After years in the planning, a charity’s trustees are about to embark on a journey to make the Veterans Retreat village a reality. Gavin Havery reports.

A SOLDIER who became the youngest ever to be awarded the Victoria Cross is supporting plans to build a village for former servicemen in the North-East.

The charity, Veterans Retreat, is investing £27m in building 200 bungalows for retired, disabled and injured Armed Forces personnel near Ebchester, County Durham.

Lance Corporal Johnson Gideon Beharry VC, the first living recipient of the highest military decoration for valour for 30 years, described the plans as amazing.

The Northern Echo: Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry

The 32-year-old, who trained at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, said: “For guys to be able to sit down and talk about the old days and what they have been through is something that doctors cannot offer. So we, as ex-servicemen and women, are going to cure ourselves.”

L Cpl Beharry, of the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was honoured for saving members of his unit from ambushes on May 1 and June 11, 2004, in Al- Amarah, Iraq. He sustained serious head injuries in the incident in June 2004 after a rocket propelled grenade hit a vehicle six inches from his, causing shrapnel injuries to his face and brain.

The 55-acre retreat village will include a fully-staffed 96- bed nursing and care centre, a leisure centre with swimming pool, woodland walks, lakes and a donkey sanctuary.

Attending the official launch yesterday, L Cpl Beharry said: “We are regimented and we are one family and we will look after each other.

“On civvy street you do not have that – this is a good way of continuing friendships.”

It is part of the charity’s Building Our Heroes a Home campaign, which was launched at the former Marley tiles factory site just over the County Durham border in Northumberland, where the village will be built.

The project is being led by 64-year-old former military policeman Bill Liddle, who hopes the village will be completed within five years, with the first 20 bungalows finished by 2013.

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland are the charity’s official patrons.

Gary Russell, who suffered a serious leg injury in a landmine explosion in Bosnia, in 1995, said the village would be welcomed by military veterans in the region.

Mr Russell, a father-ofthree, from Consett, County Durham, who also served in the first Gulf War and Northern Ireland with the Royal Fusiliers, said: “People who are coming out of the service can find it difficult and may need counselling and medical treatment, such as physiotherapy, if they have been injured.

“When you are with someone who has been through what you have been through, you can talk about your experiences and that makes them easier to deal with.

“To have that sort of environment sitting there waiting for you when you come out, with a bungalow if you are in a wheelchair and with medical facilities on tap, is just a brilliant idea.”