Speaker Secretary Notes
Wg Cdr Richard Foster, a former colleague of mine from the Royal British Legion, was our guest speaker at July’s meeting. Richard and I worked together for Leicestershire & Rutland, he initially as County Field Officer and then County Manager and me as The Community Fund Raiser. He spent most of his service career flying Helicopters; in fact he told me his first posting involved flying the Whirlwind, and doesn’t that take you back? Unbeknown to me for some time Richard had been a flight commander in Northern Ireland and had been responsible for air security during a family funeral we suffered, I’m sure neither he nor I would want to repeat. But nevertheless it’s a small world.
He said that he had served 35 years and 227 days in the Royal Air Force and was a life member of the RAFA Luxemburg Branch, although he does not attend very often. His first interest in the RBL was when, as a small boy, he heard stores, on his Grandad’s knee, of the hardship and devastation that servicemen returning from the first and second world wars had endured. It had been explained to him how desperate their need was and how Earl Haig, along with others, had tried to improve their lot. One way of helping was to arrange for veterans to be able to obtain a Burton’s suit enabling them to present themselves in an acceptable manner when attending an employment interview. That of course was 90 years ago and the Legion had been helping the serving and ex-service community ever since.
Throughout his service career interest in the Royal British Legion was always there, if perhaps on the backburner. When serving as our Air Attaché in Prague, the work of the Legion came to the fore again for Richard. During the Second World War many people from Czechoslovakia had served with the allies, creating their own fighter squadrons 310, 312 & 313 Sqn, as well as 311 (bomber/coastal) Sqn and 68 Sqn, night fighters, many giving their lives for the freedom we enjoy. On returning home they were met by the new communist regime who for reasons known only to themselves condemned the returning service personnel to hard labour, and in the worst cases death, for their RAF service during the war. This of course meant hardship for the families but through the Embassy diplomatic sources, the Luxemburg RAFA Branch were able to get help to these people. Richard also gave an example from his time in Czechoslovakia of one lady who had lost her brother during the war and was desperate to visit his grave. Whilst the Communists had refused to divulge the details, the new government under Vaclav Havel, released them. The family could not afford the costs of travel to Brussels to visit the grave, so Richard contacted the Royal British legion and they paid for the whole thing without any fuss.
Richard was able to show that on his patch here in the midlands £1m has been spent in support of the service and ex service community since October 2010. This money had been spent on things such as electric mobility scooters, stairlifts, riser-recliner chairs, washing machines and fridges, as well as helping ex-service personnel gain employment in civilian life. Richard explained that he spent much of his time visiting prisons, where ex service personnel were coming to the end of their sentence and needed help to readjust to society. Again the Legion is able to help. He said that the RBL did not work in isolation but with other service charities including RAFA and in Leicester the RBL HQ was shared by SSAFA Forces Help.
In answer to a question, Richard explained that Poppy Calls was a system where a trained tradesman will visit your home to do those little jobs that age does no longer allow you to do. For further information call 0800 032 0306.
The power of the Legion has been shown by its influence on the government with the Military Covenant. They also provide short and long-term care for ex-Service people and their dependants in seven care homes around the country. In fact, if you have served, or are a dependant of someone who has served in the Armed Services for only 7 days, your fist call for help and support is the Royal British Legion.
The main source of the Legion funding is from the annual Poppy Appeal, which has reached £35 million this year, enabling the RBL to spend £200,000 a day on welfare across the country..
In reply to another question, Richard was able to assure our members that Help For Heroes was not affecting the Poppy Appeal income and in many cases we were working with them to achieve our common objective, for example sharing the costs of the Personnel Recovery Centres.
Our speaker next month is a Branch member Tony Harris who is coming along to tell us something about the RAF Marine Craft Units and their Air Sea Rescue duties in the Second World War. Some time ago, light heartedly, I said that we had covered all aspects of the Royal Air Force with past speakers and I was looking in other areas. Tony pointed out that we had not heard anything about the RAF boats, so here will be your chance!