100 years old and still going strong

12th May 2022

Meet four Chelsea Pensioner centenarians

Recent research backs up the anecdote that Chelsea Pensioners not only live considerably longer than their peers outside (by over five years, on average), but that their lifetimes once they come to the Royal Hospital are extending, year on year. This strongly suggests that the care and community here contribute to greater longevity – as well as improving quality of life. 

Three Pensioners who recently celebrated their 100th birthdays certainly seem to support this. Here, centenarians Connie Evans and John Humphreys and John Morris reflect on their lives and speculate on what has contributed to their longevity. 

Introducing our centenarians

Connie Evans - Chelsea Pensioner
Connie Evans was born in Shoreditch, London and describes herself as a cockney. She grew up as part of a tight-knit and supportive family and neighbourhood and remembers local people chasing off Oswald Moseley’s ‘black shirts’ when they tried to persecute local Jewish shopkeepers. Connie joined the Army in 1941 where she predicted how far and high aircraft would fly so shells could be fired accurately. She married ‘my Ted’ during the war and went on to bring up a family and play an active role in her community. She is blind but still has a great zest for life and a phenomenal memory.

John Humphries - Chelsea Pensioner
John Humphreys was a soldier from the age of 14 and served in the Royal Engineers. He was captured twice during World War II, once in Tobruk and once after the battle of Arnhem where he served in the parachute regiment. On both occasions he used his ingenuity to escape, surviving a tortuous walk of nearly 400km across Italy and rowing down the Rhine in a stolen boat. He looks back fondly on his marriage to Brenda. He has two daughters and “a stack of grandchildren”. Although John’s hearing and sight are poor, he is still mentally alert and interested in the world around him. 

John Morris - Chelsea Pensioner
John Morris joined the Territorial Army at 16 and the regular Army at 17, serving as an anti-aircraft gunner during the Blitz. He went to North Africa with the Royal Artillery before volunteering for the Raiding Support Regiment. Later, he took part in the campaigns to liberate Italy and Yugoslavia as part of the Special Forces. After the war, John’s varied civilian career included managing a dance band and working for Encyclopaedia  Britannica. He moved to Australia in the 1980s. Last year, when circumstances meant he needed to find a new home, the SAS Regimental Association and the charity Pilgrim Bandits helped John to move to the Royal Hospital. His extensive family includes sons living in Australia and Norway and daughters in Australia and America.

A landmark birthday

All the Pensioner centenarians enjoyed celebrations for their birthdays at the Royal Hospital with family members coming to mark their special day. They were also touched to receive birthday greetings and a photograph from the Queen. 

“I had a party and the family came. I also went to Downing Street for breakfast with Boris. I said to him, ‘The country’s in a state’. It was quite a good chat and he listened.” – Connie

We had a good party in the Club. Some family came and a lot of other people. The Queen sent a very attractive card with photo of her. My daughter has framed it.” – John Humphreys

“My party made a lot of difference. Lots of Chelsea Pensioners say hello to me now. There was a good turn-out including people from my regiment and the SAS charity that brought me here. My son and his wife came from Norway.” – John Morris

Secrets of long life

Although the Pensioners acknowledge that certain things have helped them to live so long, they tend to feel that it’s partly down to good luck. 

“I think it’s about taking an interest in your community and using your body by going out for walks – especially if you’ve got a dog.” – Connie

“I’ve surprised myself. I’ve led an adventurous life, but can’t think of anything constructive I did – the days just went on!” – John Humphreys

“It’s partly heredity and in the Army you have to be physically and mentally fit. Most of all, I’m a Christian and believe that the Lord has a plan for everyone.” – John Morris

A healthy lifestyle

Connie and both Johns haven’t been free from ‘bad habits’, but they have generally led active and healthy lives.

“Walking is important because you’re moving your blood, which helps your brain. I liked dancing too, but my dancing days are over. I eat sensibly and always bought meat and fish to what I could afford. I’m not a drinker although I’d have a toast and still do. I was a smoker in the Army because when you’re working six or seven hours you need a fag! I used to down in the command post and smoke, but I stopped in 1946.” - Connie

“I was active in the Army and enjoyed golf later in my life. I didn’t drink much but I did smoke. When I was a Lieutenant Colonel, I was supposed to set an example. One day I was about to light a cigarette when it suddenly dawned on me that it was just a bad habit and I stopped there and then.” – John Humphreys

“I used to smoke but I didn’t inhale. When I came to Australia, my daughter said there was no smoking in the house and I stopped just like that. I used to drink a lot but that changed when I became a Christian. I only had one drink at my party. I used to do power boat racing – we won the British Championship once - and skiing. I should exercise more now, but I’m lazy that way!” – John Morris

The right attitude

The Pensioners agree that staying well is also to do with mental fitness and your attitude to life.

“You can’t sit in your four walls and do nothing. You’ve got to take an interest in life and keep going. It’s no good saying ‘I can’t do this and I can’t do that’ You mustn’t ever give up. If you’ve got a pain you’ve got to rise above it.” – Connie

“I always liked adventure and I stayed active. I like to keep abreast of events by keeping up with the news too.” – John Humphreys

“Until I started losing my eyesight, I did the crossword puzzle every day and quizzes. I was working until I was 98 as a consultant for a solar company and always mixed with young people. Having a career and interests is important. I’ve had an exciting life.” – John Morris 

Friends, family and community

All the centenarian Pensioners agree that relationships are important to wellbeing and may contribute to longevity.

“I love my family and they love me. Community is important too. You’ve got to move around and have a chat.” - Connie

“I had a very happy marriage. My wife Brenda adapted herself to Army life. I enjoyed being a father too and my two daughters come to see me here now.” – John Humphreys

“Although my three marriages didn’t work out, I believe in being able to forgive. I lived with my partner Lisa in Australia for 35 years. We still have a good relationship as friends. I’ve been blessed with a daughter, Anne, and two sons – the one in Norway has three children. In 1997 I discovered I had another daughter, Marilyn, in America and three more fantastic grandchildren.” – John Morris 

Life lessons

We asked Connie, John and John what they have learned looking back on their long lives and what has meant the most to them, or guided them throughout the years.

“Stay positive. Take an interest in life. I want to live as long as possible – as long as I can think and wag my tongue! You’ve got to adapt and keep going.” – Connie

“When I was younger, I wanted to increase my lot as a soldier and get promoted – which I did. I was always active and I had a very happy marriage.” - John Humphries

“My philosophy of life is: ‘We pass this way but once, what good we can do, do now, for we’ll never pass this way again.’ And I think there’s a protecting angel for everyone. I got the name Cat Morris because I’ve certainly got nine lives. For example, when I was in Albania, I had malaria and didn’t go with my unit to Greece, where a lot of my friends were lost. Then I was on Vesuvius when it erupted in 1964 but luckily escaped. And when the TSMS Lakonia cruise ship caught fire, I was picked up after six hours in the water.” – John Morris

A contented retirement

The three 100-year-olds are all happy to be spending their later years at the Royal Hospital and find things to enjoy in their daily life.

“Not every care home or community works – you go to some and they’re just sitting round the wall. Here we get 24-hour help, we’ve got good staff. And we talk to each other. You don’t pass anybody by without acknowledging them. I take pride in my appearance. I go to the hairdresser here every fortnight and she does my nails too. And we’ve got a chap who does our feet – a chiropodist – he’s really good. I love it here. Coming here is the best thing I’ve ever done.” – Connie

“I have a talking book and read – I like history and Wilbur Smith. I go out into the garden twice a day. The snowdrops are thick on the ground now and the squirrels are almost tame. If I go very slowly in my wheelchair and stop, there will be squirrels all around me within minutes.” – John Humphreys

“It’s fantastic here. The staff are lovely, and you have every amenity – a gym, doctors, nurses. It’s a beautiful place too.” – John Morris

The Royal Hospital and longevity

What is the Royal Hospital’s secret to the long lifetimes of its residents? We believe several factors are involved, beyond the physical fitness required in the Army. 

These include:

  • outstanding nursing and domiciliary care from loyal and committed staff.
  • a range of therapies and health-enhancing activities.
  • many opportunities to lead an active and engaged retirement – from outings and social occasions, to space to pursue hobbies – supported by an energetic and dedicated team.
  • a beautiful environment with comfortable accommodation and peaceful gardens and grounds.
  • a lively community where Pensioners can make new friends and reconnect with old ones.
  • an environment where the Chelsea Pensioners are valued and celebrated for the sacrifices they were prepared to make.

We congratulate our three inspiring centenarians and wish them many happy returns – and thank our friends and supporters for contributing to the care that supports their long lives.

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