A FORMER soldier recounted how his return to civilian life and the recession left him struggling to work, homeless and then without his family.
Derek George joined the military in 1988 on his 18th birthday, following in the footsteps of his father Paddy, who was a survivor of the Siege of Jadotville, and two of his brothers.
He quickly fell in love with the army way of life in the 6th Infantry Battalion in Athlone and also served in Mullingar, where he began working as a chef until the recession hit.
Derek explained, âI was there for four or five years in the kitchen and then I decided to go through education. I took a business management course in Athlone, and studied computer science, some French, business and communications, then the recession hit and times were tough.
George was determined to work for his then partner and their daughter, especially since they had just bought a house and had landed retail jobs.
Then he got a dream job at Dell and he felt he had finally landed on his feet. He said, âI traveled from Mullingar to Cherrywood every day. When I look back I missed my daughter a lot growing up, but I was making a lot of money and that meant we could get married in Lanzarote, have a vacation there.
âWe had a great time and then came home with the news that Dell was closing the premises and moving to Europe. “
Soon he could only manage to get a Christmas job as the recession hit the country – and his life began to fall apart.
He recalls: âThey kept me at Harvey Norman in this position until February. Then I had to go back to welfare, and by August life had turned a dime.
âI returned to work at Harvey Norman, but my wife left. I took it really hard and was very stressed out from work and herself and had a heart attack at work.
âThe boss called an ambulance, and I was in intensive care for a few days, I don’t really remember. After that, I couldn’t work there anymore, I had to leave town, leave home.
âI have a bungalow for myself, but it’s like things can’t get better. It went from normal to minus 200%, from bad to worse.
ONE is a charity for members of the Defense Forces, and they own a shelter, Custume House, for homeless veterans.
They took Derek in and gave him a room, allowing him to get back on his feet.
He said: âAll I wanted was a roof over my head and a place where I could eat a little. And they gave me that. It was strange to start, to go from living alone for seven years to a communal house of ex-soldiers and not having the management of the house. But I was so happy that I wasn’t homeless.
He added: âOnly for ONE, God knows where I would be. I would have been on the street anyway. I cannot thank them enough for what they have done for me. It meant I could go online and take a course, so I took a private safety course and that led to a job as a safety supervisor. And then Covid struck.
He was out of work again but was eventually hired by the security company Securitas.
The 51-year-old now works in a pharmaceutical company and “works every hour he gives me”.
- FOR more information on ONE and to participate in the Fuschia appeal to raise funds to help veterans, visit one-veterans.org.