THE Oxford Mail is supporting this year’s Poppy Appeal by highlighting the good work of the Royal British Legion in helping our troops. Each day we will bring you the stories of how the charity is transforming the lives of former and current services personnel. Last year’s county fundraising raised £492,189.15 and organisers hope to hit £540,000 with the 2012 campaign. Poppies went on sale this week and can also be bought from official Poppy sellers. To make a donation, call 0845 845 1945 or visit royalbritishlegion.org.uk
A VETERAN of the Falklands War flew out to the islands last night to take part in Remembrance Day services for his fallen friends.
Paul Graves, 49, from Witney, was a private in 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, which was the first to land on the island and lost the most casualties during the conflict.
The pilgrimage will mark the 30th anniversary of the war and Mr Graves will take part in a Remembrance Day service as a guest of the Falkland Islands government with 50 other veterans.
He joined the Army in 1980 and took part in conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Falklands.
Later, as a Royal Air Regiment Gunner, he fought in the First Gulf War in 2003.
He left the forces in 2004 and now works for a private security firm.
The married father-of-one, who was 19 during the Falklands War, said: “It was cold, wet, miserable and we sometimes ran short of food, ammunition and support, but I guess it was like any war – bloody and dangerous.
“But we were paratroopers and the best infantry unit in the best army in the world, and in our minds the result was never in doubt.”
He was involved in the Battle of Goose Green, for which Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones, who commanded 2 Para, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Mr Graves said: “It was pretty horrific stuff.
“The role of the infantry is to seek out and close in on the enemy, to kill or capture him, to seize and hold ground, and that was exactly what we did – mostly at night with bayonets fixed.
“All men are afraid in battle but you have to overcome your fear. You fight for your friends, unit and the sense of duty.”
As part of the pilgrimage, they will lay wreaths at the San Carlos War Cemetery, attend an official government reception, visit a military airbase and take part in a service of remembrance at Port Stanley’s liberation monument on Sunday. Mr Graves, who has not visited the country since he left the forces, said: “I want to go back and see how things have changed and if it was worth the sacrifice, speak to the locals and see their perspective.
“Two hundred and fifty-five servicemen were killed, with the Parachute Regiment suffering the most casualties – 40 men killed and 68 wounded. It will be an emotional visit for all of us but we will all be together.”
He urged Oxfordshire residents to turn out and pay their respects on Sunday.
l Help for Heroes.
l The British Limbless ex-Servicemen’s Association (BLESMA) supports servicemen and women who lose limbs, the use of limbs or eyes or the sight of an eye in the service of their country.
The charity’s work starts with rehabilitation and involves shared experience, life-long welfare support, and campaigning.
Jerome Church, general secretary of BLESMA, said: “We have had a long and fruitful relationship with The Royal British Legion for over 80 years.
“The legion has always worked closely with us and we with them. They have resources we don’t but we have expertise in areas such as prosthetics and the daily business of living with amputation. We are a good team.
“The Poppy Appeal is at the centre of public life of this country and as ever we will be guests of the British Legion as we march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday wearing the poppy that is a symbol of real meaning – for us all.”
Tel: 020 8590 1124 or go to blesma.org
OTHER CHARITIES OFFERING HELP
The Army Benevolent Fund provides financial support and practical advice to soldiers, former soldiers and their families in times of need. Tel: 0845 241 4820 or go to soldierscharity.org
The charity Combat Stress provides a dedicated service for veterans including a 24-hour helpline, a community outreach service and a variety of rehabilitation programmes. Tel: 01372 587 000 or go to combatstress.org
The Army Families Federation (AFF) is the independent voice of Army families and works hard to improve the quality of life for Army families around the world. The charity is often pivotal in achieving improvements for Army families such as changes to Government and military policy.
For details of your regional co-ordinator visit aff.org
The Not Forgotten Association is a unique national tri-service charity which provides entertainment, leisure and recreation for the serving wounded, injured or sick and for ex-servicemen and women with disabilities. Tel: 0207 730 0020 or go to nfassociation.org
WHERE THE MONEY GOES:
The Royal British Legion spent £90m last year on health and welfare for the armed forces community – £1.7m every week.
It committed £50m over 10 years to help serving men and women who are wounded, injured or sick through the Battle Back Centre, an adaptive sports facility in Shropshire, and to fund the operating costs of four personnel recovery centres in the UK and a personnel recovery unit in Germany.
It spent £20m last year running its care homes and break centres and helped 18,000 veterans and their families with immediate needs grants and helped more than 11,000 individuals with benefit and money advice, 25 per cent of whom were serving personnel.
Last year its Independent Inquest Advice Service supported 110 bereaved relatives through the coroner’s inquest.
The RBL’s Benefits and Money Advice made its average customer £3,000 better off. Its pioneering Be the Boss scheme has provided nearly 3,000 service leavers with the tools to expand or set up their own business.
It is investing £5m in blast-injury research at Imperial College London to combat the devastating effects of roadside bombs and IEDs.