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  • Carmel Drake

Age in Spain helps UK Armed Forces Veteran

by Carmel Drake

A man, smiling, in a wheelchair

"It’s made my life 100% better”.

Stephen’s story is one of bravery and sacrifice, as well as a testament to the power of community and support.

Born in Bentley, Yorkshire in 1949 and having served with the British Army, Stephen Irwin had no idea of the struggle he would face to source a new wheelchair in Tenerife when the time came.

Abandoned between various bureaucratic gaps, Age in Spain came to the rescue in conjunction with the Royal British Legion, and supported by the Yorkshire Regiment and the Army Benevolent Fund.

Stephen's journey began at the tender age of 16 when he made the decision to enlist in the Army’s Duke of Wellington Regiment (now part of the Yorkshire Regiment). Over the years, he served his country with distinction, with postings taking him to far-flung corners of the globe from Cyprus to Malaysia, Germany to Hong Kong, and even as far as Australia and New Zealand. His dedication and commitment to his comrades and his country were unwavering, earning him the respect and admiration of all who served alongside him.

However, Stephen's military career was abruptly cut short during an exercise in the UK, near Milton Keynes, just before his regiment was set to be posted to Northern Ireland. He’d been signed off sick months earlier in Hong Kong and was awaiting surgery after sustaining a serious abdominal injury during a football match against the Navy. But he’d rejoined his Regiment upon their return to the UK as a favour to his commanding officer who was so dependent on his expertise to be able to run his reconnaissance team. 

That favour and the exercise in Milton Keynes would change Stephen’s life forever. As the Regiment readied itself for its upcoming posting, Stephen was involved in a tragic accident that led to the onset of paraparesis, the partial paralysis of both legs, and spinal cord problems. The prognosis was grim, with three independent specialists predicting he had only three to five years left to live.

Yet, Stephen's indomitable spirit refused to be subdued. Against all odds, he persevered, underwent the surgery he’d been waiting for, and faced each new challenge with courage and determination. He went on to work as a truck driver for over a decade. His resilience serving  as an inspiration to all who knew him, a testament to the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.  

In 2018, Stephen made the bold decision to relocate to Tenerife, after holidaying there and seeing several of his symptoms significantly improve thanks to the mild climate. However, his move presented its own set of challenges, particularly when he found himself in need of a new electric wheelchair. As an Armed Forces veteran living abroad, he discovered that the traditional channels of support available to ex-servicemen in the UK were not easily accessible.

It was in this moment of need that Age in Spain and the Royal British Legion stepped in to offer their assistance. Through a coordinated effort, and with the generous support of the Yorkshire Regiment and the Army Benevolent Fund,

Man , smiling with a certificate
We first helped Stephen in 2022 to get his new residency card (TIE).

Stephen was able to take delivery of a new electric wheelchair, providing him with a newfound sense of independence and freedom.

Speaking about the impact the wheelchair has had on his life, Stephen expressed his gratitude, saying, "It's amazing. It's incredible. Without it, I'd be stuck in a normal chair. But now I can shop, meet friends for coffee, go swimming. It's made my life 100% better and it gives me my independence."

Stephen's story serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of community and support, particularly for those who have served their country. His journey from Yorkshire to Tenerife is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the bonds that unite us across borders and generations.

As we celebrate Stephen's resilience and the support he has received, let us also remember the countless other veterans in need of assistance. To those who may be facing challenges of their own, Stephen's message is clear: 'don't hesitate to reach out for help'.

Age in Spain helps Armed Forces veterans and partners with the Royal British Legion to offer support and assistance, ensuring that no veteran is ever left behind. Stephen's journey is far from over, but with the support of his community and the unwavering strength of his spirit, there is no doubt that he will continue to inspire all those who have the privilege of knowing his story.


Do you know a veteran who needs help?

Read more of our veterans stories and how to get help here:

The service is supported by the #ArmyBenevolentFund, the #RAFBenevolentFund, the #RoyalNavyRoyalMarinesCharity and #AgeinSpain.  Partnering with the #RoyalBritishLegion.

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