War veteran plans VE Day charity walk to save ex-soldiers’ club

A 98-year-old war veteran is planning a VE Day charity walk to help save an everyman’s club, originally founded as a place for soldiers to recuperate during the First World War.

Inspired by Captain Tom Moore, George Sutherland will walk 2.2 miles from Lijssenthoek military cemetery to Talbot House in Poperinge, near Ypres, to help save the club, which has been forced to close its doors due to the coronavirus.

Talbot House has been closed for the first time since 1944 and is facing a double blow financially, after investing a significant amount of money in a new permanent exhibition that was originally due to open in April.

George Sutherland meeting Princess Alexandra
George Sutherland meeting Princess Alexandra

Founded in 1915 by British army chaplains, the house became a home away from home for half a million Tommies who served there during the war.

It was a space for friends to meet, write letters home, enjoy the garden and play the piano, or pray in the chapel in the attic.

The club was so successful that soon after the war some 500 branches sprang up throughout the Commonwealth.

Mr Sutherland is the second of four generations of his family in Poperinge. His father married his mother, a local girl, at the end of the First World War.

When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940, Mr Sutherland narrowly escaped, fleeing through the north of France. He made it to Britain and joined the RAF in Edinburgh.

He eventually returned to the town as a soldier, before marrying and working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the war.

George Sutherland
George Sutherland

Mr Sutherland will walk from the military cemetery, where he, his father and son have all worked as gardeners, to Talbot House which is 2.2 miles away.

He will also be telling people anecdotes of his life and service, and his relation to Talbot House.

A spokesman for the house said: “As the years passed by, George took countless pilgrims and school parties round Lijssenthoek.

“He remains a regular guest at Talbot House and is very keen on the Talbotousians brunch and garden party. Although according to George, the place may look cleaner today, the tea and warm welcome is the same.”

George Sutherland
George Sutherland

Members of the public are encouraged to follow his walk on social media, using the hashtag #WalkWithGeorge.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Sutherland said: “I hope I can do it. VE Day is not long now. But I’m fit. I’m not 100 yet you know.”

Donations can be made to:https://uk.gofundme.com/f/save-talbot-house