I have been privileged to be a Mentor with the Charity for exactly 3 years. On the 8th March 2017 I set off in glorious sunshine, Eastward from my home in Salford to our Newark office, through the beautiful and rugged countryside of the Peak District National Park. Dwellers in the Southeast of England would envy the amazing drives we can enjoy like this every day; To the West we are in the Snowdonia National Park within 45 minutes, North brings you into the Yorkshire Dales after 1 hour. Even travelling South into Cheshire and Staffordshire brings you to hills and scenery that would take hours of driving through congested traffic to get to from anywhere in London, where I was brought up.
After a very pleasant interview with Jane and Sam I was accepted and recently I have been asked to coordinate the activities of our wonderful Volunteer Mentors in the Northwest. However, I am knocking on an open door in my efforts to help Veterans. There is enormous goodwill for our Armed Forces up (sorry – oop) here. I help to organise the Remembrance Sunday Parade and Service at our Cenotaph. It is dedicated to the Lancashire Fusiliers, especially two of the Salford “Pals” Battalions wiped out on the 1st July 1916. It takes over an hour for the private wreath layers to process past this very moving memorial. Then they join a long parade as it wends its way around the City for another hour.
I came to work at Manchester Airport in 1990 and have lived in or around the City, less a few brief excursions abroad, ever since. I retired from full time work in 2015 and decided to try and make myself useful. A Saturday morning Veteran’s Breakfast Club was founded at about the same time and I was asked to go along and help out. Five years later it is still going strong, is well attended and has won many awards for helping the elderly. I am one of the Directors of its founding CIC. Loneliness is the biggest issue. Most of our regular members live on their own having lost their partners or been separated from them. Every Saturday I bring in an 85 - year - old former Royal Marine who does not see another human being from one Saturday to the next. Our motto is Veterans helping Veterans.
Similar Veteran support organisations are springing up all over the NW, unfortunately many of them withering away just as quickly. We see glossy facebooks posting the most banal comments about Veteran’s previous service, staged pictures of their volunteers with Veterans and descriptions of what they are doing for them(selves) and the amounts of money they claim to have raised. Local politicians attending events where they have their photos taken with the nearest bemedaled Veteran then quickly disappear.
But those of us who actually do something for Veterans don’t make a song and dance about it. “To labour and not to ask for any reward” comes to mind! And we know the organisations and charities that really do help, not just talk about it. Recently, at a local Prison’s Breakfast Club, the VICSO, in front of the Governor, Prison Officers and other support organisations, opened the event by singling out Care after Combat for praise as “doing exactly what they say they will do”.
To return the compliment; I could not do my job without their friendly welcomes and helpfulness. The VICSOs at the four Prisons I am responsible for at present are dedicated to supporting Veterans and seem very grateful for what Care after Combat do to help them help their Veterans in Custody.
Nevertheless, at the moment we are only scratching the surface of the problem up here. Thorn Cross (Warrington) Altcourse (Liverpool) Berwyn (Wrexham) and Sudbury (Ashbourne) are well served but there are ten more Cat C/D Prisons within one hour’s drive that we need to get in to, so we need many more Volunteers!
As I have often said at training sessions, our support works best when we follow the procedure. At least 6 months getting to know individual Veteran’s in Custody then remaining in contact for at least another 12. My own personal failures have always been when, to do the VICSOs a personal favour, I have engaged with someone within a few weeks of their release. The first one I found back in Berwyn last December, the second went home only to find his wife trying to gather evidence to get him sent back, trying to get me on her side into the bargain and the latest – collected from Prison at 5 days’ notice then driven to an appointment with his Probation Officer after a cup of tea on the Motorway. Despite the P.O.’s warm thanks and advice to the Veteran to keep in touch with CaC – not a word heard from him ever again! Also, the P.O. subsequently contacting me, desperately trying to find out where he was.
Unquestionably doing what they say they will do, we have in Salford a famous and unique establishment – The Broughton House Veterans Care Home. Founded in September 1916 at the height of the Battle of the Somme when reputedly, six ambulance trains a day were arriving from the Channel Ports, delivering badly wounded and dying Soldiers to a Military Hospital near Piccadilly Station. In August 1916, The Lord Mayor of Manchester, responding to an appeal from Lord Derby then Secretary of State for War, chaired a meeting of local worthies who then launched an appeal for donations. Within 12 months they had raised £100,000 to buy or rent five large mansion houses to convert into convalescent homes for “Totally Disabled Sailors and Soldiers”. Broughton House, which cost only £1250 to buy, is the only one remaining and the Charity has cared for over 8000 Ex - Servicemen and Women, over its distinguished 100 years of service.
The letter appealing for donations was published in the Newspapers on 9th September 1916. It is a very moving document, we keep a copy in our small medal museum. Very relevant to CaC’s work a Century later, it states “it is felt that Institutions of the kind described must be the subject of private and local effort; indeed in such a way the Nation’s debt can be discharged with more human and individual thoughtfulness and care than it is possible for a central administration to bestow”.
I am often asked to address community organisations about local military history, why the act of remembrance is important to me and local welfare work for Veterans. After one Rotary Club meeting a Pakistani Gentleman, who had been a GP in Salford most of his life, came up to me and said he did not understand the problem because in his Country they had exclusive Veteran’s Cantonments with secure high - quality housing, shops and entertainment facilities. If only...!
Another point often raised is that we spend too much time remembering the past. I could not disagree more. “Those who forget the lessons of history will be condemned to make the same mistakes” is an adage that I often think about during countless news bulletins.
Our Salford Veterans Network CIC organises an annual coach trip to the National War Memorial. Although I only served in the RAF for 12 years, on the central wall are engraved the names of 22 of my former friends and acquaintances. All died in flying accidents. When I stand there quietly, in deep thought, the memory of their young lives cut short always brings a few tears. I certainly “Will remember them” My personal motto is “Honour the fallen - Care for those who survive”
“Oft, in the stilly night, Ere Slumber's chain hath bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light, of other days around me;
The smiles, the tears, of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone, now dimmed and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!”
Thomas Moore 1779 - 1852