Smiling happily with his two youngest children, it seems impossible to believe that just a few years ago Corporal Brian Leach considered taking his own life.

A soldier for 21 years, the divorced father of five from Chesterton, near Bicester, served in Iraq but was medically discharged from the Army in 2003.

He was to find life on ‘civvy street’ difficult to cope with.

A disability, mounting debts and increasing isola-tion even turned his thoughts to desperate measures.

He explained: “I was posted to Iraq in March 2003 for four months, as a driver with the Joint Nuclear Biological and Chemical Regiment (NBC).

“It was tough – months of working in extreme heat, with five layers of clothing, a gas mask and respirator, cleaning up possibly toxic sites after scud missiles had been fired.

“But it was even worse when I came home.”

A motorcycle accident in Lincolnshire where he was based left his body shattered down one side.

He said: “I was only in my 30s – and I was just about to be posted to Afghanistan – but I now had reduced movement in my lower body.

“I couldn’t hold a pen properly, or drive far and so I was medically discharged from the Army.”

A soldier for most of his adult life, the newly disabled Mr Leach struggled to cope.

“I didn’t have a lot of money to start with, but my savings soon dried up,” he said.

“Then someone suggested I contact the Royal British Legion.”

Like many people, Corporal Leach thought the RBL was there to help only ‘old’ soldiers. He said: “I was surprised when they told me they helped all service personnel and their families.

“But I was also desperate and they could obviously see that.”

The RBL contacted the Army on Mr Leach’s behalf to get more information and discovered that because he had been injured on duty, he should have received six months’ pay.

“They also looked into benefits for me,” he said, “like help with paying for my housing – and things started to look up.”

But a couple of years ago, Mr Leach had cause to call on the Legion again.

“I felt bad going to them again, but I was finding life increasingly difficult.

“I was getting demand letters from the bank every day and really struggling physically to get about.

“The Legion sent around a benefits advisor who visited me six times for two hours at a time.

“He helped me sort out incapacity benefit and the RBL also appealed on my behalf and got a care component for me too.

“I was living in a bedsit – where my youngest children were having to come and stay at weekends – and the Legion helped me contact the council who went on to re-house me in an adapted bungalow.

“The Legion even asked if they could help me with some furniture and bought and installed a washing machine, a cooker and some bedroom furniture and since then they have sorted out the paperwork for my Army pension too.”

Mr Leach pulls no punches when describing the extent to which the RBL has helped him: “If the Legion hadn’t got involved I would not be here today, simple as that,” he said.

“I thought about suicide more than once and I know of other guys who have left the Army and have been through similar and have felt the same.

“I cannot tell you how much they have helped me re-build my life and also make a home for my children – the two youngest love coming to stay at my place in Chesterton – and my oldest daughter has even been offered help from the Legion in funding her university education.”

Mr Leach is now dedicating his time to helping the RBL.

He said: “There’s no way I can re-pay all that has been done for me, but there are little things I can do such as selling poppies.

“People would be amazed just how hard the RBL works to raise money and how many millions it pays out every year to families that need it.

He added: “I am living proof that giving to the RBL, whether by buying poppies, or fundraising for them, can really save lives.”