Veterans then & Veterans now

Our Fundraising Development Manager Tash tells us about her grandfather’s experiences as a veteran, and how this is just as relevant now, as it was then.

On this day in 1940, the 51st Highland Division surrendered at St Valery-en-Caux. My twenty year old grandfather was among those who were captured as a Prisoner of War during the days after. He would remain in Stalaag XXA & XXB in Torun, Poland for the rest of the War.

Like many children, my sister and I were always curious for stories from my grandfather’s life viewing him as a hero, regardless of his military service. Like many Veterans, my grandfather struggled, and often actively avoided talking about his experiences as a soldier.

The only story I really remember being told about my grandfather’s experience was during the fighting at St Valery itself. By this point many soldiers had ran out of ammunition, including my grandfather, a ‘radio boy’ whose radio was now broken. He had to run the length of the battlefield carrying an empty rifle with only a bayonet as a weapon. He didn’t like to talk about his experiences as a Prisoner of War but had two tattoos on his arms, created with indian ink inside the camps to cure the endless boredom.

Looking back as an adult I am struck by how much of a really formative stage of my grandfather’s life was spent in conflict or in imprisonment. These experiences understandably completely reshaped him as a son, a brother, a husband and a father. His sister would later tell the family that he ‘never came back the same way.’ A saying not unknown to military families. He had left for war a bubbly carefree man full of life and came back a rather solemn, and at times introverted and melancholy young man.

I should say that while my grandfather was alive, he was indisputably my favourite person in the whole world and I’m incredibly proud to be his granddaughter. But as an adult, I can’t ignore that looking back there was definitely times that he struggled with poor mental health and depression, often using alcohol as a coping mechanism.

As I reflect on my grandfather’s service today, I’m struck by the fact that it would never occur to my father and his siblings to identify themselves as children of a veteran. While they are proud, his service happened before they were born and as he rarely discussed it, they saw themselves, and in many ways were normal ‘civi’ children.

As I remember him today, I realise that these issues, and this family dynamic is similar to many of the families that we support through our Children & Family Support Service more than 70 years later. And we know that these issues don’t exist in isolation they have an impact on someone’s ability to work and provide for their family and they put significant pressure on your relationships as a family. It then becomes a vicious circle as more pressures start to pile on.

That’s why the work that we are doing with our partners through our Children & Family Support Service is so vital. Through our support, hundreds of veteran families each year don’t have to feel like they are struggling to provide the best life for their children alone.  I’m beyond honoured to work for a charity that steps in to provide that support and advice to veterans, offering their children opportunities to reach their full potential and allowing that breathing space to come together as a family. Support that my grandfather wasn’t able to get.

But there is always more to be done. Behind the scenes we’re busy working on new services that will continue to provide an even better quality of whole family support, ensuring that children from struggling veteran families can still reach their full potential. We also know that in the difficult economic and political climate more and more families are going to be needing our support to keep their heads above water.

You can support our work to ensure that every Armed Forces child
gets the future that they deserve by donating an amount of your choice here.

After receiving our support families tell us: “You were the light at the end of that dark
rainbow. We felt supported where we previously had felt isolated and we
regained some of our dignity. Aside from your financial support, you always had
the time to listen and support us at a time where we felt very lonely and let
down by the very systems that should have protected and nurtured us. Thank you
so much for all you have done for me and my son. We are and will remain
eternally grateful
.”

Your support can help us to create a brighter future for more veteran families today.