Cemetery. Peter was recently awarded a belated Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) by President Hollande, for ‘recognition of military service for the liberation of France.’

About Care for Veterans
Care for Veterans (formerly The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home) was established in 1919 – the charity celebrated its centenary last year.

Care for Veterans is a registered charity, providing care and rehabilitation for physically disabled ex-Service personnel and their families. Our residents’ needs are complex and many have multiple disabilities. Many have an Acquired Brain Injury and some have neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis. Others are paralysed or do not have use of their limbs and some are terminally ill. We support on average 140 residents a year.

We care for up to 60 residents at any one time.

Our residents are aged between 34 and 96.

Our residents represent the tri-services: Royal Navy, Army and RAF.

Services at Care for Veterans include nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, neuropsychology, speech and language therapy, an active social and recreation department, rehabilitation kitchen, a chaplaincy service, counselling, IT facilities, a rehabilitation garden, sensory room, function room, and regular outings on our specially adapted coach.

With no regular government funding, Care for Veterans must raise over £1.9 million each year to maintain its nursing and rehabilitation services for ex-Servicemen and women.

Our Executive Members

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