PAKISTAN, INDIA (NAGALAND) & BANGLADESH
27 NOVEMBER - 06 DECEMBER 2017
Secretary General

PAKISTAN

There are currently 152 eligible veterans and 810 widows in Pakistan.  The majority of the veterans who are supported by the Commonwealth Ex Services Trust (CEST, based in Karachi) do not live in the Sindh Province and the security situation makes it difficult to get out and visit them.  However, it was possible to visit Mrs Henrietta Jacob, a widow of a Royal Indian Navy WWII veteran.
Mrs Jacob lives in a Catholic enclave in Karachi and is suffering from ailments due to old age.  Her husband joined the Royal Indian Navy in March 1942 and served in many stations, including Burma, as a typing instructor and in the communications field. He served on HMIS Dalhousie in 1943. He finished his service with the Royal Indian Navy in November 1947 whilst serving with HMIS Himalaya.  He died on 21 April 2004 and Mrs Jacob relies on her grant from RCEL to supplement the support given by her daughter who lives in the USA.
Before visiting Mrs Jacob there was a meeting with 4 WWII veterans (seated in the photograph to the right)  and 2 widows in the CEST office.  Only one could speak English well enough to have a conversation and all certainly looked their age.  All except Pte Malik Mir, a paratrooper, who served with the Baluch Regiment, had completed 10 years service so were in receipt of a small Government pension.





INDIA – NAGALAND

This was the first visit to Nagaland by RCEL staff.  HRH The Duke of York, our Grand President, visited in 2012. The Private Secretary to HRH The Duke of York put RCEL in contact with the Kohima Education Society (KES) which is based in Kohima.  KES is linked to and part funded by the Kohima Education Trust (KET) in the UK, formed in 2005 by British Burma Star holders and particularly those who had fought at Kohima/Imphal. The aim of KET/KES is to support with education sponsorship Naga children, many who are descendants of those who fought for the XIVth Army.  Charles Chasie, a Naga from Kohima and President of KES hosted the Secretary General’s visit.  
Most of the veterans and widows live outside Kohima. Those who were met in Dimapur gathered in the offices of the Rajya Sainik Board, near an Assam Regiment Barracks.  The aim of the visit was to establish the situation on the ground in Nagaland.  The office had received conflicting reports of those Nagas who should be in receipt of a RCEL grant.  Meeting veterans and widows was a crucial part of achieving the aim.
IESL Delhi had provided a list of 40 veterans who they believed to be in receipt of RCEL grants.  These are veterans registered with the Government of India Rajya Sainik Board as eligible for an Indian Pension as a WWII veteran or widow.  The Rajya Sainik Board is responsible for the verification and ongoing assessment of eligible beneficiaries. By spending some time talking with the veterans and widows who were present, the Secretary General was able to establish that of the 40 only one veteran and 3 widows were still alive. Most had recently died as very old age and a harsh environment catches up with those in their 90s. The photograph to the right shows the
Grandson of Sovehu Nienu who died a few months before the visit.
Charles Chasie had arranged for the Secretary General to present each veteran and widow in Dimapur a blanket and small food parcel (photograph to the left). All were extremely grateful to receive the donations and the blankets were of good quality and particularly appreciated as the nights are cold at 6,000ft.
After meeting with the veterans and widows in Dimapur, a full day was spent visiting veterans and widows in remote villages. Some were easier to find than others and the accompanying security officer proved invaluable on a number of occasions.  The villages all had a number of Churches, some Catholic but mostly Baptist Revivalist as the Nagas are deeply religious, Christian people with strong faith. Nagaland is officially a dry State and the Church is the most important element in most Naga lives.
The veterans and widows that the Secretary General met had their Rajya Sainik Board pension books but for them the issue was having to travel to an office and prove they were still alive.  This is extremely difficult for them as they are, mostly, too old and frail to leave their villages even if they could afford to do so.
To the right is Sepoy Penthungo Egung who is aged 95.  He fought the Japanese from Kohima into Burma.  Sadly, his wife died in January 2017 after a 69 year marriage.
In discussion with the veterans and widows, through Charles Chasie, the Secretary General managed to establish with a high degree of certainty who was still alive.   By the end of this day there was a list of 22 veterans and 8 widows who were alive and in need of support.
One of those 22 veterans was Sepoy Khakhu Khing of the 2nd Assam Regiment who fought at the Battle of Kohima and pushed the Japanese back to Mandalay.  Now aged 106, he could still remember his Army service number. One of the widows, Lhosheli Semsa, whose husband Khongo Sema died in 2015, was a very sad case, she is suffering with dementia and requires full time care.
It was clear that the Rajya Sainik Board would not venture to the villages. Therefore, an alternative way of getting RCEL grants to those who were eligible needed to be found.
After discussion with Charles Chasie, the KES Committee agreed to support RCEL as long as KET in UK were content and that any funds were sent via KET and not direct to KES.  Subsequently, KET approved this arrangement enabling RCEL to get support to those in desperate need in Nagaland.









Secretary General wearing Nagaland tie, meets the Governor of Nagaland with Charles Chasie (L)











Secretary General with Naga veterans in Dimapur

BANGLADESH

The total number of veterans listed is at the time of the visit was 133 and 363 widows, totalling 496.  This is a significant reduction since the last visit when the numbers were over 700 veterans and widows.  However, not all veterans and widows are supported. The average age of the veterans is 92 and the widows is 80 and Bangladesh Armed Services Board (BASB) estimate that there will be about 50 veterans still being supported in 2021 and perhaps 100 widows.
 The Secretary General was able to meet a number of veterans and widows in Dhaka.  Whilst they were in good heart all were feeling their age and many that had been met in 2014 had died and those still alive were visibly weaker.  Very few had their medals as they had either been lost or stolen during the tumultuous years in the history of Bangladesh in the last half century.  The majority had served in the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers seeing service in Burma, Italy and North Africa.
Veterans in Dhaka benefit from the RCEL funded Doctor who has a small surgery on the ground floor of BASB HQ.  He is funded fully by RCEL on a part time basis.
During the visit BASB requested support for veterans and widows affected by the floods during the summer monsoon.  It had taken some time to establish those in need but, through their District office network, had produced a list of those worst affected.  A one off grant for 13 veterans and 36 widows was authorised by the SCOWP Committee as an emergency payment of £200 each, giving a total of £9,800.
During the visit the Secretary General was taken to the home of Flt Sgt Uddin aged 92, a WWII veteran who had served with the RAF on Hurricane and Tempest Squadrons as they fought the Japanese in Burma.  He is blind and confined to his wheelchair.  He had recently undergone an operation to remove a cancer from his jaw so had difficulty in speaking but his English and memory were sound.  Whilst he is cared for by his son and grand daughter they struggle with providing the almost 24 hr care and pain killers required.  HQ RCEL contacted the RAFBF and Blind Veterans UK who immediately provided a grant of £500 to assist Mr Uddin.  He will also now receive the Blind Veterans UK annual grant for overseas members.
In 2014 RCEL provided funding to BASB to purchase a purpose built ambulance.  It gave the Secretary General great pleasure to hand over the keys after fully testing the functionality to ensure the lights and sirens worked and that with him on the stretcher it could be lifted on and off the vehicle!





THE GAMBIA
2 – 9 FEBRUARY 2017
Secretary General

The Secretary General was accompanied throughout the tour by Mr Toby Case, the RCEL Commonwealth Council Member for Gambia, who travelled at his own expense.  The Secretary General of The Gambia Legion, Mr Pa Faal, arranged a comprehensive programme which included 2 days of visiting veterans and widows in the villages outside Banjul on the north bank of the River Gambia.  This involved an overnight stay in Farrafeni.

On the way to Farrafeni the visiting party passed through a village called Badibu India where they met a veteran called Boto Marong (GA5077).  He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Medic between 1942-47.  He remembered his OC, Captain Hickey and a large white ship returning from Burma with the 1st Gambia Regiment on board.  He was in remarkably good health for 99 years old!  He was given an immediate welfare grant.

National elections had been held in The Gambia in December 2016, just prior to the visit.  The President, Dr Yayaha Jammeh, who had been in power for 22 years lost the election which led to unrest amongst the population.  As a result, an ECOWAS Force, led by Senegal, entered The Gambia and took control of the country.  This involved removing weapons from and screening all members of The Gambian Armed Forces.  The week prior to the planned visit all British tourists were evacuated in an operation led by The British Embassy.  There was real concern that The Gambian Armed Forces, led by Lieutenant General Ousman Badjie, would remain loyal to Jammeh and oppose the ECOWAS Force. Over 2,000 British citizens were successfully repatriated to the UK over a 48 hour period.

The Foreign Office advice changed relatively quickly when it became apparent that the ECOWAS Forces had successfully brokered a deal, occupied all strategic locations and created the conditions for the new President, Adama Barrow, to return to The Gambia.
The Secretary General of The Gambian Legion, Pa Faal, is very well connected and he was able, at relatively short notice, to arrange for meetings with the new President Adama Barrow, pictured right, the current CDS and DCDS.

Pa Faal arranged a meeting, with ex-Servicemen and widows from the Banjul/Bakau area, in the compound of the Head of the Bakau Legion Branch in which had gathered a number of veterans of WWII and widows.  Sgt Yorro Keita (pictured on the right with the Secretary General) of The 2nd Battalion Gambia Regiment had fought in Burma and discharged in 1947.

Pte Momodou Barry also of The Gambia Regiment who served in Burma stated he was 100 years old.  Controller Welfare had met Pte Barry on both his previous welfare Tours so it was good to see him alive and well.  He is pictured to the right with his Grandson and Mr Toby Case.
Ajasuteh Beyai (right) was one of the many widows that attended the meeting.  She is the wife of the late Cpl Jothaba Beyai who also served in The Gambia Regiment in Burma.

The Chairman of The Gambian Legion, Mr Papa Njie, a RAF veteran of WWII, is now 96 years of age and is in surprisingly good health.  The same observation was made over 10 years ago and it is believed that he will continue in post for as long as he can.  An attempt to discuss succession planning was made with him and he stated that if something should happen to him then the Vice Chairman would take over and a leadership election would follow.

Papa Njie’s son, Ousman, was present at the meeting.  He is an ex Gambian Navy Officer, trained by the British Training Team before it was withdrawn.  An intelligent and well connected man who could be a candidate should there be a leadership election in the future.  At the moment Papa Njie still has the mental capacity, ability and energy to cope with the post.










L to R Ousman Njie, Secretary General, Papa Njie, Toby Case and Pa Faal

UGANDA, LESOTHO & BOTSWANA
17 – 30 JUNE 2017
Controller Finance

UGANDA

Our original Member Organisation in Uganda was formed in 1957 and was called the Uganda Legion.  Uganda became independent in 1962 but the Legion disappeared during the Civil War (1980s) and the Uganda Ex-Servicemen’s Association (UESA) was formed in February 1987.
At the time of the visit there were 718 registered veterans.  UESA had arranged for a number of veterans to come to meet with Controller Finance at their HQ, some of the veterans had arrived barefooted and the living conditions for most of them is very poor.  It was indicated that the cost of living for the veterans had tripled since the last visit in 2013.  However, the good news was that the additional Libor funding had made a significant improvement to their welfare.
Uganda has the highest percentage of blind veterans of all our countries; from the 718 registered beneficiaries, 71 of those are supported by Blind Veterans UK with their annual overseas grant. To the right is Pte Yonsasan Lugudde, 93 year old Veteran who served with the RAMC.  He is partially sighted and one of those supported by Blind Veterans UK.
The day after the meeting with the veterans, The UESA Secretary General drove the Financial Controller to visit Kaligi Mill, which had been funded by Mazars, our Auditors.  The mill was opened in 2006 and was in full production.  It was capable of producing 100kg of maize every 40 minutes.  UESA totally outsource the mill and receive an income of £80 per month.  
The Kangilimura Commercial Project opened in 2007 with RCEL funding and is a one and a half hour drive north of Kampala. It remains a going concern, managed by Tom Muyombya a 26 year old university graduate with commercial experience.  The project is set on a one acre of land, owned by UESA, on a prime spot on the town cross-roads.  Last year a profit of £2,000 was made from 40 rented shops/lock-ups on the site.
During the visit to the mill at Nazigo, Controller Finance, UESA Vice Chairman and Herbert Kamyuka took a photo opportunity with Pte Frederick Kisaka, 97 years old, and Pte Kalibala Mohamadi, 95 years old, who both served with the KAR.  Cpl Augustine Kabbi,  94 years old who served with the East African Service Corps, still prefers military dress.  They all proudly wear their medals.



WWII Veterans at HQ UESA in Kampala



LESOTHO

For the last 14 years the ex-servicemen and widows of the Basotho Legion of BESL (Lesotho) have been looked after by Lt Col Jurie vd Merwe.  He was the previous President of the South African Legion.

As a result of Jurie’s dedication to the veterans of Lesotho the Basotho Legion is on a firm footing, well organised and have 2 excellent staff who look after the needs of the veterans.  He ensures the office and secure compound are well maintained and in good order.

Since the last visit in 2013 numbers have fallen (veterans 65% to 42, widows 81% to 34).  The Royal British Legion Women’s Section support the widows and Blind Veterans UK now support 22 veterans who are sight impaired.


 





Basotho Legion building
Controller Finance and Lt Col J vd Merwe with veterans




BOTSWANA

The Botswana Veterans League (BVL) membership of RCEL was formally ratified at the Kuala Lumpur Conference in 2016.  The RCEL Secretary General had visited the country in November 2015 to establish the need for assistance, the number of veterans and a payment system for eligible veterans.

The outcome of his visit was that there were 107 known veterans, this information was supplied by the Botswana Department of Social Protection.  The Department also provided a platform to enable grants to be paid to veterans.  Additionally, since the 2015 visit, Neil Morton (ex LCpl REME – now living and working in Botswana) had set up a constitution for the formation of the BVL and he has been elected Chairman.  Colonel Ian Mills, formerly DA in Botswana, has been appointed the Council Member for Botswana.

 Unfortunately, since the initial numbers were provided there had been a number deaths, reducing the overall number of eligible veterans to 70.  This particular visit coincided with the first payment of grants to veterans and the Botswana Department of Social Protection and the BVL had decided to arrange a ‘pay parade’ for the veterans.  The event was high profile and the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development gave a key note address and presented the 15 veterans attending the ceremony with their grants.  The ages of the veterans ranged from 92 to 107.  The Minister was extremely positive about RCEL, quoting from her speech “I wish to highly appreciate and commend this noble gesture and goodwill by the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League in collaboration with the Botswana Veterans League. It is my sincere hope that this will not end here, such that the wellbeing of the veterans can be enhanced”.
 
Some of the 70 veterans who are eligible for support in Botswana.           

MALTA, CYPRUS & LEBANON
16 – 24 OCTOBER 2017
Controller Welfare

MALTA

The RBL Malta is the Malta branch of the Royal British Legion.  The ex-service men and women were mostly locally enlisted in the Royal Navy, The Royal Air Force and The Royal Malta Artillery.  In addition a number of Maltese joined the British Armed Forces directly in the UK and there are some British Military ex-patriates living on the Island.
Mrs May Mulholland is resident at the Casa San Paolo Care Home in Bugibba.  Her husband Frank, was stationed in Malta when they met in 1958; he was a Chef serving with the RAF.  They married and served in the UK and Cyprus before returning to Malta to settle.  Frank worked with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Canadian Pacific as a ships Purser with the honorary rank of Lt Commander and was the Membership Secretary for the RBL Malta before he died in 2011.  May is suffering with a variety of ailments and receives regular support from the RAFBF.
For many years RCEL have provided an annual medical grant which is used to purchase medicines that are not readily available through the Government system.


CYPRUS

The Cyprus Veterans’ Association  (CVA) World War II was founded in1965, on Cyprus’s independence. The Association consists of ex-service men and women belonging to all groups within the Cypriot community.   This includes the Greeks, Turks, Maronites, Armenians and Latins, who all served with the British Forces during the Second World War, in the Cyprus Regiment, the Cyprus Volunteer Force, the RAF, WAAFs the ATS and some British Regiments.
The current President is 96 year old Mr Antonis Hadjiossif (seen here third from left).  The Headquarters of the organisation is in Southern Nicosia where they have offices, provided for them at a nominal rent, which belongs to the Civil Service Association.  There are currently 31 registered eligible service men, women and widows in the South and 59 in the North who are in receipt of grants.

Visit to the Kyrenia Turkish Cypriot Branch in North Cyprus

Mr Djemal Nedjat (Son-in-Law of Mrs Al Riza) was our guide and took us to the house of Mrs Guner Ali Riza (pictured to the left), the widow of the former Kyrenia Branch Chairman, where we met with 7 veterans and 2 widows.

A very pleasant and interesting meeting when we were served Turkish coffee and pastries.  The veterans were most eager to relate tales of their service during the campaigns in Italy and North Africa.  Controller Welfare and Mr Djemal Nedjat (red jumper) talking   with the veterans, widows and some family members.


The oldest veteran member of the Association is Abdullah Suleyman who has just turned 102 years of age (pictured on the left).  Amazingly he was still very spritely and mentally agile and talked of his service in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Italy.
Not quite so old and not so spritely was Mahmud Fikri (right) who is 96 years of age and served in Egypt and Italy.  He recalled the day whist serving in Italy when they came under artillery shelling and he sustained a stomach wound that resulted in a 6 month hospital visit.  He proudly shows the scars today.


LEBANON

There is no Member Organisation in the Lebanon as such.  The British Embassy have provided wonderful support, since March 1996, to the eligible veterans and widows who have served the Crown and are eligible for support from RCEL.

All the veterans supported by RCEL are administered by Mrs Rosie Ghazal, the PA to the Defence Adviser who is fully supportive of her work with veterans.  Rosie is dedicated and caring and takes this part of her job very seriously and undertakes her work with great compassion.

A visit was made to Jad El Karim Hussein Al Hassaniye who lives in Chouf, Mount Lebanon.  The journey was just over one hour and locating the veteran was a little difficult in this rural village, but with the wonders of modern technology (mobile phone) we eventually located his family home.  We were made extremely welcome by this veteran and his sons and daughters.  As time progressed, grandchildren and great grandchildren also arrived to swell the numbers to over 30.  Jad El Karim served with the Trans Jordan Frontier Force and after the War ceased, remained in Jordan for a number of years before returning to Lebanon and is held in high regard within the Druze community.



L to R - WO Stu Olle ADA, Veteran Abdallah Ayoub, Controller Welfare, Veteran Deeb Abdul hay Hajj, Rosie Ghazal and Eng Yehya Bsat in the CWGC Cemetery, Beirut












Jad El Karim Hussein Al Hassaniye with
Controller Welfare proudly displaying his War medals



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