It was Wednesday 15 March and it was my second visit speaking at one of Help For Heroes ‘Pathfinder’ talks. I was charged up about it yet nervous, as I had only done these talks once before but I was going to give it my best shot. The story begins with me travelling up from London to Colchester. I hadn’t been back to Colchester since I exited the army in 2003, so I didn’t know what to expect. As a veteran and a member of the ‘Band of Brothers’ (a brotherhood built up of ex-serviceman who are eligible to receive the benefits from Help For Heroes) I was able to stay on Camp. The Camp was called ‘Chavasse VC House’ and it is an incredibly smart venue, where serving personnel and veterans can stay for rehabilitation/training courses/fitness or a place where they can find someone who is willing to just listen.
I arrived at Colchester station and jumped in a cab. As we were driving, I recognized a few of the places outside my window. We were literally driving straight past where I used to be based, Helles Barracks. But what was different was that the barracks were not there anymore; it was now a newly designed housing estate! I just simply could not believe it.
The Chavasse VC house was not much further on. When I arrived, I went straight to reception and was kindly shown to my room. I didn’t know what to expect, but the room was far better than I imagined; it was fantastic and kitted out to accommodate many different people. The following morning, I had my breakfast in the food hall, before heading off to meet everybody. When I arrived, I introduced myself and threw in a quick talk about myself. My actual speech was not going to be until lunchtime. The group of guys ranged from their early twenties to mid fifties, all different kinds of personalities too; I was looking forward to hearing their own individual stories.
We were travelling to a nature reserve not far from the barracks, but as we arrived, we then split into two groups; one was going to be building fences to control the tide and the other group planting the crops which would end up producing fruit for the insects and birds. I went off on the first job. I was looking forward to getting involved, with my wellies on, chopping bits of wood to use as stakes in the mud. We could then use branches of trees to build a barrier along the side of the river bed. As a team, we worked together to build the fence up from the ground. When we sat down for lunch, it was time to give my speech. It is greater feeling for me when you see the brief emotion flitter across the faces of the troops; letting them know that it is not the end for them, it is only just the beginning.
After lunch, we all united together to keep on planting new roots which would grow into the blackberry bushes. After we had finished, I went back to camp and said goodbye to the guys before leaving to make my way home. This day I will remember forever. My biggest message was that they will all need to step into the unknown and that can be frightening; but I hope I have produced a slight opening to what I expected is a closed door, and what was unknown, will now become their new norm.