M & E Reports 2021

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 Controller Welfare & Grants Squadron Leader Tim Burt II -14 October 2021

Our former Member Organisation, Cyprus Veterans' Association World War II (CVA) folded in March 2020 as the remaining committee became too old to complete their tasks. The lack of a Member Organisation resulted in the 60 remaining veterans and widows not being paid their 2020 SCOWP grant.

Happily, SSAFA Cyprus (Episkopi) stepped forward and agreed to accept our Welfare Grant funds and issue welfare grant cheques to our 18 veterans and widows in the south of the island.

However, there remained the problem of payments to beneficiaries in the north. The situation was complicated by banks and institutions of the north refusing to receive bank transfers and accept cheques from banks in the south.

For years the work of RCEL in Cyprus has been undertaken by our long standing representatives Djemal Nedjat (RCEL Cyprus, North) and Mrs Ourania Pissaridou (RCEL Cyprus, South).

Their invaluable knowledge of Cyprus and veteran and widow affairs will greatly benefit the remaining veterans and visitors. The assistance of the British High Commission Cyprus is acknowledged too, Colonel Duncan Kavanagh and Ruth Barton, Defence Section.

A tight visit programme coupled with Covid- restrictions crossing to the north from the south, limited Controller Welfare to an afternoon of visits to beneficiaries in the south of Nicosia. Accompanied by Ourania Pissaridou, Controller Welfare met with three elderly widows.

One of whom was Mrs Elli Michael Ziartidou, 95. Mrs Ziartidou lives alone in her quiet Nicosia apartment surrounded by family photos and is frequently visited by her son, Andreas. Elli was keen to chat about her late husband Michael and his wartime service in the Cyprus Regiment. Enlisting in 1939 at Polemidia Camp, Limassol, Michael served in Egypt receiving the Africa Star, before promotion to Sergeant and completing his service as an infantry instructor before discharge in 1946 upon disbandment of the regiment. Elli was thrilled she would be receiving 'a gift from HM The Queen'.

SSAFA Cyprus Branch - HQ British Forces, SBA Episkopi L-R, Lorna King (Chairman, SSAFA Cyprus), Ourania Pissaridou (RCEL Cyprus, South), Tim Burt (Controller Welfare), Tina Graham (SSAFA Regional Manager)

Tours Council Member for Mauritius Captain Lance Gill 3 - 27 November 2021

During a holiday to Mauritius, RCE Council Member Lance Gill (former RCEL Controller Welfare) agreed to catch-up with RCEL member organisation the Mauritius Ex-Services Trust Fund (MESTF) before it's transition to the new Ex-Services Association of Mauritius that will assume the duties and responsibilities of the Trust Fund looking after the general well-being needs of ex-servicemen and their widows. Lance Gill also reported on preparations at the soon to be opened Mauritius servicemen and women tribute gallery and his visit to RCEL beneficiaries. Shortly after arrival in-country a national spike in Covid cases prompted further restrictions but all visit aims were achieved. Also visiting Mauritius at the same time was RCEL Deputy Grand President Maj Gen Mitch Michell who along with Lance Gill agreed to represent RCEL and Commonwealth veterans at the Mauritius National Remembrance ceremony.

Great progress has been made towards the completion of the Mauritian Ex-Servicemen's World War I and World War II Tribute Gallery, housed on the first floor of the Mauritius Natural History Museum in Port Louis. The gallery has made good use of the £25,000 SCOWP Libor grant made by RCEL in 2015 to this project. The partitioning and display cabinets were completed and ready for artefacts. TV and audio equipment was set-up to show interviews with veterans and widows with a focus to inform and educate younger visitors. 

Mrs Daivonayegui Umanee, a widow presented with her first grant cheque

The gallery was due to be completed by May 2019, this was delayed until December 2021 and the formal opening by the Prime Minister, Mr Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.

Lance Gill visited two beneficiaries. Private Vadivel Survasoo, 91, uses a wheelchair and suffers with Alzheimer's but is lovingly cared for by his 85 year old wife at their home in Port Louise. Vadivel joined the Royal Pioneer Corps in June 1951 aged 21 and served in Egypt as a Firefighter. Mrs Umanee was a new beneficiary in 2021 following the recent death of her Mauritius Regiment and WWII veteran husband, Amoor. Lance Gill presented her with her first grant cheque. She now lives with and is cared for by her daughter. Despite numerous ailments and being bedridden she was in good spirits when visited.

The Mauritius National Remembrance ceremony took place on 14 November at the Royal College, Curepipe where wreaths were laid by The President, Prime Minister and other dignitaries. The DGP and Captain Gill were invited to attend and laid wreaths on behalf of RCEL and all Commonwealth veterans. Joining then was Chairman of MESTF Mr Mike Mungur, veteran Mr Outim Ramjanally and Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office Mr Ravi Sonea.

The Mauritius National Remembrance ceremony
DGP with Mr Outim Ramjanally (centre - ex REME) and Mr Mike Mungur (far left – Chairman MESTF)

Tours RCEL Project Officer, West Africa Derrick Cobbinah 15 - 23 December 2021

For a second year it was a pleasure to undertake this round of visits to RCEL veterans and widows in Ghana and deliver food boxes. Like last year, the boxes and tour was funded by donations received by Burma veteran Private Joseph Hammond of Ghana who, inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore's walk to raise funds for the NHS, walked 14 miles in 7 days through Accra to raise funds for frontline health workers and needy veterans in Africa.

This year rather than use new cardboard boxes, Derrick teamed up with Trashy Bags Africa, a social enterprise making eco-friendly zip-up bags from discarded drinking water sachets that litter the streets of Accra. 

Derrick Cobbinah receives over 300 Trashy Bags.

Each bag was filled with long-lasting food items (spaghetti, tinned sardines, tinned tomatoes, plantain chips, hand sanitizer, toilet roll), delivered to each veteran or their widow. The bags could then be reused.

On this tour Derrick was accompanied by RCEL Member Organisation, Veterans Administration, Ghana who were able to complete veteran and widow identity and verification checks. Out of 313 beneficiaries, the tour found sadly 17 veterans and 18 widows had passed away since last year.

Content of a Food Bag
Tinned Sardines
Tinned Tomato
Plantain Chips
Hand Sanitizers & Wash
Toilet Roll
Other products from sponsors 
Tamale beneficiaries receiving food boxes

Tours RCEL Project Officer, Caribbean Major (Retd) Johanna Lewin 16 December 2021

Jamaica Legion cares for some 24 RCEL beneficiaries, 18 veterans and 6 widows. During this visit I met with the League's General Secretary, Lt Col Desmond Clarke and Administration Assistant Miss Norva Frazer at their Curphey Place offices in Kingston. Curphey Place is the home of The Legion and the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA), Jamaica.

With limited resources The Legion made great efforts to maintain and deliver welfare services to our beneficiaries during the pandemic. The Legion is grateful to RAFA for their assistance and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) who assigned a Social Worker to assist with welfare matters, despite this not being a full-time role their assistance is gratefully received.

The JDF has established a Veterans' Affairs Office which has enhanced the delivery of some welfare services including the provision of medical services to contemporary veterans who have 22 years' service or more. This facility has on occasion been extended to those with fewer years' service based on their circumstances or urgency. Covid vaccinations have been offered to all veterans, and their spouses, including booster shots. Some welfare visits to beneficiaries are carried out by the JDF Social Worker and by Miss Frazer. For those veterans and widows not visited, frequent welfare calls were made by the Legion. During the pandemic, care packages were provided by RAFA to veterans and widows. Some 150 care packages funded by RAFA were distributed to the islands' veterans and widows.

Curphey Place, Kingston
Jamaica Home Guard and WWII veteran, Simeon
Shepherd, 99, being greeted by Johanna Lewin
Rollington Town, Kingston
Jamaica Regiment veteran, Franseco
Samuels, 85, receiving a Care Package
from a Jamaica Defence Force soldier

The pandemic has knocked the Legion's income from its' usual sources, such as military band concerts, island-wide tin collections and fundraising by the Jamaica Combined Cadet Force. Efforts have been made to find other innovative ways to raise funds and the Legion is grateful to the JDF who run a monthly contribution taken from the pay of all serving personnel JDF members and their organization of the island's Poppy Appeal.

Away from Kingston, I visited The Curphey Home in Manchester, owned and operated by Jamaica Legion. Since 1957, the home has been a haven for ex-servicemen and women, providing care and protection for the veterans. The home has room for some 30 veterans but currently has just 14 residents with applications pending for a few others. Among the residents are veterans of World War Two, as well as former members of the JDF. The home relies on donations, mainly from the annual Poppy Appeal, and a subvention from the Government.

As mentioned in the report of Chairman SCOWP, the Jamaica Legion was able to acquire a new wheelchair accessible minibus for use by Curphey Home residents and carers getting to medical and care appointments in Kingston. Purchase of the minibus was made possible through donations from RCEL, ABF The Soldier's Charity, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and locally from the National Commercial Bank Foundation and RAFA.

Minibus Handover Ceremony at Curphey Place, June 2021 L-R: WWII & RAF Veteran, Gerard Manhertz; Mrs Thalia Lyn, Chair of The National Commercial Bank Foundation; His Excellency Asif Ahmad CMG, then British High Commissioner to Jamaica; Jamaica Regiment veteran
and RCEL beneficiary Peter Williams.
Veteran, Eileen Vermont, receiving Care Package from Major Morton Stewart, Acting Commanding Officer, 4th Battalion of the Jamaica Regiment, Jamaica Defence Force at the Curphey Home – December 2021

Tours RCEL Project Officer, Caribbean Major (Retd) Johanna Lewin 15-19 January 2022

This was my first opportunity to visit St Lucia following the easing of Covid visiting restrictions allowing me to travel from my home in Jamaica. Through our member organization the St Lucia Ex-Service League (SLESL), RCEL supports some 10 beneficiaries, two veterans and eight widows.

The President of SLESL, Cyril Haynes will reach his Centenary in 2022 and remains active. Secretary of the League, Earl Francis is in his eighties and very active too, doing his best for the Leagues' members during Covid. Mr Francis has been a volunteer with SLESL since 2004, becoming Secretary in 2009. Though not a military veteran, Mr Francis served in the police force for 25 years but is dedicated to helping the island's military veterans and widows. Inevitably, age is catching up with both these gentlemen and other committee members and plans are in hand to ease their day-to-day tasks.

Castries, St Lucia
Earl Francis with RCEL beneficiary, Josephine Gibson
The President of SLESL, Cyril

It was clear Mr Francis and the committee had done the groundwork to establish new relationships with organizations on the island for the Leagues long term sustainability and continuity, in particular with The Red Cross. The Red Cross will deliver Care Packages to our veterans and widows and will assist the planning and execution of Remembrance Day events.

Accompanied by Earl Francis, it was a pleasure to meet Winward Island Battalion veteran Reginald Cherebin, now 98, living at home, who was in good health and good spirits. We also visited Josephine Gibson, 84, widow of Winward Island Battalion veteran Wilkinson Gibson. Mrs Gibson lives at home with family in the hills above Castries.

L-R: Nathan Hyacinth, Johanna Lewin, Earl Francis, Sean Wells

Tours Programme Manager Colonel Pasan Kularatne 27 February - 3 March 2022

Pakistan was last visited by Secretary General Chris Warren in November 2017. This was a well-timed visit to our Member Organisation the Commonwealth Ex-Services Trust (CEST) following recent Executive changes including the election of a new Chairman, Commodore Ejaz Rasool Chaudhri (Retd). In addition, it was my first Monitoring and Evaluation visit as Programme Manager since I joined RCEL in September 2020. It was also the first country visit by HQ RCEL staff to a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office-funded country since February 2020 when Covid travel restrictions prevented travel.

CEST has its origin among those few citizens of Karachi, who at the end of WWII voluntarily organised the annual ceremony of remembrance to honour the dead of the two World Wars. Currently the Trust is managed by a small Board of six honorary Trustees, all senior retired members of Pakistan armed forces. There are also three salaried staff and one Honorary Field Officer who covers the Chakwal area. CEST is assisted by the Pakistan Armed Services Board where their representatives are better able than CEST to visit our beneficiaries.

RCEL sends CEST welfare funds to provide a two meals a-day grant to 893 beneficiaries, some 75 veterans and 818 widows. This is the highest number of beneficiaries of all the countries RCEL supports. 

None of the 75 veterans live near Karachi so I was unable to meet any of them. However, 13 widows do live nearby and I was able to meet two at their homes and two at the CEST office.

At the CEST office, I met Mrs Naseem Begum, the widow of Sepoy Ghulam Muhammad, who joined the Indian Army in July 1942 until demobilization in January 1947. Today Begum lives with her son and is very grateful for the annual RCEL welfare grant.

I met with Mrs Maqsoodi, the widow of Sepoy Abdul Majeed who joined the Indian Army in August 1943 and after wartime service continued military life in the Pakistan Army after partition until he was discharged in August 1961.

Before partition, Mrs Maqsoodi lived in Tijara, a village in Dehli, India and migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947. She now lives with her grandson in Karachi in a rented house. She spends the funds sent by RCEL through CEST on food and medication.

Tours Programme Manager Colonel Pasan Kularatne 3- 10 March 2022

Founded in 1944, Member Organisation Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen's Association (SLESA) aims to foster comradeship among all ranks of Ceylon Ex-Servicemen who served in WWI and WWII and provide assistance where needed. Sri Lanka was last visited by then Controller Welfare, Lance Gill in October 2018. At the time of this visit there were 135 pre-independence veterans and widows who receive an RCEL welfare grant, some 22 veterans and 113 widows, who served the British crown. In addition, there are two SLESA veteran homes in Bolagala and Kandy. Apart from the RCEL beneficiaries, SLESA also cares for some 50,000 post-independence veterans of the Sri Lankan armed forces. SLESA is managed by a Board of Trustees and Office Bearers elected annually from the three services, all retired members of Sri Lanka armed forces.

During the visit I was joined by RCEL Deputy Grand President (DGP), Major General Mitch Mitchell who was enjoying a holiday with family in Sri Lanka at the same time. The DGP kindly spent an evening and a day meeting the SLESA President, Secretary and office bearers and more importantly to meet veterans too. DGP and I visited the SLESA office on Friday 12 March and were warmly welcomed by the President SLESA. President SLESA briefed us on SLESA operations and DGP was able to meet. Trustees, Office Bearers and the SLESA staff in the office.

The Cenotaph War Memorial in Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo
DGP and I had the honour to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph dedicated to British military personnel killed during WWI and WWII.

I was pleased to meet with five RCEL veterans, two of whom Mr Somasiri and Mr Perera were celebrating their 100 birthdays.

Mr Somasiri served in the Ceylon Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve from January 1945 to August 1946 and received the War Medal. After Navy service he joined the Sri Lanka Army Engineer Service Regiment. Mr Somasiri now lives in Pannipititiya, a suburb of Colombo and is cared for by his daughter. Mr Somasiri celebrated his 100 birthday in March 2022 and I was privileged to present the RCEL DGP Certificate on his Centenary Birthday.

I was also able to meet with two widows Mrs Fernando and Mrs Leelawathi. Mrs H M W Fernando is the widow of Mr Fernando who served in the Ceylon Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve from March 1944 to February 1946. Mrs Fernando now lives with her daughter.

Visit to Bolagala Veterans Home, Colombo
Bolagala Veterans Home was established in March 1987 following the donation of land by the late Mr Bharatha Wickramasinghe and his wife Platida. The property was developed over the years, with the help of the three armed services, fundraising and various donations including RCEL contributions. Of the current 24 residents from the Sri Lankan army, navy and air force, the two WWII veterans are RCEL beneficiaries. Following a further generous land donation by Mrs Platida Wickramasinghe, a new five bed lodge for veteran widows is planned.

The Veterans Home is well managed by Lt Col Y R M Chandratilake. We were able to meet two RCEL veterans, Mr P R Pillai and Mr M K N Gunathilake.

Mr K N Gunathilake, 95, who is a resident at the Bolagala Veterans Home, served in the Ceylon Light Infantry in September 1944 to January 1946. It was humbling to see at first-hand care SLESA provides to all the veterans.

Maj Gen Upul Perera and Lt Col Ajith Siyambalapitiya of SLESA put together a very comprehensive programme, particularly for the DGP's visit. I was able to meet all SLESA Office Holders and more importantly, it was an honour to meet RCEL veterans and widows.

It was a pleasure to conclude our visit to the Veterans Home, made more memoriable when General Mitch and I were invited to plant two Sandlewood saplings in the garden.

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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