Report of the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Welfare Programmes
Brigadier John King MBE - 2015
It was was an exceptional year for RCEL in 2015 and one of record expenditure; we were able to distribute over £2.84M in global welfare of which £1.75M came from our own funds and the balance from other UK Service Charities and Founder Members. This significant increase was due to the surprise award of Libor funding by the Government. This enabled us to directly assist 10,504 ex-servicemen, women and widows who served the Crown and live in 50 countries.
To ensure effective planning for the future a census was conducted in 2015 with the assistance of our Member Organisations which indicated that we had just short of 40,000 veterans and widows who were eligible for support. This of course was consistent with our previous assumptions that we would see a steep reduction in the number of beneficiaries year on year. We were not, however, expecting to find so many alive throughout the world and who will require support for many years to come.
The census also located 78 Veterans in Sierra Leone living in desperate circumstances near Freetown as a result of severe flooding and the Ebola crisis. These Veterans were identified by the SLESA Secretary General, Lt Col Fatorma Gottor, in September and provided with an emergency needs grant of £2,700 to assist with the purchase of ‘food parcels’. Emergency funds were also approved for our beneficiaries in Chennai, India as a result of severe flooding; 33 RCEL beneficiaries and 11 recipients of Agency grants were affected by the flooding, as a result a grant of £3,500 was approved and immediately issued to the Chairman of the Ex-Serviceman’s Association, Captain I Balaretna Singh for disbursement.
During the year, HQ staff visited 9 member countries around the world; these visits are detailed elsewhere within this report. Interestingly, the Secretary General’s visit to Africa now means we have a firm presence in Botswana and have identified 106 new veterans, some living in abject poverty, who will now receive financial support.
Blind Veterans UK have again been extremely supportive during the year and provided support to 262 veterans in a number of our countries including Burma, Cameroon, India, Pakistan, Somaliland and Uganda, to name a few.
Yet again we must thank The Royal Canadian Legion for their huge generosity in contributing £100,075 in 2015 towards welfare grants in the Caribbean. Without this support, RCEL would have to drastically reduce our grants elsewhere in the world. Other Founder Members also contributed significantly with the RSL in Australia awarding grants totalling £43,198 and The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association assisting a number of beneficiaries.
Our Agency work continues to grow and we disbursed a total of £850K on behalf of over 40 other UK based charities; this is an increase of 4% on disbursements in 2014.
Throughout 2015 we were able to make the lives of 10,504 veterans of the Crown and their families just a little better. Significant contributions from our major supporters, The Royal British Legion and the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity allowed us to carry out this critical work. The welfare tours enabled us to understand first hand the local needs and give encouragement and grateful thanks to the huge range of volunteers who, year on year help to carry out the essential work and responsibility of RCEL on the ground. There is still much to be done and the continued support of all our affiliated charitable organisations and individual donors is critical.
I thought that readers of our annual report might be interested in a moving story from our Member Organisation in Pakistan. It illustrates nicely the global reach of the family network that is The Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League.
A PAKISTANI-BURMESE LOVE AFFAIR FROM WORLD WAR II
It was during the Burma Campaign in 1944 when the Burmese Independence Army, trained by the Japanese, led initial attacks on the British forces. The Allied forces; British, Chinese and Americans were fighting against the forces of the Empire of Japan. The soldiers from the British side came mostly from British India and amongst the forces was a 20-year-old boy named Muzafar Khan. Hailing from the district of Chakwal in present day Pakistan, he fell in love with a Burmese girl during his service in Burma.
Young Muzafar was deployed as a soldier in the ordnance corps of the British Indian Army in the mid-1940s and was sent to Burma under command of General Bill Slim to fight the Japanese. The Burmese girl he fell in love with later became his wife and now they live together in a small neighbourhood of Dhudial, a town 43 kilometres south of the Grand Trunk Road on main Mandra-Chakwal Road in the Chakwal district of Punjab. The memory of the mid-1940s has faded with time and the only truth surviving the two is that they are married with no children and Mashoo left her entire life in Burma to settle in British occupied India.
Muzafar and Mashoo live in a small mud house with a rectangular room that has a wooden sofa on one side and a wooden charpoy on another.
Wearing a green shalwar kameez, Mashoo has a wrinkled face, blue eyes and distinctive features, clearly distinguishing her as someone from the southeast. Muzafar, wears a simple long white tunic shirt, a red turban and a thick pair of glasses.
“There was an ongoing war in my country when I came here,” says Mashoo.
“The Japanese were fighting in Burma during World War II and I was sent on a combat mission” Muzafar begins to recount. Mashoo remembers that she grew up in a city called Meiktila, in the centre of Burma (Myanmar). “I was a Buddhist and used to go to a Buddhist temple to pray with my mother,” she recalls looking up at the ceiling, as pictures of her past flash in front of her eyes. Muzafar recollects his memories “She lost all of her family in the war and I brought her along with me to get married”. Muzafar has developed a hearing impairment due to age and Mashoo has a visual impairment. She has to speak loudly to talk to him and despite ageing significantly, she likes to make him tea.
Muzafar has performed Hajj and Mashoo wishes the same for herself but their only income is the financial assistance that Muzafar receives as an ex-soldier of the British Army from the Commonwealth Ex-Services Trust of Pakistan; funds provided by RCEL.