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Opinion People and Leadership

To Honour All: Care for Veterans

Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version

I am writing this short article to explain how I would like to help address an issue that has been bugging me for the past couple of years. Too many veterans are passing away alone; either without their family around them or may have also passed while living on the streets. Examples of this are hard to find. A lot of what I hear is through word of mouth or seeing posts on social media, both of these make it hard to track down the exact details. I am determined to change this to ensure all veterans (regardless of time served) receive a military funeral. This is to show that ‘we’, the military, still see them as part of our family and will forever remember and honour them for what they have done for our Nation. We only ever seem to give military funerals to veterans in the public eye, you can see this with the likes of Harry Patch and Sir Captain Tom Moore. However, I would like to change this – to honour all and give our veterans the funeral they deserve.

After spending countless days and nights trying to think of ways that I could go about it, I eventually came up with what I think is a great idea; one that will hopefully gain support from all three services and other military charities. The Royal British Legion (RBL) and SSAFA were both very helpful telling me about what they currently do for veterans who pass away. They also gave me details of some other charities that could also help.

The RBL told me that when a veteran passes away, they can offer financial support and, if requested, can send representatives from the local branch to carry the RBL standard and play the last post. SSAFA often work alongside the RBL and offer the same sort of support, they can also offer to drape the regimental flag over the coffin and will contact the HHQ or the appropriate Regiment or Corps to arrange this. SSAFA did state that as far a military presence goes ‘local branches of regimental associations or other similar groups of veterans, such as veterans breakfast club usually arrange for veterans to be present, sometimes acting as pallbearers or a guard of honour’. They also said that no service charity, including regimental and corps associations, will fund a headstone or other form of memorial.

After speaking with these charities, it is clear to me that there is a gap that needs to be filled. I believe we can fill the gap with an organisation that I want to start and providing a headstone or memento is something that really does need to be addressed.

The idea I have finally settled on is to set up a not for profit organisation that can be contacted by friends and family of the deceased veteran who can then request a military funeral or just ask for representatives from the veteran’s corresponding cap badge or service to be in attendance. We would offer support to the family which could include a small contribution to help pay towards the cost of the funeral, although this would be down to the family’s own wishes.

The organisation would be a point of call for the family and friends to set in motion the military aspects of the funeral (personnel/costs) and liaise with the family or organisation who are organising it. The charity would act as a central hub, with donations coming from the wider public but also with donations or a small yearly fee paid in by each cap badge’s individual charity. This would mean that funding would be in place to pay for each funeral. Serving personnel would attend a funeral on a purely voluntary basis; no one would be forced to participate.

My own views are that this is such an important matter that there wouldn’t be an issue with getting willing volunteers to give up an odd day here or there. I would also expect the charity to work alongside the likes of the RBL and SSAFA so they can also provide support and representatives at funerals. I would also like to think that they would also tell people who have family or friends who have passed away about our organisation. I would also like a memento to be given to the family as a thank you for their relative’s service to the country. This could be a photo in a frame with their cap badge beside them, or something along those lines.

If you want to see how well our veterans could be looked after, then look no further than how the United States does things. No matter how long they served or whatever job or role they performed, the deceased will be offered a military funeral which will include full military honours. Representatives from local authorities will also make an appearance. This really reinforces just how appreciative everyone is of their service to the country and the community that they are from.

The US Military funds funerals for service personnel, this is different to my proposal which would use charity money. Although I would like to see us match the efforts of the Americans, this is very much in the future and I would prefer to start with something that improves the current arrangements and that is possible to achieve.

In closing, I am hoping everyone who reads this would support the idea of a charity that Honours all. I would also be happy to listen to any other ideas or suggestions you may have before I submit something more formal to give to my superiors, REME Corps ASM and also our REME Foundation. I am hoping to talk to other military charities and personnel to show the level of support is there so this idea is more solid and less likely to be refused. I hope people can see what I am aiming to achieve and are happy to show their support. If you would like more information, please get in touch and I will be happy to explain in more detail.

Perry Houston

Perry Houston was born in the village of Lanchester in County Durham. After leaving school, he went on to study aerospace engineering at college. During this time, he applied to join the British Army and is currently serving as a REME aircraft technician.

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