Veterans “dizzy with hunger” have been forced to sell their war medals to put food on the table and are living in fear of how they will pay their bills.
One WW2 hero told the Mirror the “dark days” are still here for his generation, on the 104th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Jack Mortimer, 99, from Leeds, West Yorkshire, fought for the freedom of his country on D-Day aged just 20.
But now the former despatch driver carefully watches his energy meter and thinks twice before switching on the lights.
He said: “I live in a block of flats of nearly all older people. There are one or two who are really feeling the pinch.
“My generation has suffered quite a lot and it looks like they are going to suffer again through no making of their own.
“Armistice Day brings back memories of very very dark days for my generation but dark days are certainly still here.”
Jack takes four buses everyday, to visit his wife of 78 years, Flo, 97, who is in a care home with dementia.
He turns everything off before leaving his flat, but when he’s home, he only boils enough water for one cup of tea and turns off the hot water every other night.
He said: “You have to make sacrifices, one or two of the little luxuries you give yourself have to go.
“I was reminded of that only on Tuesday when I was shopping, I buy a sandwich now and again for my tea from the pound-shop and the price has gone up to £1.25.
“It’s a 25 per cent increase, that seems out of all proportion to me. You’ve got to eat to live.”
And younger veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling too.
One ex-RAF pilot told the Mirror how he had pawned his war medal when he had nothing but a bag of rice to eat.
Keith Beaumont,42, from Halifax, West Yorkshire, was awarded an Iraq medal in 2003 for protecting no-fly zones during his time in the Gulf.
But the dad of two had to buy back his medal with the help of the Legion after falling on such hard times he couldn’t afford to feed himself during the pandemic.
He said: “I had no choice but to go down to the food bank and queue up every Friday morning.
“I was using teabags two or three times and I’d only eat once a day.
“I was dizzy with hunger.”
After leaving the forces Keith struggled to adjust to civilian life and racked up £20,000 of debt through unpaid bills and an alcohol addiction.
By 2020 he had to claim bankruptcy and called the RBL who gave him food vouchers overnight.
Keith, who now works as a plumber, said: “I’ve got a debt of gratitude for life with the RBL. I’d probably be homeless without them.
“Your war medals are priceless to me, there’s no monetary value that can replace the sentiment.
“It was emotional handing it over because it’s something I never thought I’d have to do. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t have been desperate.”
Former submariner, Gavin Kirk, 52, is another veteran who has had help from the legion.
The ex-Navy dad and grandad from Chester, Cheshire, is a full time carer for his wife Amanda, 48, who has fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.
He was one of the first to receive a new grant set up by the RBL to help ex-forces with their energy bills.
He said: “The electric bill has gone from £15 a week to £50 a week. It came out of nowhere, I thought oh my god what am I going to do.
“We were having to decide between heating and eating. My wife always says ‘feed the kids first’ but it comes down to that or pawning jewellery at the jewellers.
“A couple of months I had to postpone one bill so I could pay another.
“Things are really difficult.”
Gavin joined the navy in 1987 aged 16 and left five years later, following postings in Scotland and Portsmouth.
Until recently the couple were sleeping on the sofas in their living room so their children could each have a room in their four bedroom house in Chester, Cheshire.
He said: “I bought my last winter coat off eBay for a fiver. The kids have peer pressure and they don’t want to be walking around in hand-me-downs.
“The legion gave us £200 in clothes vouchers so we could buy some new clothes.”
The Royal British Legion has urged people to remember that its Poppy Appeal is not just for Remembrance Day as it faces unprecedented numbers of ex-servicemen and women, of all ages, asking for financial help.
The charity has seen a 20 per cent rise in the number of crisis grants issued, with more than 2780 people asking for help in the 12 months to July 2022. But charity bosses only expect these figures to rise as we all face “a tough winter”.
RBL’s Executive Director of Services, Antony Baines, said: “No one should have to worry about whether they will be able to keep the lights on, heat their homes or feed themselves and their families.”