Introduction (by me)

A couple of weeks ago I posted an unashamed plug for When Stars Will Shine, an anthology of Christmas stories with a military theme, which was being sold to raise money for Help for Heroes.

This week I’m posting an article by one of the writers, Jane Risdon, explaining why she feels so strongly about this charity.

Nowadays we have a smaller army and we fight fewer wars, but we fight wars nonetheless and when the government feels the need to put young men and women in harm’s way, it still sends them. Jane’s is a military family and many of her relatives have fought and suffered for their country. She writes about her family’s history with the armed services here.

Many people question the need to go to war, but while the governments we vote for send people to fight, we have a responsibility to help those who come back damaged. Help for Heroes was born out of the disastrous failure to treat the wounded of the Afghan War with honour and dignity. Sadly, there will be other wars and the need for Help for Heroes will continue.

A family history

Last year I had the opportunity to contribute a short story for an anthology which would go on sale to raise funds for Help for Heroes. I jumped at the chance. I’ve contributed towards charity anthologies in the past, roughly one every two years, when a cause is close to my heart. Help for Heroes is such a charity.

My family has served in the British armed forces for generations, mostly in the Army but not exclusively, and we have long connections with various regiments and also with the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Sandhurst. My maternal Grandfather served there, my Father was an Instructor there and so was an uncle, and a cousin and his two sons have passed out as Officers, during the latter part of the 20th century, and their cousin has also passed out during the mid-21st century. They all went on to serve in the various conflicts we all know about and many of which are still on-going, sadly.

Sovereign’s Parade, RMA Sandhurst

My maternal Grandfather served in WW1 and was in France. He was gassed more than once and discharged eventually with ‘influenza,’ which I soon realised when researching family history, is a euphemism for being gassed. He suffered all his life from what was called, ‘spongy lung,’ and he eventually died from being gassed, in 1955. He didn’t get any help, either mentally, physically or financially, and therefore when he was laid off work at the RMA every winter for three months, he and his family struggled to survive on money they put aside every month in a small insurance policy which paid a pittance per week when he was unable to work, fighting for every breath.

My Grandmother’s first husband served in WW1 and various other conflicts including in Afghanistan, South Africa and India. He was wounded at the Somme and discharged with shrapnel injuries which eventually led to his death in 1923. Again, he did not receive any financial or psychological help. He and my Grandmother served in the RFC (Royal Flying Corps/RAF) after his discharge and prior to his death.

In 1916 one of my Grandmother’s brothers was giving his life at The Somme whilst another brother was arrested and incarcerated in HM Prison Wakefield, for his part in the Easter Uprising. I often think of this and wonder what conversation around the dinner table must have been like for the others left behind in a small village in Tipperary.

Of course, every household in the British Isles and beyond experienced their loved ones being sent off to war and they had to deal with the consequences if/when these men and women returned possibly (probably) injured, both mentally and physically.

My paternal Grandfather and his brothers went off to WW1, having lied about their ages so they could join up. All three had been through the Duke of York School in Kent which was a boarding school for children of soldiers who were orphaned or whose family couldn’t afford to keep them. I know my Grandfather was 14 when he was in the trenches in France.

Great Uncle George in his Duke of York School uniform before he went into WW1 aged 14 ( (c) Jane Risdon 2020 )

He served in France and was posted to India where he joined the British Indian Army. He was sent to Africa in WW2 with his men – mostly Indian Sikhs – to fight Rommel, and returned to see India gain independence in 1947 when he and his family returned to England. Except my own Father, who had joined the British Army in India and was posted to Africa and various other conflicts before being sent to the RMA Sandhurst as an Instructor. From there he went to Singapore and Malaya (Malaysia) to help rout-out bandits raiding rubber plantations in Johore Bahru – where my Mother and I joined him in 1954. We lived in many countries whilst he was still serving, and one of my brothers became a ‘boy’ soldier and eventually joined the same regiment as my father and served in Bosnia, Ireland and elsewhere.

Janes’s father in Sumatra, 1947 ( (c) Jane Risdon 2020 )

A paternal Great Uncle served on submarines in WW2: one he was on sunk. He returned home a shadow of his former self following his experiences trapped inside for a long time. He was a talented artist and had hoped before the war to study in Paris. Sadly, he suffered the rest of his life with mental illness and he didn’t get the help our Forces hope to get today. He used to book himself voluntarily into a local psychiatric hospital whenever he felt himself losing control and he’d stay there until he felt well enough to leave. He was not violent, just someone who’d become agitated and withdrawn, tormented by what he’d seen and experienced.

I could go on listing relatives who served over many years, going back to the very first Army/Navy we had as a country, but I am sure every family can do this. My Great Uncle inspired me to contribute to When Stars Will Shine which is raising funds for a charity helping those suffering the physical and mental wounds which result from their service on our behalf.

When Stars Will Shine

Emma Mitchell had the idea to curate the anthology and has been instrumental in putting the whole project together along with 24 authors contributing their stories, and the services of the proof-reader and cover designer have also been given freely. All funds raised from sales of the paperback and eBook go to the charity. Emma has worked tirelessly to ensure the success of our anthology and I really want to thank her and her colleagues as well as my fellow authors for making our anthology such a fabulous read and delight to be associated with.

Do please go to Amazon to discover the book and the authors involved. There are million-selling authors and first time authors and an eleven year old girl whose poem is the opening contribution. We’ve received some fabulous reviews.

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