Norfolk war veteran, 101, describes loneliness after losing wife to coronavirus

Watch a full report from ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell


A 101-year-old war veteran from Norfolk has spoken about the isolation, loneliness and grief that have made 2020 the hardest year of his life.

John Lister, a resident at Thorp House care home in Griston, near Thetford, says he still has nightmares about Nazi bombs and storming Normandy's beaches.

But the coronavirus pandemic has brought a different sort of suffering.

"It's being lonely," he said. "I mean sometimes I'm in my room and the only time I see anyone is when they bring my meals."

In March, John and his wife Ella caught coronavirus.

Days after testing positive, his childhood sweetheart and companion for more than 70 years died in hospital.

Carer Marcia Hughes with John Lister. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Carer Marcia Hughes said: "When we heard John's wife had passed away, it was like I'd lost a personal family member. It was absolutely heartbreaking.

"To then watch him in lockdown trying to go through grief, we found it hard to pick ourselves up so it was really hard to dig deep and find the strength to pick John up."

More than 7,000 people have died with coronavirus in the Anglia region. Almost a quarter of them have been from care homes.

Staff and residents are now starting to be vaccinated but there are fears that the coronavirus crisis - and the isolation that has come with it - could leave a legacy of loneliness.

Many homes across the east are going above and beyond to provide care but also, crucially, company.

When Covid broke out at Brandon Park Nursing Home in Suffolk, staff moved in and slept on camp beds so they could continue to care for residents.

With their normal entertainment and activities unable to take place this year, carer Dot Howard has taken it upon herself to try and lift spirits.

Dot Howard entertaining residents at Brandon Park Nursing Home. Credit: ITV News Anglia

A few months ago, from a safe distance, she began playing her euphonium for residents - many of whom were largely confined to their rooms.What started as a quick tune to raise a smile, quickly became a one-woman carol concert.

Her impromptu performances have meant so much that families have even asked her to play at the funerals of loved ones lost to the virus.

"You'll get a couple of residents sitting together and they'll sing along with you and their faces are aglow," said Dot.

"At the beginning you could see everything was gloomy but now you can see the difference in their faces.

"Instead of the tears you've got the glint in their eyes. They're clapping, they're laughing.

We value each one of them as if they're our own parents and we look after them as if they're our own.

Dot Howard, carer

At Melford Court near Sudbury, the residents are also trying to look after each other.

Derek Allen, 89, has started a book club in a bid to start conversations and ease the isolation and loneliness.

Derek Allen has started a book club at his care home in Suffolk. Credit: ITV News Anglia

He spent 10 days in hospital earlier this year after catching Covid.

"I was isolated in a room and I saw just a few people each day," said Derek.

"That knocks your spirits a bit. Face to face chat or reading does help.

"It brings a bit of quietness and humanity into life I think."