Richard Terrill on Loneliness 

New Zealand Air Force veteran and RSA representative for Let’s End Loneliness, Richard Terrill, says that the profound loneliness he felt when he was a young man and away from home for the first time has still stuck with him, even over half a century later. ‘I’ve gained a lot of empathy and insight because of my own experience.’ 

As a 23-year-old firefighter for the New Zealand Fire Service, Richard was sent to the UK for a month on a training course and conference. The trainees were from all over the Commonwealth and were put up in dormitory style lodgings in Lambeth, South London. Richard was the only New Zealander and still remembers just how isolating it was to feel alone in a room full of people. After ten days there, he decided to jump on a bus to try and find his feet.  

Venturing out into wider London was another overwhelming experience, and Richard admits he felt a bit panicked. ‘I’d heard so many stories about pickpockets and other things that could happen, but one nice thing was being on a double decker bus.’  

He got off the bus and started walking around, not sure where to go, when he heard notes from a familiar waiata. 

‘It was Pokarekare Ana playing,’ says Richard. ‘I recognized it immediately.’ He followed the music to discover that it was being played outside NZ House. Also outside just happened to be an old school friend, Russell. Russell was working in Hampshire and they arranged to meet up every weekend while Richard was in London.  

Reconnecting with an old friend went a long way to help Richard during this challenging time and is part of the reason for his involvement in community work as Chief Advocate for the RSA. It’s also a reason why he likes to help others. He used to look after an uncle in poor health after he had been gassed in World War I.  

‘After recovering in Queen Elisabeth Hospital, my uncle went back to his farm of 60 acres, but it was a struggle for him and my aunty as the gassing had left him permanently damaged. I would help by taking him anywhere he wanted to go. It was good for him and gave my aunty a break.’ 

The RSA has three professional welfare officers in Wellington, and four in the rest of the country, along with volunteers. Most of the work they do is on the phone, reaching out to people in need of a friendly voice and reassuring words. People are desperate to connect, says Richard. 

‘I heard an anecdote from someone I knew who got so grumpy when he was at the bank. The queue was really long because there were people who just wanted to chat to the bank tellers because they were desperate for human connection. I often take the time to talk to rough sleepers. Once I got chatting to one to find out that he was a veteran, and so I was able to help him get a veteran’s pension.’  

Richard is the RSA representative for Let’s End Loneliness