Army veterans reunited after 60 years in chance encounter at Christmas party

Two army veterans including one with dementia were reunited for the first time in 60 years in an emotional chance encounter at a Christmas party.

John Stacey, 83, and John Halloran, 81, were demobbed from their British Army regiment in 1959 after being posted to Cyprus, but the best friends lost touch shortly after despite both returning to their hometown of Cardiff.

The men served as infantry in the Welch Regiment during a conflict between Greek Cypriot guerrillas and the British Army, and their unlikely reunion on December 9 was described as "an early Christmas present".

Mr Stacey, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago, was at a Christmas tea party for veterans suffering with dementia when long-lost friend Mr Halloran walked past on his way back from a pub.

John Stacey served in the Welch Regiment in Cyprus before returning to Cardiff to work as a carpenter (Adam Hale/PA)

Mr Halloran asked a man outside what was going on at the Royal British Legion club in the suburb of Whitchurch and talked about his army service including time spent in Kyrenia, Cyprus, in the late 1950s.

The man, Roger Lees, who helps support Mr Stacey, linked the two veterans and set up a reunion on the spot, which he says became emotional when Mr Stacey recognised his old friend despite suffering from memory problems.

Mr Lees, who works for Change Step, a charity which sees peer mentors support fellow veterans, told the PA news agency: "I said to Halloran 'Do you know John Stacey?' and he said they were best mates out in Cyprus. I told him he was inside if he wanted to meet him.

"The bit that gets me going is Stacey's emotion when he saw his mate. Halloran tapped him on the shoulder, he turned around and he said 'Blimey O'Riley'.

"They sat down holding hands. It was like they didn't want to be parted."

He added: "If you saw the way it happened, at the distance they were to each other and didn't know the other was there ... emotions were flying.

"They started hugging and that was the most beautiful thing I'd seen, as an ex soldier talking."

Photo taken between 1957 and 1959 of Royal Welch soldier John Halloran in Cyprus, picture taken by Adam Hale of original photo
John Halloran served in the Welch Regiment in Cyprus before returning to work as a steelworker (Adam Hale/PA)

Widower Mr Halloran, who worked as a steelworker, said: "We were in the same Company, and John was a character around the camp. He was always laughing and joking, playing jokes on people including me.

"We talked about our days in Kyrenia, about the boys were served with and lost.

"I got emotional when I saw him. He's a character and he hasn't changed."

Mr Stacey, who worked as a carpenter and joiner, joked: "When I saw him I felt like going round the back of him and kicking him.

"I recognised him straight away. His stomach is looking better."

Mr Stacey's wife, Judy Stacey, 76, said: "I was surprised he remembered John. I thought it was wonderful.

"It was like an early Christmas present. It was lovely."

Photo dated 19/12/19 of (left to right) Roger Lees, John Halloran, John Stacey, and Judy Stacey in Cardiff, taken by Adam Hale
Rogers Lees, John Halloran, John Stacey, and his wife Judy Stacey described the two army veterans' reunion as "emotional" (Adam Hale/PA)

Mr Stacey and Mr Halloran served in their regiment's B Company during the Cyprus Emergency, when Greek Cypriot guerrillas began an armed campaign to end British colonial rule between 1955 and 1959.

Their Welch Regiment was eventually amalgamated with the South Wales Borderers to form the Royal Regiment of Wales in 1969.

The Royal British Legion Admiral Nurses, which organised the tea party for veterans, offers specialist support to carers of people living with dementia and are funded by donations, including money raised through the Poppy Appeal.

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