THE last-known Chelsea Pensioner from Seaham has died.
Ralph William Dickinson, a former Colour Sergeant Major in the Second Battalion Parachute Regiment, was aged 87.
From 1944, Ralph served in Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus, before retiring from the Army in 1967 with his long service and good conduct medals.
After retiring, he took the job of Warrant Officer of Houghton Drill Hall and chairman of the Sunderland branch of Fellowships of Services.
In 2000, he became a Chelsea pensioner, famous for their scarlet coats and tricorne hats.
His granddaughter Maria Dickinson, from Seaham, said: “Ralph showed such pride wearing his vibrant red coat, which is a symbol of bravery, heroism and understated nobility.
“He was just a very kind and gentle man who always had the time of day for everybody.”
After Ralph moved to the Royal Hospital, the retirement home for Chelsea pensioners, he was featured in a magazine speaking about his new lease of life.
“When you put on your Scarlets and your medals, polish your shoes and go out into the world you really do feel special,” he said.
In 12 years, the dedicated Sunderland AFC fan took tea with Prince Charles, attended the Queen’s garden parties and met Julian Clary at the Royal Variety Performance.
He also took an active part in remembrance services at the Royal Albert Hall.
His family said during his busy life, Ralph made time to visit his large family of six sons, 24 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Messages of condolence have been flooding into the family.
Social networking sites were also bombarded with quotes, messages and poems about Ralph and his achievements.
His granddaughter Jessica Dickinson said: “While this is a very sad time for everyone who knew Ralph, it is also a time for remembering and celebrating the incredible life that he lived.”
In her own tribute to him she said: “Therefore, Grandad, because of you, we will have memories to last a lifetime – at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will always remember you, our Great British hero.”
The veteran died on Tuesday, October 23, in the Royal Hospital.