Bishop's Stortford family welcome lonely veteran for Christmas
A Second World War veteran, who has spent the last five Christmases alone, will be spending the big day this year with a kind-hearted Bishop's Stortford family – after their 11-year-old daughter wrote him a touching invitation.
Cyril Banks, 93, was invited to spend Christmas with the Whitfield family by the youngest member of their household, Evie, a Year 7 student at Birchwood High School.
In an emotive letter to the pensioner, she wrote: “I especially want you to come over because I don’t think that a man like you, who risked his life, should spend Christmas alone - that is not right.”
Evie’s proud mum Tracy Whitfield, the community marketing champion at Waitrose, said: “I think that’s probably from school - she’s learned quite a lot about the war."
Tracy has known Cyril for several years. She orchestrates and oversees the Northgate End’s supermarket’s charitable donations, and Cyril is an active fundraiser for two armed forces charities, the Not Forgotten Association and the Royal British Legion.
During the war, Cyril, who lives on the Parsonage estate, was a crew member on the first Royal Navy minesweeper to clear a path to Normandy for the 1944 D-Day landings.
He hit the national headlines in 2016 after he was conned out of his £9,000 life savings by phone scammers. Paul Winspear, the Independent’s editor, set up a GoFundMe appeal for the pensioner and within hours £9,000 was raised. The money continued to flood in – in the end, £14.812 was collected. Cyril donated the surplus to charity.
Tracy is protective and immensely fond of Cyril. When his eyesight deteriorated, he lost his driving licence, so the mother of two volunteered to take him shopping every week. “He is very able, but losing his licence was a massive thing – it’s sort of taken his independence away,” she said.
Her husband, Shaun, an HGV driver, has also lent a helping hand by taking Cyril for days out, and their elder daughter, Kelsey, 17, a Harlow College student, got to know Cyril quite well when she was a member of the army cadets. “He’s become a family friend,” Tracy explained.
The Whitfields spend Christmas in their Stortford Hall Park every other year, as they have a vast extended family they visit; Tracy has two sisters and a brother, while Shaun has five siblings.
This year it is their turn to stay at home, and they are hosting Tracy’s parents and one of her sisters.
The couple, who have been married since 1999, thought it would be a good idea to to invite Cyril over, but they were unsure how best to ask him. “I couldn’t have Christmas dinner knowing he was by himself,” said Tracy.
Evie overheard her parents talking and presented them with a letter she had written to Cyril. She then took it to his house and read it to him – and Cyril accepted her invitation.
“We're so looking forward to having him,” said Tracy. “We are excited to have him as a guest; he’s so lovely, he’s got so many stories and he is a very, very kind man.”
Tracy is also extraordinarily proud of her daughter for taking the initiative to compose such a moving letter to Cyril.
“If there were more people that did that in this world, it would be a better place at the end of the day,” she said.
“I can’t wait for him to just be here,” Tracy added. “Five years being on your own must be massively difficult.”