War veteran, 97, in battle to save West Hallam care home

War veteran Pete Watkins (sitting) pictured at a Derbyshire paras reunion in 2011.
War veteran Pete Watkins (sitting) pictured at a Derbyshire paras reunion in 2011.

A World War Two veteran is facing a fresh fight at the age of 97 – to save from closure the West Hallam care home where he lives.

Ex-para Pete Watkins survived the bitter and infamous Battle of Arnhem in 1944, which was immortalised in the film, ‘A Bridge Too Far’.

But he fears he might not survive Derbyshire County Council cutbacks, which have put the Beechcroft home on Nursery Avenue firmly in the firing line.

Beechcroft is one of seven homes across the county that have been earmarked for the axe because they are in a state of disrepair and it would be too costly to bring them up to modern standards.

Residents will be transferred to other homes or support facilities. But Pete's relatives are angry about the plans.

Lynne Thornley, his step-daughter, said: “He deserves to spend his last few years in peace and in the comfort of a place he calls home.

“I am seriously worried about the effect of the closure on his physical and mental health. I fear it will harm him.

“I know they need to modernise, but why close seven care homes, and all at once? Why not wait to close this one, if that has to be the case, until the replacement for Hazelwood at Cotmanhay is built?”

Pete, who hails from Ilkeston, was a private in the 10th Battalion , Parachute Regiment when he was first deployed.

He was only 21 years old at Arnhem in a disastrous battle for the Allies that killed more than 1,500 troops.

He was one of only 50 in his battalion to survive the onslaught. He is now one of 31 elderly and vulnerable residents living at Beechcroft.

Others include 96-year-old Freda Siewko, 88-year-old Joan Shelton, from Ilkeston, and 84-year-old Sylvia Mason, who worked at Denby Pottery before her retirement.

Freda said: “This has caused a big worry for us. We couldn't be better looked after here. But we are going to be chucked out like little kids.”

Former dinner-lady Joan said: “I am petrified of where I might go. Because of my claustrophobia, I can’t be shut in anywhere.”

Sylvia, who has lived at Beechcroft for three years, said the home should be renovated in stages rather than closed.

A petition, signed by more than 600 people, is calling for Beechcroft to be saved.