Meet Eileen - a remarkable lady who is in the news on her 101st birthday! An Irish woman by birth and nurse by profession, Eileen travelled all over the world with her late husband Norman (who always went by the name Barry), a World War ll Army veteran - before coming to Spain to start a new life on her own after he died in 1981.
So how did she get to live in Spain and what’s her secret for a long life?
We first met Eileen and two of her four children, Hilary (also in Fuengirola) and Christopher (in the USA) in October 2022, a few months after her 100th birthday.
She met her husband Barry, Lieutenant Norman Harper Bladen (5th Field Regiment Royal Artillery) at the end of the Second World War and moved over to England soon after to start their family.
Barry had served with honour, showing supreme effort and resilience with active service during the Second World War. He had been taken prisoner in Singapore and was a Japanese POW from 1942 to 1945. He was incarcerated in the notorious Changi Jail, Taiwan, and Nagasaki, the island where the nuclear bomb was dropped. Yet he survived and went on to live a wonderful life with Eileen and their four children until his untimely death at the age of 60 in October 1981, suffering from leukemia as a result of his experience in Nagasaki. Christopher, telling me this story, poignantly described his dad as ‘one of the forgotten soldiers’.
Shortly after Barry died, Eileen and daughter Hilary arranged a holiday to give her a change of scene. She had never visited Spain before yet she had a long lost uncle, Henri, who lived in Benalmádena - so they decided to track him down and visit. It was on that trip that Eileen made a pivotal decision to move to Spain. “ I never decided anything ….it just happened.“ said Eileen.
Eileen settled in Mijas and she soon got involved with the local bridge group and tennis club along with the Mijas Arts Centre.
What was it like making the change - were there any surprises or difficulties?
“No surprises. I was very happy to visit Spain, and get to know the Mijas area. Everyone I met, especially the Art Centre, they all wanted me to stay…so I did!!”
It was at the Art Centre where Eileen took Spanish lessons which enabled her to become fully integrated into Spanish society as well as her many international friends. She was a dynamic force in helping to save the Art Centre from closure when it went through a difficult patch and it is still going strong today.
What do you recommend to others thinking of making the move?
“I truly believe it was very important for me to learn to speak Spanish. I spent three years, at least three times a week studying. I was so lucky to have the Art Centre in Mijas where there were wonderful teachers, both for language and the art.”
What do you enjoy most of all about your life in Spain?
“Friendliness, the freedom and the gorgeous weather. It was very easy to fall in love with the Costa del Sol.”
By the time we met Eileen, she had had her 100th birthday and was living in Fuengirola. But recent illness had brought mobility problems and she could no longer get out and about or manage the stairs in her home. She was facing the real possibility of having to move into residential care and losing her independence, which was, for her, not a solution!
Thanks to the recommendation of local Age Concern volunteer Norman Jolliffe (who had for many years also volunteered with Age in Spain and himself had served in the British Army), Eileen’s son Christopher got in touch with our Age in Spain Support Service for veterans. Our volunteer caseworker Sheila visited Eileen and her family to assess her situation and discuss options for assistance. The result was amazing!
The Soldiers Charity helped cover the costs of her care and rehabilitation and helped to buy her a mobility scooter. The Royal British Legion funded the cost of a stairlift so that once again Eileen could move freely in her home. And by working together with Hilary and Christopher, Kayte Locke our Casework Manager was able to coordinate the whole process in record time, so that Eileen was soon out and about once more.
What difference has the help made for Eileen and the family?
Daughter Hilary replied,
"My mother would not have been able to continue living in her home of 40+ years. She cannot climb the stairs. The stairlift has given her the confidence and comfort to remain here."
"The scooter was like Mum having her first car again! She has her outside independence back, and loves to drive along the Paseo in Fuengirola, looking at the sea. She can even do a little shopping. And the help with care has allowed us to maintain her quality of life and freedom.”
What recommendation would you make to other service families living in Spain who need support?
“Don’t be afraid to reach out. Get your military history and background information together, and don’t give up!!”
Son Christopher added,
"This will be another wonderful memory for Mum, who has so much appreciated what you and the Royal British Legion and Soldiers Charity have done. It will be an honour to my father, who got so little for his supreme effort and years as a prisoner of war."
Eileen, what plans do you have between now and your next birthday?
“To take one day at a time, and to see as much of my wonderful supportive family as I can.”
We ended the interview with the biggest question of all!
What's your secret for a long life?
"An evening cocktail… Cava and a drop of cognac at 6:30PM!"
Thank you Eileen, Hilary and Christopher for sharing your story.
A word from our Casework Manager, Kayte Locke who helps families like Eileen's every day. "There are fewer and fewer surviving WWII veterans and families alive today and it's impossible to understand what they went through to make our world what it is today through their resilience and sacrifice. We can’t even begin to understand the trauma and extreme conditions of being a POW."
Help us to help more veterans in Spain. Too often, people reach out to us when things have reached a crisis point. No-one likes to feel vulnerable or dependent, but asking for help the moment you need it, just like Eileen did, can transform your life and help you keep your dignity and independence. If you know an ex service veteran or military family living in Spain that is struggling, don't wait - contact us.
Our specialist support service to help UK veterans and families in Spain (whatever their age) is only made possible by operational grants from The Soldiers Charity, The Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity and the RAF Benevolent Fund. Our volunteers give one to one help with information, support with managing difficult life changes, help to access social care and health services and when needed, direct financial support from UK military charities to help maintain independence in later life.
Can you help us? To help everyone plan their life to the fullest in Spain, we need your support. We are completely dependent on donations from people like you for our services. We receive no government funding and every year we struggle to keep going.
A regular donation of just €15 per month will enable us to provide a weekly friendship call to an isolated older person, every week of the year.
A one off donation of €50 will enable us to make a home visit to a vulnerable person who needs to access vital services but has no-one to help.
Please donate if you can: https://www.ageinspain.org/donate.
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