Legion Scotland appeals for volunteers to help veterans

It's an alien concept for Legion Scotland to consider that veterans suffer from isolation and loneliness.

Friday, 31st August 2018, 8:19 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd September 2018, 5:01 am
Far from forgotten...David Lawrie during his national service in Singapore. It took six weeks to get there by boat.

However, it’s a concept the organisation had to get its head around – when a dire need was exposed five years ago after the launch of its comradeship events scheme programme.

And it resulted in a new service being launched just over a year ago to help meet the need.

Since the Veterans Community Support Service was founded last July, 315 veterans have been buddied up with a volunteer.

New lease of life...is being enjoyed by 86-year-old David Lawrie, pictured here during his football coaching days, thanks to the unique Legion Scotland service launched last July.

But the service only has five co-ordinators across Scotland, responsible for overseeing the 28 existing volunteers who visit veterans on a regular basis.

Which is why Kevin Gray, Legion Scotland chief executive officer, is now calling on people across Scotland to volunteer their time.

He said: “We have a lack of volunteers on the ground which is the biggest problem for us at the moment.

“The fact that our existing 28 volunteers are dealing with 315 veterans is testament to the fact that we need more people on the ground – in every area, right across Scotland.

Keith Gray, Legion Scotland's chief executive officer, is calling on readers across Scotland to support the Veterans Community Support Service by giving up an hour or two of their free time every week.

“It’s fantastic if our volunteers are veterans or in the services themselves but that’s not vital.

“Part of the job is the reintroduction of former servicemen into the community – what we need are people who are able to help them do that.

“As long as people have an affinity with veterans, we’d be delighted to hear from them.”

Due to the success of the service, demand continues to grow and is only likely to keep on increasing.

Kevin explained: “It was quite shocking to us to discover veterans were suffering from isolation – it was alien to us as comrades look after each other.

“But it’s a genuine problem that is increasing and the more people hear about our service, the more calls we are taking.

“We must tackle the problem now but we need people to offer up some of their free time to do so.

“It only takes an hour or two a week to make a difference to someone’s life.”

Following an interview and Disclosure Scotland check, successful volunteers receive full training from Legion Scotland and are overseen by one of the area co-ordinators.

Widower Robert Holland has volunteered with the service for six months.

The 63-year-old, who was a petty officer in the Royal Navy for 24 years, has six veterans he visits once every six weeks and manages to fit in volunteering with his work as a security officer.

He said: “I get as much out of it as the veterans do.

“I lost my wife Jane three years ago so I really look forward to visiting the veterans in my free time.

“For the veterans, it gives them someone to talk to who is an ex-serviceman and knows some of what they have gone through.

“I get a lot out of listening to their experiences – we all miss the comradeship and friends we made in the forces. That’s what most of us miss when we come out.

“I feel the service is really making a difference to people’s lives and it’s nice for me to be able to give something back.”

Among the veterans Robert visits is David Lawrie (86), a former corporal with the Gordon Highlanders, who served in Malaya from 1951 to 1952.

The father of three and proud grandad of six lost his wife Betty to cancer four years ago and was on his way to becoming a “recluse”.

But the Legion service gave him a new lease of life.

David said: “Betty was the heart of our home – we were married for 58 years and had courted for four years before that, so it was a big loss.

“I was on my way to becoming a virtual recluse, with just the television in the corner for company.

“But the Legion’s support service has got me back into the fold a wee bit – I’ve even rejoined the British Legion.

“The area co-ordinator Peter Kerr took me and my friend George Lumsden to a concert in the Carnegie Hall.

“And he put me in touch with Unforgotten Forces which helped organise a holiday for me to Blackpool and St Annes.

“It’s the first time I’ve been on holiday in four years.

“It really has made a big difference to my life.

“In the army, you had three or four special pals – they are sadly all gone now.

“So it’s nice to have someone to talk to and to know you’re not forgotten.”

Veteran only had birds for company ...

Legion Scotland’s recruitment drive for its Veterans Community Support Service is asking people to spare a few hours in order to improve support for veterans in their local communities.

Kevin Gray, chief executive officer, said: “We have experienced a huge increase in demand for our unique service. Since July 2017, we have helped 315 veterans get back on their feet and feel confident with their surroundings.

“And this is all down to our fabulous volunteers who give their time freely to help others.

“However, there is more to be done – we need your readers’ help to do more for those who have served the nation.

“The ethos of military life and the importance of comradeship achieved through that bond of friendship should never be underestimated.”

The incredible value of the service was highlighted when a veteran who was struggling badly with loneliness was referred earlier this year.

Visibly distressed, he spoke of desperation and isolation. The veteran explained that he only had the birds he feeds in his garden as company and that he had seen very few people between Christmas and spring.

Legion Scotland took the initiative and followed up. Recently, the 90-year-old Royal Horse Artillery veteran spoke about his experiences with the service – and loneliness was not discussed.

He talked about the difference in his life since his new Legion Scotland volunteer started visiting. He looks forward to her visits and said they always had plenty to talk about.

For more information on volunteering with the service, which runs in tandem with the Unforgotten Forces project, please email [email protected] or call 0131 550 1560.