Following yesterday's introduction to the incredible work of Somerset pensioners (and British Armed Forces legends) Mo and Jo, the pair take us through hospital visits and the importance of support from home for soldiers at the front.
'Mo and I have been to so many medal parades and homecomings, which we enjoy so much as we get to meet the soldiers we correspond with. We have some marvelous contributors who help us as without them we would not be able to send to many gifts to the troops, nor letters. It is so important that the support is there for them. Our aim is to see that we can make these men and women smile when they open a parcel from a stranger, and then with a letter a bond can be made. A number of the soldiers do not have friends or families, so the sergeant of the company makes sure that a parcel is given along with a letter. Some of the sergeants have said ‘I have at least 21 boys from the ages of 18 to 21 and they are scared, and a letter from you, Jo, is so important’. It gives us a lift to know that the boys know we support them.
When this tour is over it will be nearly six years since we started our cause and we will carry on until the last soldier/sailor/airman is on the plane coming home to their families and loves ones. We have grandchildren in the forces and are so proud of our armed services; we believe they are the best in the world. As one young sergeant put it to me a few days ago, ‘You are both the model examples that everybody at home should aspire to be, and if asked what is great about Great Britain, my only answer would be you.’
Now what could be better than that?
On 5 July 2012, Mo and I were invited to Selly Oak and the Queen Elizabeth hospitals (where troops are sent to recover following injury on the front line), where we have been sending fresh fruit and gifts every two weeks with the help of Derby and Fred Brown from our local market. The journey took three hours but fortunately it was a beautiful day. We were welcomed as if we were members of the Royal family, especially by the welfare officer of the Red Cross, Michelle McLaughlin. The Red Cross is wonderful and it takes care of the families of the wounded so dedicatedly. We were introduced to all the staff, and one of the padres recognized us from a medal parade that we had recently attended. We were taken to all of the homes that have been sponsored by the regiments themselves and noticed how prevalent the SSAFA was. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is indeed a wonderful place for our wounded to be taken to, and unfortunately while we were there, six boys had just been flown in so the visitation was halted for some time. We did, however, see some of the boys that were able to walk about and it enabled us to see how well our soldiers are treated during their recovery. We spent a wonderful day at the hospitals and were invited back whenever we wanted, which we will no doubt do if this war continues.
We are now into Herrick 17 and the Gurkha Regiment, 4 companies in all, have some 700 soldiers deployed, and the 40th Commandos, based in Taunton, have deployed some 650. We have been in touch with most of them and no doubt parcels will get to them through the Mo and Jo Team. The 1 Mercians is another regiment that we have always taken care of, and of course the canine heroes must be in our minds, together with the military police, the fire services, the photographers and the ‘bomb hunters’ – the EOD task force. All of these regiments and serving personnel are high on our list of parcels, and the letters we receive are really overwhelming.
Since the start of our cause there is one man who has helped us so much; Sir Freddie Viggers who, at the time we were starting the parcels and letters, was the adjutant general of the British Army. It was through contacts I was to ask him for his help, and after a few months he christened me ‘Trouble’ and the name has stuck. Sir Freddie invited Mo and myself to Westminster Palace, and that was indeed a day to remember. We were shown all over the palace, which the public does not have access to, which was an honour.
Sadly some 18 months ago, Sir Freddie suffered a stroke, from which he is still recovering. We regularly keep in touch and one day we will meet again and I’m waiting for him to shout ‘Here comes Trouble again’.
I do admit I am like a ferret – I do go to the top for all of the information that I can acquire. For example, at the moment I’m in touch with the Road Haulage Association to see if we can get a volunteer to take our gifts of fruit to Queen Elizabeth hospital for the wounded.
We do get so many invites to go to different events, which we attend most of, but the medal parades are especially important to us as we like to meet the padres and the men and women to thank them for the responsibilities they take up when on the front line in an inhospitable land. We have received a number of presents from regiments, including the Afghan medal (given by the 1st Rifles), and being made honourary Gurkhas. All of gifts adorn our walls, and we are known as BFPO 15 The Recycled Teenagers.
Now that the Christmas season is coming we have to make sure that the parcels go out as soon as possible, and then we step back for a brief time so that the families and the governmental charities can do their bit.'
Mo and Jo, pensioners from Somerset, are legendary figures in the British Armed Forces. With little more than shoe box sized care packages, they work tirelessly to give front-line soldiers the home comforts and ordinary items that we take for granted, but are valued so highly on the front line. In return for their inspiring work, Mo and Jo have been celebrated by high-ranking officers and, more importantly, the men on tours of duty in heartfelt letters of thanks. Two of these letters were selected by Andrew Roberts in his book Love, Tommy.