A FORMER serviceman is leaving his home in Cenarth to start a new life as a Chelsea Pensioner.

Seventy-five year-old Alec Berkley will travel to London to become a resident at the famous Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement home and nursing home for former members of the British Army.

The application process to join the 300-strong ranks of the Chelsea Pensioners has taken many months.

“There are so many checks and counter-checks but if you are a good boy you go there on a four-day test run to see if you like the hospital and they like you,” said Mr Berkley.

“After that, if all goes well, you area invited to take your place.

“When I arrive, you check in and your kit is issued to you and instructions of what you are allowed to do and what you cannot do. Also, you are told what to wear outside and inside the hospital. The whole process takes a few hours. I cannot wait.”

Mr Berkley served as an armourer with the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, enlisting back on October 17, 1961, before finally leaving the Army on April 16, 1986 with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) provides engineering support and is responsible for maintaining and repairing the Army’s equipment and this role saw Mr Berkley travel around the world, working alongside various regiments.

His first posting overseas was to Aden in 1965-66 and then followed a UN tout to Cyprus and various spells in Germany with the British Army on the Rhine.

He also had tours of duty in Northern Ireland and remembers carrying kit while dressed in civilian clothing through Belfast at the height of the Troubles.

He had a spell in Bermuda with the Parachute Logistic Regiment when their armourer suffered a broken arm and was also deployed to Belize and then Hong Kong with the Gurkhas.

“I had a tremendous time in the Army,” said Mr Berkley, who is originally from Ormskirk, in Lancashire..

“The administration officer at the Royal Hospital asked me if I had enjoyed my career. I said I would go back in tomorrow if I could lie convincingly about my age. I think that says it all.”

Mr Berkley has lived in Cenarth for the past 23 years and will be known to many in the area as the former landlord from 1986 to 1995 of the old Blue Bell pub at Newcastle Emlyn – now the Nahar Indian restaurant.

Mr Berkley has been married twice - his first wife Margauryte died from Motor Neuron Disease.

And it was Margauryte who played a big part in Mr Berkley receiving his Long Service and Good Conduct medal from the Princess Royal.

“I was with the 14th/20th Hussars and there was a medal parade. Princess Anne was Colonel in Chief of the regiment and was presenting the medals,” said Mr Berkley.

“Originally, I was not on the list to receive my medal from her but when my wife found out she gave the Regimental Sergeant Major hell and was on the warpath. The commanding officer found out and that is how I ended up receiving my medal from the Princess Anne.”

When his first wife died, Mr Berkley remarried local woman Barbara Adams, who worked as a carer at Glyn Nest and Maes Llewelyn. She passed away last year on May 1 – her birthday – and her ashes are interred at Llandyfriog churchyard.

Mr Berkley has been a leading figure in the Newcastle Emlyn branch of the Royal British Legion where he has served as secretary, poppy appeal organiser, standard bearer, membership secretary and branch vice-president.

At the recent annual meeting, a special presentation was made to him.

Mr Berkley carried the Newcastle Emlyn branch standard at the VE day ceremony on the Mall, where he proudly wore his father’s medals.

His father Bill, a member of the Royal Pioneer Corps, died in Germany on May 10, 1945 - two days after VE day and the surrender of Germany.

“My mum had never opened the box in which he had his medals,” said Mr Berkley.

THE Chelsea Pensioners are the iconic faces of the UK’s veteran community.

They reside at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, their 326-year-old Grade I and II listed home founded by King Charles II and Sir Christopher Wren in the heart of London.

Any former soldier of the British Army over the age of 65, who is facing spending their advanced years alone, can apply for residence at the Royal Hospital as a Chelsea Pensioner.

Some 300 army veterans live at the Royal Hospital today, including those who have served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and World War II. Others may not have served in campaigns, but all understand what it means to be a soldier and the potential sacrifice that it entails.

The Royal Hospital is a Grade I and II listed site, a beautiful architectural legacy left to us by Charles II and Sir Christopher Wren. Maintenance of the site continues today with ongoing restoration work to ensure that this legacy lives on into the future.

Chelsea Pensioners are encouraged to wear their distinctive uniforms; it is mandatory to wear the scarlet uniform when representing the Royal Hospital on a recognised visit or when on parade, such as the annual Founder’s Day parade in June.

Otherwise within a two mile radius of the Royal Hospital the blue day-to-day uniform is normally worn. The blue uniform is also worn at breakfast and lunch in the Great Hall.

Most Chelsea Pensioners wear this throughout the day in and around the Royal Hospital, but Pensioners are permitted to wear their civilian clothes whenever they wish to dress down (usually in the evenings).

Every year Chelsea Pensioners have the opportunity to represent the Royal Hospital at various ceremonial and commemorative events, including at the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph.