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What Can You Do in Twenty-Two Seconds?

In the year of 1937, Charlie Halls joined the Royal Navy. Both his Father and Grandfather before him had served and so it was a natural step when at the tender age of 15, Charlie took on his initial training at HMS Caledonian, Rosyth. He launched his career over the next two years in the East Indies, and by the age of 18, had joined his favourite ship, the HMS Manchester. Within a year, Charlie had become an Able Seaman.

Charlie stands between his brothers, John and Fred who also signed up to the Royal Navy


Charlie has not kept many possessions from his Navy days, but a well-guarded black and white framed photo of the HMS Manchester still adorns his chest of drawers directly across from his bed. If he leans up slightly, he can view it well and is reminded of some happy and special memories spent aboard.

When War was declared in 1939, the HMS Manchester was recalled from Aden to carry out patrols from Scotland to Greenland to deter German freighters. Two years passed before Charlie’s career was redirected by his commanding officer, who asked him to report to the Admiralty. Following his interview, he was asked to volunteer for secondment to shore, where he would undertake a gunnery course and begin a new role in mine disposal. Due to a limit of available men, the hours were long and leave and rest became a rare luxury.

In one of his most dangerous mine disposal jobs at Charing Cross Railway Station, Charlie shared that he “only had twenty-two seconds for the mine to tick before it would start to go off.  You couldn’t do much in twenty-two seconds”. When he realised that time was almost up and that his comrade had dived off the bridge and into the bank, he too, sought safety from behind a wall. Five minutes passed and with no explosion in sight, they judged it safe enough to take a second look. As it turned out, Charlie told us that “It took hours to do it because it had hit the live rail and melted. So that was… a bit hairy.”

Charlie shared with us that he “happened to be a bit of a rebel in the navy” and that “he was always in troubleAccompanying him on almost every mine was Lieutenant Keith Swan Upton from the Royal Australian Navy. Lieutenant Keith kept a stern eye on Charlie and advised him to “Keep your nose clean, because the first bit of trouble you get in and you’ll be back to the barracks”.

Charlie’s remarkable career led to the safe disposal of 15 mines. On a momentous day in June 1941, his brilliant work was recognised when he was awarded the George medal at Buckingham Palace for ‘Great Bravery and Undaunted Devotion to Duty in the Face of Danger’. When the moment came, King George VI remarked upon Charlie’s youthfulness and said “You are only a boy!”. Jumping to Charlie’s defence, Lieutenant Keith responded “the boy who stands with me is a man, not a boy”. Charlie stated that having his “father and mother at the palace” with him was “the greatest thing to see… I think my old dad was very cut up about it”. Amidst these achievements, Charlie has also since been referenced in books ‘Bomb Disposals in World War Two’ by Chris Ransted as well as ‘Dragons can be Defeated’ by D.V. Henderson.

Amazingly, Charlie survived the war without suffering any major injuries and eventually returned to the Sea, where he worked in submarines and volunteered for experimental work on diving gear.

Charlie’s step-daughter Anne Trick told us that “Charlie has been my much-loved stepdad for more than 40 years, he’s an amazing character and I’m very proud of him. He may well have been a bit of a likely lad in his youth, but at the end of his service in 1948, his conduct was described as exemplary.”

On Charlie coming to Care for Veterans, Anne said, “at the height of the pandemic, Charlie became very ill and on discharge from hospital he needed nursing care. SSAFA, the RNBF and Care for Veterans listened to my cry for help on his behalf. According to his doctors, he was coming to the end of his life, and his care home could no longer meet his needs but Care for Veterans was there for him. Against all the odds, he celebrated his 100th birthday in January. He’s more than ready to leave us now, but thanks to Care for Veterans and the wonderful staff on Alexandra Wing, his last days will be lived in peace, comfort and dignity.”

Charlie has now been at Care for Veterans since September 2020. On his time with the charity, Charlie said, “It’s quite nice here; I have got a nice room and good people. All the nurses make a fuss of me and tell me that they love me. They’ve been good to me here”. Charlie has received full-time care since his arrival, celebrated his 100th birthday with a message from the Queen and has spent time in the Wellbeing Hub, socialising with other residents.

The Wellbeing Hub offers a chance for veterans and their families to come together over activities including crafts, cooking, pet therapy and games. These sessions can help improve finger-thumb dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and upper limb and body strength. Furthermore, these tasks have also benefited residents’ mental health and social skills.

It’s with thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters that we can offer such a diverse range of activities and therapies to our residents. If you would like to support residents like Charlie, please click here to donate.

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