Legion lifeline for our armed forces

Reporter:

Helen Davies

ANDREW and Cyril have both served in the armed forces.

Both have risked their lives for their country, both have faced the struggle of fitting back into civilian life and both have received help from the Royal British Legion.

But there is one major difference between their pair – their age.

As an 88-year-old, Cyril Bruford is the kind of war veteran more traditionally associated with the Poppy Appeal and Remembrance Day.

He served in the Royal Marines during the Second World War and the Royal British Legion has provided him with both a stair lift and a mobility scooter in recent years.

But the legion is finding more and more of today’s younger generation are now also in need of its help.

Andrew Anderson, 26, is one such veteran.

He served the 1st Battalion Royal Welsh in both Iraq and Afghanistan, before being discharged from the Army last November due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I always wanted to join the Army,” says Andrew. “All my family had been in either the Army or the Navy.

“I’ve never regretted joining. I try not to live in the past because that’s one of the things that sparked my PTSD – it’s still all quite raw.

“It’s been a bit tough since I left but I’m getting there. I didn’t really have the right connections and didn’t realise I could come to the British Legion for help.”

Andrew signed up to the Army when he was just 16, so has no experience in anything else.

Alma Tipping, welfare officer for the North Wales British Legion, said this is a problem with a lot of younger veterans.

“A lot of them don’t know where they can go to for help,” she explains.

“Many of them just feel lost. They’ve gone into the Army at a young age and haven’t got any training in anything else.”

A specialist arm of the legion, called Civvy Street, has been set up to help people get back into work and training.

Those suffering from PTSD are referred to the veterans’ mental health charity, Combat Stress.

Cyril, from Queens Park in Wrexham, was also just a teenager when he joined the Royal Marines.

“I was 24 when I came out the Army,” he says. “I worked on building sites and on the railway.

“It was easier to get back into work at the time because there were such a lot of people being discharged in those days.

“I don’t like what’s happening to our troops out in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I seem to see men who’ve lost arms or legs or have died out there on the news every day. I think it’s awful.

“When I was in the Marines you knew who your enemy was but these lads don’t.
They can just be walking along and then they get blown up.”

But Cyril’s experience at war was not without its trauma.

“I still get bad memories about it,” he says. “I was a survivor twice when the ships I was on were blown up by mines.”

Both veterans agree there is less awareness of troops returning to civilian life after serving in the current conflicts.

“I don’t think civilians understand,” says Andrew. “Maybe there’s not enough education about what we do out there.

“I think some people choose to turn a blind eye to the fact we’re out there, they’re not interested.”

This is something the legion is trying to rectify through increased publicity about where money raised through the Poppy Appeal goes.

And it seems to be paying off – so far this year £400,000 has been raised in North Wales through the appeal.

“This is the first year we’ve raised this much,” says the legion’s community fundraiser Kevin Forbes

“We’ve had very good support from people volunteering in schools, such as students at Hawarden High and Yale College.

“We’re very keen for youngsters to be involved.

“When I started the majority of volunteers were more mature but now we’ve got
about 30 per cent of volunteers under 50.”

See full story in the Leader

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