Report of the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Welfare Programmes
Brigadier John King MBE - 2013
LCpl Semu Sentongo who served with the Kings African Rifles and deployed to Burma in 1944 is completely blind, deaf and unable to walk. He is desperately frail and he would not have any quality of life without the assistance provided by the RCEL. Semu is one of over 1,100 ex-servicemen and widows who are eligible for support in Uganda. He is just one of the many thousands of men, women and widows scattered throughout the Commonwealth who are struggling to survive and have been helped by the RCEL in 2013.
In 2013 our global distribution for the first time amounted to over £2M, from the RCEL’s own funds and those of other Founder RCEL Members and UK Service Charities. HQ RCEL distributed over £2.07M in welfare support to 32 member organisations. This included over £769,000 distributed on behalf of other military charities as Agency work; this is an increase of 13% on the previous year. A large portion of this increase is attributed to an increase in the number of RAF veterans supported by the RAFBF in South Africa. Controller Welfare coordinates the applications and payment of grants on behalf of over 40 Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force benevolent associations, to those soldiers, sailors and airmen who have served the country and widows who are now living abroad and require assistance. It is with the assistance of our Member Organisations that we have been able to provide over 1,400 Agency grant payments around the World. As our own Veterans fade away it will be this Agency work that becomes our focus, particularly as 10% of the Armed Forces today are from the Commonwealth.
Yet again, we must thank the Royal Canadian Legion who supported 14 Caribbean Member Organisations with £165,663, providing direct support to 131 veterans and 124 widows in welfare, medical and admin support; without this generous support our welfare grants to other beneficiaries would be significantly reduced. Other founder members also contributed, with the Returned and Services League in Australia and the Returned and Services Association in New Zealand helping generously in their parts of the globe. Additionally, without the strong financial support provided by The Royal British Legion and The ABF The Soldier’s Charity, the sums available for benevolence would be much reduced.
The power of the Internet and the updated RCEL website (www.commonwealthveterans.org.uk) has resulted in an increase in enquiries from around the world and seen a number of new cases being identified in Uganda. One such enquiry was from the Benedict Foundation in Masaka, Uganda. They had discovered a WWll veteran named Mugenyi Yoanna, 90 years of age and very frail. Herbert Kamyuka, the Secretary General of UESA in Kampala met with Mugenyi and discovered that he had enlisted in 1941, served in the East African Army Service Corps and was discharged in 1945. He was a recipient of the Africa Star, Defence Medal and 1939-45 War Medal and was clearly in need of assistance. Now he has been identified and registered he will be receiving an annual grant from the RCEL SCOWP funds.
Zimbabwe is still a country in turmoil, receiving a significant proportion of the RCEL and Agency funds. RCEL SCOWP, through the efficient and dedicated offices of ZANE (Zimbabwe A National Emergency) distributed in excess of £48,000 to 360 ex Rhodesian African Rifles servicemen. Agency funds disbursed through ZANE exceeded £252,000 in 2013 due to the benevolence of the Officers’ Association, Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, Burma Star Association, Woman’s Royal Naval Service Benevolent Trust and many other Regimental Associations, too numerous to list. Their generosity ensures that ex-servicemen like Pte David Zengeni are provided with some dignity in his twilight years. His story is elsewhere within these pages.
The Antigua and Barbuda Ex-Servicemen’s Association has re-joined the RCEL fold and is now caring for 8 WWll ex-servicemen and women. Mrs Leah Nanton, who served with the ATS during the later part of WW2, is one of those now supported. Mrs Nanton is 88 years old and suffering with dementia; she has very limited income and it is difficult for her family to support her. RCEL SCOWP provided her with an immediate needs grant and she is now registered with the Royal Canadian Legion who will provide her with an annual support grant in future years.
The Headquarters’ team visited 8 Member Organisations around the world in 2013. These visits provide a great morale boost to the member organisations (whom we rely upon to coordinate the case work and disburse the grants) and to the veterans themselves. The visits provide practical support and advice and it has allowed us to be much better informed about the specific needs of the countries concerned and of course to provide advice on good governance where appropriate. These visits are detailed elsewhere within this report.
2013 was a year of solid support for our eligible Veterans and Widows and, fortunately, without any major disasters. We were able to make the lives of 12,121 Veterans of the Crown and their families just a little better and the visits to difficult areas, like Burma, enabled us to assess at first hand the local needs and give encouragement to our representatives and volunteers who, year on year help to carry out the essential work and responsibility of the RCEL on the ground.
We may be seeing an improvement in the UK economy. However, we should not be complacent about the plight of our overseas beneficiaries. The gap continues to widen between those who have and have not and our inability to keep pace with inflation throughout the Commonwealth means that the poorest are more vulnerable than ever before. Your continued support is critical.
RCEL received a request from this Veterans son:
‘I spoke with my Father last night and he told me that his Force number was 2383 and his battalion was called the Rhodesian African Rifles. He said he left for Burma in 1944. He asked me to tell you that he lost his Medals to thieves when they broke into his house and was asking if he could get some replacements because he hasn’t got anything to show his children and grandchildren that he went to fight in the Great War. If your member organisation in Zimbabwe could see him and talk to him they would get a great story from him and I wish they could record it and send it to you. Its history and that valuable information should not be left to disappear’.
ZANE met with David and reported that he was 90 years old and very frail, hard of hearing and living with his daughter-in-law who had to interpret during the interview because David had forgotten most of his English. David said that he was discharged from the RAR in 1946 and went to work with the prison service. He was in a desperate situation and clearly needed assistance.
The Burma Star Association awarded an annual grant of £780 which has made a significant difference in his twilight years.
Towards the end of 2013, the RCEL was asked to provide a letter of support so that David could visit his son in the UK before he was too old and frail and unable to travel. We were delighted when David received his visa; David requested that we arrange a meeting with Queen, but of course we had to disappoint him with that one, but offered him a visit to the RCEL offices if he could make it!