Ôbut It’s when their war is over that a different equally hard battle beginsõ
Just like Robbie, itõs when their war is over that a different but equally hard battle begins for many soldiers. Itõs a battle to adjust to civilian life and survive its slings and arrows, which is often made all the harder when the soldiers are suffering from physical and mental injuries received on the frontline.
The purpose of ABF The Soldiersõ Charity, the National Charity of the British Army, is to provide support to soldiers in their time of need. ÔIT acts as a safety net,õ explains Martyn Gibbons, an erstwhile Fusilier, who was seriously injured by a grenade while serving in Afghanistan and whom the charity later helped. ÔITÕS there to give you a hand up, not a handout.õ
Originally the Army Benevolent Fund (hence the ABF tag), The Soldiersõ Charity was founded in 1944 (when Robbie was imprisoned in Stalag IV-B) as the Second World War drew to a close and the Army Board realised that the State would not be able to provide for all the needs of those who would soon be returning to civilian life.
Today, the charity helps veterans and their families not just from the Second World War, but those involved in all the campaigns and wars of both this and the last century, with special funds for soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the two Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.
Stewart Harris is a veteran of several of these conflicts: Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Kosovo and, finally, Afghanistan. It was in the latter that, to quote Stewart, Ôthings went bigõ. ÔWE went into a checkpoint in Sangin and I lost three of my friends through a Taliban suicide bomber dressed as a policeman.õ
Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as injuries sustained from a roadside bomb, Stewart, formerly of 1st Battalion The Welsh Guards, is upfront about the challenges he faced when he finally left the theatre of war. ÔIF you donõt control the PTSD, it will kill you. If it wasnõt for the help of my wife and close friends as well as charities such as the ABF, IÕM scared to think where IÕD be now.õ
Thereõs no doubt that Stewart still misses the camaraderie and the company of the army. Happily, in the same way that he could depend on his fellow brothers in arms out in the field, back at home, he can depend on The Soldiersõ Charity. ÔI think that the biggest thing is knowing someoneõs got my back,õ he declares. Ôsomeoneõs going to be there to look after me and even to look after my children.õ
Last year, the oldest beneficiary of The Soldiersõ Charity was 105 and its youngest was six months. It gave grants directly to almost 5,000 individuals and, through its funding of specialist charities, it helped more than 80,000 people associated with the British Army family, both at home and around the world.
ÔWE owe a debt to these men and to the families of those who have fallen. Let us not forget that debtõ: so said Field Marshal Montgomery in 1946, as part of a filmed appeal for The Soldiersõ Charity, broadcast in cinemas and calling on the audience as they left the Ôtheatreõ to donate money. Donations from the public are as important now as they were then. Proudly supported by COUNTRY LIFE, the annual Lord Mayorõs Big Curry Lunch at Guildhall in April will raise funds for the ABF.
Monty followed the Royal Artilleryõs Robbie Clark to the desert of North Africa where he succeeded in defeating the desert fox, Rommel. He never forgot the sacrifices made by so many soldiers like Robbie and the challenges they faced upon their return. His words then still ring true today: ÔI ask you sincerely to do all you can to help the soldiersñand their familiesñwho have done so much for the country during the war and who now require help in the peace.õ The Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch in aid of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity will take place on April 6, 2017, at Guildhall, London, EC2 (020–7811 3960; www.soldierscharity.org)
Above and left: Some 30,000 Allied troops, including Robbie Clark, were captured by Rommel in North Africa