D-Day veteran credits daily tot of whiskey as secret to long life as he celebrates 103rd birthday at Elsyng House
A daily tot of whiskey is the secret to a long life according to D-Day veteran, Donald Howkins, who’s celebrated his 103rd birthday at Elsyng House Care Home.
Family and friends came from as far afield as the United States to mark the major milestone where staff organised a private party with a fish and chip lunch.
Donald, who only moved into the 76-bedroomed home last year, is one of a handful of remaining veterans from the D-Day landings and credits his health to maintaining his independence and a daily drop of the strong stuff. “It’s what I really enjoy,” he said. “I never over-do it, though, one glass is enough! The whiskey we had in the War was very different, but it did give me a bit of Dutch courage!”
The staff at Elsyng House, which offers residential, nursing, memory and respite care, make sure Donald is served his favourite tipple every day at three o’clock. “Donald is such a personality, he encourages everyone here to get out of bed and get involved in the activities,” said Head of Hospitality, Stephen Eshmade.
“He makes sure he’s always smartly dressed, and he starts every morning with a cup of coffee while he reads the paper. He was living by himself at home in Winchmore Hill up to the age of 102 so we make sure he can maintain as much independence as possible. He’s so positive; I love seeing him every day!”
Donald was a motorbike dispatch rider in northern France in 1944. As part of the 90th Middlesex Regiment of the Royal Artillery, he landed on Gold Beach in June, aged just 23. The D-Day landings by Allied troops from the UK, Canada and the United States, marked the start of the campaign to liberate Nazi-occupied north-west Europe.
Donald remembers little of what happened that day, his first memories being getting to Arromanches a few miles away where he noticed that cows had been killed by the shelling. After facing combat as a gunner in Tilly-sur-Seulles, Donald moved through Belgium and the Netherlands with his unit, as the liberation of Europe continued. He was injured in December 1944 after being hit in the leg by a piece of shrapnel, which he still carries today, but miraculously he, and his four brothers, survived the war.
Donald was awarded the Legion d’honneur, the highest French order of merit, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 and is a trustee of the British Normandy Memorial near the village of Ver-sur-Mer. After the war, he resumed his career as a butcher, and he and wife, Dorothy, brought up their three children in Winchmore Hill.
Donald’s son Alan, travelled with his children from his home in the United States to attend the party, along with Donald’s daughter Susan, son Michael, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The family shared a fish and chip lunch from their favourite fish bar, George’s in Enfield.
Susan said; “The staff did a wonderful job, the set up was amazing! It was lovely to be able to celebrate here altogether, and have everything taken care of.” Grandson Gary, agreed. “We never expected them to go to so much trouble for Grandad, it was fantastic. He didn’t know what to do when he saw his face on a banner!”
As well as friends and family, Donald was also surrounded by birthday cards staff at the home had collected. Their present to him was a bottle of his favourite whiskey, a cut glass decanter and glasses and a cake made by the home’s catering team.
“I was overwhelmed, it was such a wonderful day,” said an emotional Donald. “I don’t know how many more birthdays I’m going to have, so to have my children here, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was truly special. I didn’t expect all of this and I’m very grateful to Stephen and the team at Elsyng house.”
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