Ôbut It’s when their war is over that a dif­fer­ent equally hard bat­tle be­ginsõ

Country Life Every Week - - Interview -

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

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