Welfare Tours 2019

RCEL HQ staff conduct several Monitoring and Evaluation visits to various commonwealth countries each year
to ensure we meet our FCDO contractual requirements as set out in the AGA.

Tours Secretary General 15 - 27 February 2019
CAMEROON, SOUTH AFRICA and LESOTHO

CAMEROON

Many readers will know that the history of Cameroon is very complicated. During this visit a civil war was underway in 2 parts of  the country and both areas are where our veterans and widows are living. The Foreign Office advice had been 'no travel' to the North West/Bamenda and to take precautions in the South West/Limbe. The NW/Bamenda area had seen the worst of the violence and an overnight military curfew had been put into effect.

Mr Dick Scott, the stalwart of FUCEMOC for many years and without whom no support would reach the beneficiaries, has permanently left Cameroon but still directs operations through his wife who lives in Limbe. The aspiration was to hand over the Guest Houses to ONACAM, the Government veterans department, as there would be few beneficiaries living and Dick Scott was permanently in the UK. This visit was due to confirm this, or not, and also to carry in enough money to make welfare payments for the first 6 months of the DFID programme. Due to civil unrest, RCEL had not sent money to the FUCEMOC account for a year and the visit was to review whether doing so was feasible. The welfare of our volunteers was paramount. The Secretary General was lobbied hard not to cease RCEL operations. He was lobbied even harder by the widows that he met at the Limbe Guest House. It was a hugely emotional meeting and a mixture of gratefulness that they had not been forgotten and very serious concern that we would cease the grants. These people are desperately poor, but the discrimination and civil unrest makes their lives utterly terrible. The money is very important to them but the RCEL work gives them hope and the knowledge that they have not been forgotten.

Whilst the visit had its difficulties, it was a physical demonstration that they had not been forgotten.

Below you can see the widows joy at hearing news of the DFID award.

The Guest Houses - The Secretary General was lobbied hard by all FUCEMOC members to keep the relationship with ONACAM as it is. It works well and both Guest Houses turn a small profit and are a safe place for veterans and widows to meet.

SOUTH AFRICA

This trip had 2 main aims. First, to review our operations with the South Africa Legion (SAL) and ensure the success of the RCEL Conference in Cape Town in 2021. Secondly, RCEL was required to facilitate a visit by Manion Daniels to observe RCEL operations overseas. Manion Daniels were contracted by DFID in 2018 to conduct a Due Diligence exercise on RCEL in order to provide evidence of efficient well governed operations. Once DFID had accepted RCEL as a trusted partner Manion Daniels was awarded a second contract to assist and facilitate RCEL to reduce the risks identified during the Due Diligence exercise. David Bailes, the lead for Manion Daniels, was invited to accompany the Secretary General and visit NHQ of the SA Legion and then travel on to Lesotho to receive a different perspective on operations.


The National Secretary of SAL, Riana Venter van Zyl, provided an excellent briefing on the history, structure and governance of the SAL and updated the Secretary General and David Bailes on recent events. Discussions then centred around operational delivery with a focus on governance and proof of payments and the DFID/UK Aid grant and the reporting demands placed on Member Organisations and RCEL. Issues concerning Dan Pienaar House (veterans and widows residential Home) were then discussed.

Riana Venter had also arranged a meeting with Graham Robson, 80 years old, (seen below with Riana), is a SCOWP beneficiary and a former Royal Rhodesian Regiment service man who had served in the mid 50s in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. It was good to meet Graham and his wife, who were grateful for RCEL support and a welcome opportunity for David Bailes to meet a veteran.

LESOTHO

For the last 16 years the ex-servicemen and widows of the Basotho Legion have been looked after by Lt Col Jurie vd Merwe. He is a previous President of the South African Legion. As a result of Jurie's dedication to the veterans and widows of Lesotho, the Basotho Legion is on a firm footing, well organised and has 2 excellent staff who look after the needs of the beneficiaries. It was the intention to give David Bailes the experience of meeting one of our smaller but effective organisations and understanding the challenges they faced with the exacting standards required by DFID in the Accountable Grant Agreement (AGA).

It is very unlikely that many veterans or widows will be around when the DFID grant finishes in March 2024. The future of the Compound that the office staff are based in and veterans visit is uncertain because the King of Lesotho owns all land and is likely to take it back. There may or may not be compensation for the buildings.

The Government of Lesotho provides each veteran and widow with an old age pension of about £40 per month and a war pension of about £20 per month. The Government also provides a jacket, tie, trousers, shirt and beret every year to those veterans who attend the National Remembrance Parades. Funeral costs were also paid by the Government. In addition, a driver, vehicle and security are provided by the MoD to assist in the distribution of grants in June, July and January.

On arrival at the Legion compound we were informed by Mr Calwick Tsehlana (the Manager of the Legion) that the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Defence had requested we attend a meeting with key staff in the MoD HQ, so we moved there immediately.

Tseliso J Mokoko, Principal Secretary, hosted an excellent meeting. He was joined by his Deputy and the Head of the Army. He thanked RCEL for their support to veterans and widows over the year and assured us the pre-independence veterans are highly respected and the government would continue to provide the level of support they currently enjoy.

The Principal Secretary had invited 29 veterans for lunch. With the assistance of the Head of the Army as translator, the Secretary General took the opportunity to explain why he was in Lesotho and pass on the news of the DFID grant. There was much applause and thanks. It was pleasing to recognise several veterans from previous visits although they had all slowed down and the standard of English had declined over time. But they were in good spirits, extremely smart and assembled for a group photograph. A packed lunch, from the Lesotho equivalent of a well known hamburger fast food outlet was provided and enjoyed by all.

Tours Colonel Paul Davis CBE Trustee & Council Member for Ghana
GHANA 18 - 21 February 2019

After DFID awarded the grant of £11.8M to support Commonwealth veterans Land widows, the Senior Management Committee (SMC) of RCEL decided that a visit to Ghana should be undertaken to establish the feasibility of an appropriate Ghanaian resident with previous military experience (preferably service with UK Armed Forces) to act as Project Manager (PM) and to oversee the delivery of RCEL grants in West African countries. Colonel Davis accepted the invitation to represent RCEL on this visit.

Strategic Objectives

  • Produce an implementation plan to deliver grants to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nigeria and Cameroon.
  • Consider the appointment of a part time PM to lead and deliver implementation. The PM should be based in Accra, Ghana.
  • Conduct meetings with British High Commission, Veterans Administration Ghana (VAG), Forces Help Ghana (FHG) and local DFID Staff.

Operational Objectives

Recommend appropriate monthly commitment by PM to deliver:

  • RCEL policy training including Safeguarding, Whistleblowing, Code of Conduct, Equal Opportunities, Anti-Bullying and Harassment and Anti-Bribery.
  • Timely and accurate reporting - feedback on compliance with new MOU before receipt of funds - reporting on 6 monthly basis.
  • Monitor delivery - proof of delivery grants
  • Advise and assist with reporting, training and implementation.

Outcome

After numerous meetings with stakeholders in the UK and Ghana, all the objectives were achieved. Derrick Cobbinah was appointed as the Africa Project Manager (APM), a very enthusiastic, efficient and effective operator who has boundless energy and will serve the RCEL exceptionally well.

Tours Controller Finance 28 February - 8 March 2019
MALAWI AND UGANDA

MALAWI

Since the last visit by the Secretary General in November 2016 there have been a number of changes to the Member Organisation in Malawi. The Commonwealth Ex-Services League of Malawi (CELOM) was dissolved in June 2017 and the Veterans and Ex-Servicemen's League of Malawi was formed (VELOM). The main changes were that Major General Namwali, who had been Chairman of CELOM was to be replaced by a Board of Trustees and its day to day operations would be managed by a Governing Council.


Furthermore, VELOM would become the only official organisation for all veterans and ex-servicemembers in Malawi rather than the previous sole responsibility of CELOM for pre-independence veterans and widows. Following concerns reported by the Secretary General in his last Report, it was decided that RCEL would separate from CELOM/VELOM and the Kings African Rifles Veterans of Malawi (KARVM) was formed to become the new Member Organization in Malawi. General Namwali was appointed Chairman.


General Namwali had arranged a visit to the Zomba Memorial Homes. On the journey to the Homes, an office call was made on Brigadier Gausi, the 93 Brigade Commander - seen above with Controller Finance, General Namwali and Denis Lewis. The Brigade is responsible for the upkeep of the Memorial Homes. During the meeting it became apparent that there was no Government budget for the upkeep of the Homes and that income from poppy sales was the only source of funding.

At the Homes, there was a meeting with a group of 13 veterans who were residents. All were dressed in military uniform and wore badges of rank.

Despite their ages their turnout was impressive. A few widows from the local area also attended the meeting. The veterans were informed that individual annual payments for 2019 would be increased as a result of the additional DFID funding. The reaction of the veterans was incredible, each one of them shook Controller Finance by the hand and displayed extreme gratitude.

There are 54 houses at the site of which 13 were occupied by pre-independence veterans. Other houses were occupied by post-independence veterans. The houses were constructed in 1958 and as you will see from the photographs, they are not in a good state of repair, but the veterans were happy with their accommodation.

Discussions with the KARVM Executive centred on the recently announced DFID grant which was to be paid in two tranches (rather than once a year as previously); the increased funding beneficiaries would receive was very gratefully acknowledged. In 2018 WO1 Chiwenga and an assistant took 3 months travelling the length and breadth of Malawi to make payment to veterans. RCEL covered the cost of subsistence, accommodation and car hire. It was readily accepted by the Executive that WO1 Chiwengo and his assistant could increase the number of payments by conducting 2 trips per year. The additional DFID funding will ensure that there will be great benefits for the veterans and widows in their twilight years and there is no doubt that the Executive of the KARVM are committed to providing a good level of welfare support to the veterans and widows. Afternote: The Malawian Government would not register the name Kings African Rifles Veterans of Malawi but accepted and registered the revised name of The Kings African Veterans Trust (KAVT) for our Member Organisation.

UGANDA

Controller Finance had last visited Uganda in 2017 and this was the first time he had returned for a second tour of a Member Organisation. Mr Herbert Kamyuka as Secretary General and ex-Sgt Senoga as the Chairman were still in post. Sadly, the Chairman passed away a few days after the visit at the age of 97. 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. On the second day of the visit there was a meeting with veterans and the UESA Executive when the Vice Chairman, Mr Idris Kintu, delivered a very informative briefing, which included:

  • Expression of great gratitude for the welfare payments from RCEL.
  • The difficulties of identifying widows of veterans.
  • Increasing fragility of veterans.
  • Hostility of veteran's siblings increasingly asking for RCEL payments.
  • Bududa mudslides - gratitude for RCEL grant of £4,600 towards veteran's costs.
  • Gratitude to UKAID for the DFID grant. UESA will examine a system for payments of grants by "mobile money".
  • Gratitude to Blind Veterans UK for their 6 grants.
  • Remembrance Day - The Vice Chairman informed me that the British High Commission had made excellent arrangements for the Remembrance Service.

After the Executive Committee meeting there was an opportunity to address the veterans and their carers. The numbers had risen to over 70 and some had travelled overnight to be at the meeting. In the past, these meetings had been vocal with demands for additional funding for the veterans. It was reassuring to note that the doubling of the annual welfare grants with the LIBOR Fund had satisfied these past demands.

It was an emotional moment when it was announced that there would be another increase in annual grants as a result of the DFID funding for payment in 2019. Many were in tears on hearing the good news.

Over the course of the next 2 days several visits were made to the homes of veterans. Since Controller Finance's last visit to Kampala in 2017 the volume of traffic and pollution in the Capital had increased a great deal and this made travel, even over short distances, very time consuming and uncomfortable. It was noted that the health and wellbeing of most of the veterans had deteriorated significantly. Some were living in dreadful conditions. Many were bed bound but in the main, carers were doing outstanding jobs in looking after the veterans. Once again, the gratitude displayed by the veterans and their carers for the increased DFID grants was overwhelming. Above is Cpl Motigana who also served with the East African Army Service Corps. He is also seen in uniform sitting on the left of the photograph. To the left is Cpl Katende who served with the East African Army Service Corps; very proud of his medals.

Tours Major General AR Freer OBE Council Member for Sierra Leone 3 - 8 March 2019
SIERRA LEONE

The visit's objectives were twofold: (1) to provide governance oversight of the Sierra Leone Ex Services Association's (SLESA) capacity to administer the DFID grant and (2) to review the poultry farm's construction and to opine on its future operation. Maj Gen Adrian Freer, the RCEL Member for Sierra Leone, visited the country in order to contribute more fully to the RCEL's decision making process in respect of its continuing aid to WWII and pre-independence Sierra Leone veterans and widows. This included the future administration of the DFID grant to RCEL as outlined in the Ghana visit report by Colonel Paul Davis.

There were numerous meetings with the British High Commissioner (BHC), Royal Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), Sierra Leone Government Officials and the Head of DFID. The BHC was cognisant of SLESA matters and is both supportive and complimentary of UK military efforts since 2000. The BHC made clear his main focus, as instructed by the FCO, had been to 'facilitate' the local (political) conditions to enable  the 2018 Presidential elections to take place. He outlined the in-country four pillars' approach with the BHC, British Council, DFID and ISAT. Importantly, and from a RCEL standpoint, he believed his defence section (DA & ADA) had the capacity to assist RCEL in providing in-country assurance in respect of the DFID grant.

During meetings with the Deputy Defence Minister and the CDS, they both expressed surprise at the number of WWII and pre-independence veterans in Sierra Leone. The Minister asked if RCEL would be supporting post-independence veterans, particularly those from Sierra Leone's civil war, before out-lining that the Sierra Leone MOD would be creating a Veterans Directorate'. This was understood to be based, loosely, on Ghana's Veterans Administration Ghana and a Kenyan parliamentary bill. It was explained that RCEL's remit was solely for the continuing welfare benefit of Sierra Leone WWII and pre-independence veterans. It transpired that SLESA, albeit remaining independent', could be included in the Sierra Leone MOD Veterans Directorate'.

Meeting with the UK's Sierra Leone MOD Advisor identified Sierra Leone citizens who had served in the British Army and who had now retired to Sierra Leone who may be in a position to assist the Africa Project Manager (APM) (Colonel Davis' Ghana Report) in the disbursement of DFID monies and their verification to entitled Sierra Leone recipients.

SLESA & Caretaker Committee
A meeting was held with Lt Col (Retd) Gottor, SLESA's Secretary General, and Lt Col (Retd) Sowah, responsible for SLESA's administration and public relations. Lt Col Sowah had also been 'secretary' to the Caretaker Committee (CTC) set-up in 2013. SLESA and the CTC have co-existed between 2013 and 2017. It was understood the Sierra Leone President, following his election in 2018, wished for democratic elections to take place for SLESA. They were supposed to take place in 2018 but were deferred due to the Presidential elections and no date had been ‘fixed' for them to take place at the time of the visit - this is still the case.

SLESA & SCOWP
Lt Col Gottor indicated that following RCEL direction, welfare funds are divided equally between the veterans with widows receiving half of the entitlement of their former husbands. It became clear that SLESA needed to improve both the processes and governance of RCEL funds and would benefit from increased oversight involving the ADA.

Matindi Poultry Farm
Team Rubicon assisted with the completion over a two week period at the end of 2018. The building is poorly constructed and is half the size of a tennis court and cannot house sufficient chickens to be profitable. It was considered that no further funds should be expended on this project.

DFID
The Head of DFID in Sierra Leone was briefed on RCEL's remit. It was recommended that the A PM (African Project Manager) meet formally with SLESA. She was particularly interested in how RCEL approached 'assurance' and its requirement to do so in respect of the DFID five year grant. It was considered an absolute necessity for due diligence far down the supply chain. None of which is a surprise. She offered to provide due diligence 'templates' to the BHC's Defence Section to assist in providing assurance to RCEL. She was complimentary as to what the UK military had achieved in Sierra Leone since 2000. The appointment of a Project Manager is critical to the success of DFID fund distribution. It was recommended that the APM meet formally with SLESA. In addition, he should make contact with an identified Sierra Leonean citizen and a former British Army RLC SNCO, who has set up his own business in Sierra Leone who has contacts within the Sierra Leone Government and is very willing to assist. Afternote: this has been actioned. He has been appointed as an Honorary Representative to SLESA on behalf of RCEL.

Tours Brigadier Tony Berry OBE
Grand President's Appointee and Council Member for Pakistan 8 - 12 April 2019
PAKISTAN

This visit was originally conceived as a Council Member's visit to CEST Pakistan but given the imminent provision of enhanced grants as a consequence of DFID funding it was agreed with HQ RCEL that confirmation was required that CEST Pakistan was ready to meet the increased "compliance" requirements. Therefore, Brigadier Berry visited in the twin capacity of a Grand President's Nominee i.e. representing HQ RCEL, as well as Council Member for Pakistan.

Historical/Geographical Background
It is helpful to note that the servicemen of the Crown who opted for Pakistan at the time of Independence in 1947 were mainly soldiers who had fought in the British Indian Army and had originally come from traditional recruiting areas in the North of the country, mainly Pathans and Punjabis; few would have come from the Sind (Karachi) or Baluchistan. RCEL's Member organisation CEST is however, for historical reasons, located in Karachi (Sind), some hundreds of miles from where the majority of veterans or their widows live. Fortunately, the Pakistan Armed Services Board (PASB), which looks after current veterans of the Pakistan Armed Forces, has a network of Regional Offices and Field Officers who help CEST when required. Approximately 75% of "registered veterans of the Crown or widows" live in the Punjab, the others are spread throughout the country. It is also helpful to note that those who came to Pakistan and continued to serve in the Pakistan Armed Forces only became eligible for a Pakistan Pension and help from PASB if they had served a further 10 years.

Over 3 days in Karachi, Brigadier Berry had extensive discussions as to what if any improvements were needed to meet DFID' compliance requirements. The current CEST systems, which have been refined and improved over the years are very robust. Applicants have to apply each year on a standard form very similar to that used by SSAFA etc. Support in completing these forms is in some case provided by PASB ground teams. Verification of eligibility is good, with access to various Army, Navy and Air Force records or those held by individuals themselves. 

Payments are made direct to recipients, normally by post office money order. Recipients are notified separately that money is coming and are very active in contacting the Karachi office if it has not appeared. Postal delivery receipts are obtained. It was agreed that verification regarding whether elderly veterans or widows were still alive was a challenge, but annual applications help with this and further steps would be introduced by CEST.

The Trustee's were happy with the various Safeguarding, Whistleblowing policies etc. and understood their responsibilities in ensuring that they and any paid staff of CEST adhere to them where Pakistan Law allows. In summary, CEST believed they could withstand any robust DFID inspection and would be relaxed to receive one.

Brigadier Berry was fortunate to be able to meet with a group of 3 male veterans and 4 widows who reside in Karachi and who were escorted to CEST offices to meet him. The 3 veterans were all in their 90s and the youngest widow was 85 years old. He was able to present each a small monetary gift. They are all extremely grateful for the support they receive from the UK and whilst they express gratitude for the money they receive they also value the fact that they are remembered.

There is no doubt that CEST was well prepared to accept the additional funding that DFID was providing and will have no problems in meeting DFID's compliance criteria.

However, as a result of Brigadier Berry's visit, CEST are not complacent and are looking to strengthen their grants and verification procedures where possible.

Tours Controller Compliance 28 April - 10 May 2019
KOLKATA, NAGALAND and BURMA

KOLKATA

The primary aim of this welfare tour was to visit beneficiaries in Nagaland and Burma which meant transiting through Kolkata, India to get to Dimapur, Nagaland; it was therefore an ideal opportunity to visit the East India Charitable Trust (EICT) office and meet with recipients of grants, even though time was very limited.

There are only 4 EICT widows and one ex-service woman who now receive financial assistance from RCEL SCOWP. There are 2 widows who receive Agency support from the Royal Signals BF and RAFBF.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints and geographical location I was unable to visit the SCOWP beneficiaries. However, the two Agency beneficiaries were suitably located within Kolkata to be visited. I was accompanied by Mr Conrad Pote (EICT Secretary), we visited Maria Macleod (left) who has been in receipt of an annual grant from the Royal Signals BF for many years. Maria lives in the Lawrence D'Souza Care Home in the suburbs of Kolkata; this home is for females only. She is the daughter of WO2 Fred Macleod who was discharged from the Royal Signals in 1952. In addition to the annual grant she was assisted with two cataract operations in 2016.

NAGALAND

This was the third visit to Nagaland by RCEL staff, the last by the Secretary General in 2017. Nagaland is difficult to get to and Kohima remains isolated. This visit identified 15 veterans and 11 widows as still alive. The Kohima Education Society (KES) - KES is based in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland.

Home visits to Veterans

A number of villages were visited, Jotsoma, Nehrema, Tesophenyu Tsemenyu and Jakhama where 8 veterans and widows received grants of Rupee 12,000 each (approximately £135).
Sepoy Khakhu Khing enlisted in the 1st Assam Regiment and served the British Crown from 1943 to 1946 and remembers well the Battle of Kohima and all the horrors associated with that. After training in Shillong he was posted to Mariani. He remembers, "as the war raged in Kohima, we were brought to Zubza. From there we took part in the counter-attack (Op British Left Hook). We climbed the slopes to Meriema village and fought a pitched battle at the current site of the Kohima High School. I also remember fighting in the Chandmari area of Kohima which was then occupied by the Assam Rifles. We went to help them as the Japanese were attacking them."

Vikeyienya Nagi (above) with Controller Compliance after receiving his 6 monthly welfare grant. Nagi was 100 years old in December 2018. He was a Guide with the British Forces during WWII. He lives and is cared for by his grandchildren.

Nohol Natso (right), over 100 years of age but cannot remember exactly what year she was born. Her husband attended the Victory parade in Delhi in 1946.

She recalled the time when the Japanese controlled the area and her annual store of rice and grain was taken and used to feed the Japanese horses and mules. The people starved.

Khakhu Khing is at least 106 years of age. He had suffered a fall the week before the visit and he damaged his face, he is extremely frail and can barely walk even with the aid of a stick. He is cared for by his daughter in law and son who live in poor conditions.

Khakhu also recalls chasing the Japanese all the way to Burma via Imphal and walking long distances for many days. He does not remember the names of the places but he does recall that on one occasion they captured 60 enemy soldiers. Khakhu said, "we are now old and living in difficult circumstances. Please tell people that we are in need of their help now."

It became known that he was virtually blind in both eyes so an application to Blind Veterans UK was made on return to the UK. Within a day BVUK had awarded an overseas grant of £120 which was immediately paid to Khakhu by KES. He was delighted with the extra financial support.

BURMA - PYIN OO LWIN

In February 2015 there were 16 names on the RCEL SCOWP beneficiary list; 11 veterans and 5 widows. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, during this visit the list had reduced to a total of 7 beneficiaries: 2 veterans and 5 widows, one of those veterans being Captain Arthur Andrews. Captain Andrews had arranged to visit all the beneficiaries in their homes.

To the left is Julie San Myint, the widow of Captain Saw Michael Shwe who was recruited in 1941 and saw action throughout Burma and during the retreat to India. He was part of Force 136. His widow is now 93 years of and age not in good health. She is seen here receiving her welfare grant.

BURMA - MYITKYINA

The Kachin Veterans Committee is formed of 5 sub committees (Myitkyina, Putao, Bhamo, Hpakant and Mogaung) enabling them to effectively extend assistance to eligible veterans and widows throughout the country, although access to some areas is very difficult due to political reasons and logistics (the impact of the monsoon season). There are 53 veterans and 271 widows registered as eligible for support.

Veteran Hong Zong (left), 103 years of age. Served with the Kachin Rifles after which he was a subsistence farmer. Very poor quality of life. Bed bound for many years, suffering with lung decease.

Many of our veterans and widows are now bedridden and cared for by family members, quite often grandchildren.

These images reinforce the fact that we have an ageing beneficiary population and their need is now.

The widow shown below is Lahpai Ah Nang who is 88 years of age. She is seen with her daughter who cares for her. She is very frail and a recent fall resulted in a broken wrist. Another beneficiary who is pretty well bed bound and with little quality of life.

Tours Controller Welfare and Grants 17 - 5 June 2019
ZIMBABWE and KENYA

This visit came eight months after the previous visit by Controller Finance. It is a condition of the DFID grant that all countries with more than 400 beneficiaries should be visited within the first year of the start of the DFID programme.

ZIMBABWE

At a meeting with key ZANE personnel the SCOWP-DFID payments for 2019 were discussed. RCEL pays ZANE the annual SCOWP award over two payments, in April and October.

Payments by ZANE to the RCEL veterans and widows are now also made twice a year in line with DFID requirements.

A visit was made to the Westreign Home, the Flame Lily Trust Home and MOTH Retirement Cottages; the two Care Homes and cottages were most impressive.

All the residents met appeared to be very happy with their care. Above, Phylis, aged 93, who has been a Westreign resident for 25 years, served in the WAAF between 1944 -1948. Coming from Wilmslow, Phylis undertook basic training in Blackpool. She recalled her WAAF service especially that in the Singapore Signal Centre. Phylis is supported with a grant from the RAFBF (Afternote: Sadly, Phylis has passed away since the visit and writing this report).

Above, Audrey, aged 94, lives a quiet life in Westreign. Her husband Roy served six years in the Royal Artillery from 1939-1945 leaving service as a Captain. Audrey receives an annual award from The Officers Association.

ZANE kindly arranged a coffee morning which was attended by over 40 veterans and widows. Most of the beneficiaries who attended lived in Harare, but many travelled from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe by bus. Many beneficiaries had emigrated from the UK upon completion of their military service in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and worked in agriculture, construction, civil engineering or established businesses. However, the dire financial and economic circumstances, especially since the land reforms of 2000, has reduced many to reliance on charitable assistance. Many have had life savings wiped out by banking restrictions, being unable to access convertible hard currency and being reliant on the worthless Zimbabwe Bond currency. To compound their difficulties, since early 2019 the Zimbabwe government stopped paying military and other state pensions, and their already small incomes are diminished further owing to soaring inflation, reported as 175% in June 2019.

It was a great opportunity to meet so many RCEL and Agency welfare grant recipients. It was sad to hear of the plight of so many who had been affected by the appalling financial and economic situation in Zimbabwe. Most of the people that were met stressed that they would be destitute if they were not in receipt of the grants.

The work carried out by ZANE on behalf of RCEL is exemplary. The many people met were fully dependant on their welfare grants and each one of them was very gracious with their comments on the ZANE/RCEL cooperation. It was an honour to represent RCEL and work with ZANE which provides such essential support to the needy British military veterans and widows living in Zimbabwe.

KENYA

The aims of the visit were:

  • Meet Defence Forces Comrades Association (DEFOCA), British Legion (Kenya) (BL(K)) and BHC Defence Section staff.
  • Familiarise DEFOCA, BL(K) and BHC Defence Section staff with DFID programme.
  • Seek Joint Committee agreement for the revised SCOWP annual grant.
  • Meet Askari veterans and widows in receipt of SCOWP payments.

Colonel Tele (Managing Director DEFOCA) and the DEFOCA Management Team provided a briefing on the DEFOCA role and day-to-day operations and the function of the DEFOCA- British Legion (Kenya) Joint Committee.

Chaired by the UK Military Adviser, the Joint Committee sits in February, May and October to verify and approve financial assistance applications by Askari veterans and their widows. At each meeting, up to 200 welfare applications are considered. Assistance is awarded on an annual basis.

Once the Joint Committee has approved the applications, DEFOCA applies to BL(K) for the welfare funds required to meet those approved. BL(K) sends the welfare funds to DEFOCA and the money is dispersed by DEFOCA to the County Chairmen for payment to the Askari veterans and widows in need.

The DEFOCA Management Team were briefed on the proposed DFID annual grant for veterans and widows; the proposed level of grant was much appreciated by those present. Colonel Tele made clear DEFOCA would continue to provide services to former Askari in addition to DEFOCA's mandate for the welfare of post-independence veterans.

The meeting with the BL(K) Chairman, Lt Col Colin Danvers, (a former ADA in Nairobi) and Mrs Jenny Larby, Secretary and Executive Officer BL(K) was organised to receive a brief on BL(K) operations. The proposed DFID welfare payment was discussed.

After the formal meetings it was a pleasure to travel to Kitui County, approximately 3hrs drive north east of Nairobi and meet the Askari veterans. Controller Welfare was accompanied by three DEFOCA staff; Col Eric Tele, Maj Jerry Keye and the Welfare Representative, Esther Mutunga. We were met by the County Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary at the DEFOCA clubhouse.

In the grounds was a former maize mill built with funding from RCEL and assembled within were the Askari veterans. After being welcomed with an Askari battle song I was introduced to the veterans by Col Tele. I met and chatted with each of the 21 veterans who were all in their eighties and nineties, 11 had served in WWII, though only one had his medals. Each veteran told me their battalion, or trade, where and when they served and where they were discharged. All were proud of their British service and pleased I had visited showing their service was still remembered.


Tours Ms Carol Taylor Commonwealth Council Member for Guyana Veterans Legion 25 - 26 June 2019
GUYANA

Ms Taylor was visiting Guyana with family members and very kindly agreed to spend two days of her holiday visiting the Guyana Veterans Legion (GVL) and RCEL beneficiaries. On arrival she was given a tour of the Headquarters of GVL in Georgetown by the President, Colonel George Gomes, and introduced to some veterans, members of the GVL and recipients of RCEL welfare grants. Ms Taylor is seen below with GVL key staff.

Founded in 1926 to ensure veterans who lost their lives in battle were not forgotten, in its current format the GVL also provides a range of activities for retired members of the armed forces. In addition to the management meetings attended by veterans, the club arranges a host of social and fundraising activities throughout the year, including monthly bingo evenings, annual BBQs, Christmas lunch and transportation to church on Sundays.

Together their aim is to promote the physical, mental and social benefits derived from meeting other veterans and members regularly and enjoying the activities organised by the Legion.

A visit was paid to the National Veterans Rest Home at Lamaha Springs, Georgetown, where Ms Taylor met Mr Joseph Gooding, another recipient of an RCEL welfare grant - he can be seen below with Ms Taylor and Colonel Gomes. Ms Corinne Anderson, the Administrator for the Home, explained that although they receive grants, there is a continual need for the Rest Home to fundraise to cover the costs of basic daily supplies for the residents.

Ms Taylor met with Mr Kenneth King, 93 years old. He joined the army at 18 years and trained in Trinidad for 6 months before becoming a Signaller in the army, responsible for transmitting and receiving messages in morse code. When Mr King left the Army he started working in Parliament office, working as a clerk and eventually became Sergeant-at-Arms in the Guyanese Parliament. He bears the honour of being the first person in Guyana to bear the mace - he served 17 years as Sergeant.

During the second day of the visit Ms Taylor addressed the GVL Committee and met two delightful widows of veterans; Mrs Lynette Muller, widow of Claude Oswald Muller and Mrs Inez Johnson, widow of Frederick Albert Johnson, who served in Europe. They were very grateful to receive RCEL welfare grants.

It was a pleasure to have been shown first-hand by Colonel George Gomes the work of the GVL and to meet some of the beneficiaries of the RCEL grant and the GVL staff and executive committee, and to be made so welcome.

Tours DFID Programme Manager 28 July - I August 2019
GHANA

Veterans Administration, Ghana (VAG) has seen a substantial change in leadership since the last welfare tour visit in 2016 by the then Controller Welfare, Captain Lance Gill. Whilst Colonel Paul Davis visited in February this year, the focus of his visit was more strategic, as described elsewhere in this report. The aim of this visit was to advise VAG on specific issues related to the future DFID funding and meet with our veterans and widows.

Virtually the entire senior team of VAG, except the Public Relations Officer (PRO), had changed since the visit in 2016. As a result of Colonel Davis' visit in February, Derrick Cobbinah had been appointed as the Africa Project Officer and he was present throughout the visit. The image above shows WWII Veterans, VAG HQ Staff and Derrick Cobbinah (Africa PO).

VAG continues to look after approximately 20,000 veterans across 10 Regions. Each region is broken down further into districts and there are some 187 districts across the country. At the time of the visit there were 119 registered eligible WWll veterans receiving welfare assistance from RCEL. However, VAG had recently undertaken a publicity campaign and it was anticipated that additional potential beneficiaries would be identified.

There was an expectation that the arranged gathering for veterans and widows in Accra would attract around 70 attendees. However, the publicity surrounding the award of DFID funding resulted in over 300 people attending! One of those in attendance was Pte Joseph Hammond (left) who is a 96 year old Burma veteran. Joseph is an old friend of RCEL and it was wonderful to meet with him. A number of widows also attended the meeting.

A meeting with the recently appointed DA, Lt Col Alastair McKechnie RE at his residence was very fruitful. The possibility of some light oversight of VAG was discussed and he was happy to offer bi-annual attendance at relevant meetings to coincide with disbursements and some light touch audit 'dip testing'. A visit to the Amasaman Legion Village revealed that the RCEL Water Project was still working well and it was a pleasure to meet with the 3 WWII veterans who are in residence.

It was apparent that the overhaul of senior staff at VAG had denuded the experience within the Member Organisation, but this had been addressed with the secondment of a new team of serving officers. As a Government Department, the proper controls & systems are in place in VAG and this has allowed the Organisation to continue to run despite the loss of key members of staff.

The visit highlighted some of the practical challenges of verification, especially for widows. This is not a challenge unique to Ghana.

Tours Secretary General 23 - 26 September 2019
UGANDA

This Tour had not been planned year, at the beginning of the but several issues arose that required resolution and it was felt necessary that the Secretary General should visit. Allegations of fraud against our Member Organisation, The Uganda Ex-Servicemen's Association, had been made and an investigation had been instigated. Having followed correct protocol in line with RCEL policy and informed DFID and the Charity Commission the investigation had reached the point of conclusion. Before closing the investigation, meetings with all interested parties in-country was required.

There was an additional requirement to review the results of the recent verification exercise conducted in partnership by UESA and the Uganda Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs. As expected, several eligible veterans had died, and a number of new claimants had come forward. Uganda gained independence in 1962 and therefore the youngest veteran would be 75 years old but with a life expectancy of 58 years it would be unlikely that many had reached their 80s and 90s. The issue however was that there had been 1056 women who had come forward claiming to be widows and that there were likely to be, perhaps, hundreds more coming forward.

It was clear that RCEL would be required to provide enhanced criteria to Member Organisations in order for them to assess eligibility of those who claimed to be widows. This is a complex issue and one that Conference (Malaysia 2016) had programmed for resolution at the South Africa Conference in 2021 when all Member Organisations could consider the issue in Regional Discussion Groups before wider debate in Conference.

The Secretary General had numerous meetings with the British Defence Adviser, UESA and the Ugandan Minister for Defence and Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Dr Rwamirama Bright K PhD. At the meeting with the Minister, the Secretary General was accompanied by Commissioner Mabonga Mike Wambi (responsibility for veterans, rehabilitation, psycho-social support and resettlement) and his Assistant Commissioner Arthur Kamya.

The investigation had not found evidence of fraud but there were weaknesses in governance and transparency leading to rumour and false accusations. This conclusion was accepted by those who had originally made the allegations of fraud.

Recommendations as a result of the investigation were as follows:

  • A new Management Committee elected and functioning
  • Funding of a verification exercise to confirm eligible beneficiaries
  • Formation of a Joint Veterans Committee (Uganda)

The Joint Veterans Committee (Uganda) was to be chaired by Commissioner Wambi and would be responsible for overseeing verification of beneficiaries and distribution of RCEL/DFID welfare grants. The British Defence Adviser agreed to advise and oversee the JVC (Uganda).

The UESA Secretary General had made arrangements to visit some of our veterans. There are HILUX no veterans in central Kampala as it is too expensive, and it is not one of the traditional recruiting areas.

To the left is Pte John Henry Seth who is aged 95 years. He served in the East African Service Corps as a mechanic and served in Burma. He remembers docking at Mombasa on the way home after the War. He has been in receipt of a RCEL grant for 4 years and is cared for by 2 daughters. Doris, one of his daughters, said that without the RCEL grant they would not be able to feed their father. None of them had bank accounts and none of them were prepared to open one.

To the left is Sgt Sezi Kakungulu who served with 4th Battalion Kings African Rifles. He is 97 years old and has been in receipt of a RCEL grant for 10 years. He served for 4 years, 1942 – 1946, in North Africa and Burma.

Both veterans were hugely grateful for the support they had been given. They were very pleased to receive the additional DFID/UKAid funding which had made a considerable difference to them.

RCEL - Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League - Registered Charity No. 1174874 - Haig House, 199 Borough High Street, London SE1 1AA, United Kingdom - Telephone +44 (0)20 3207 2413

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