SSAFA Forces Help-Daily Telegraph Christmas appeal


Good to see the Telegraph given SSAFA publicity:

Serving in the Armed Forces is not easy – and never has been. The men and women who risk their lives for their country often suffer physically or psychologically from their experiences.

Not only they but their families, too, are affected, both during and after their years of service. Many need practical, financial and emotional support with problems ranging from homelessness to alcohol abuse. SSAFA – The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association – provides it.

Established in 1885 by an officer who appealed for funds to look after the families of the soldiers in Africa, it has quietly been helping service people and their families get back on their feet from the Boer War onwards.

Those currently receiving assistance may have served in conflicts that are now passing into history but the current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to a sharp rise in workload.

"The care that SSAFA provides is as significant and relevant today as at any time in the past," Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, said last month.

The scope and scale of its work is enormous: from the D-Day veteran in ill-health to the isolated young mother in Germany; from the disabled child in need of a holiday to the lonely young widow trying to bring up a family; from the wounded soldier to those coping with the stress and worry of separation.

Anyone who has served in the Armed Forces is eligible for assistance, including reservists and the Territorial Army.

The charity's minimal professional staff deploy another small army – of volunteers – whose work has changed with differing needs in the course of more than a century. Currently 7,000 people help out by providing nursing, social work and counselling to more than 50,000 people each year. They do this in Germany, Cyprus, Nepal, Gibraltar, Brunei and Canada – as well as in the UK.

Each case costs just £34 to process, but that alone amounts to £1.7 million a year. In addition, SSAFA provides a home for elderly ex-service people, temporary accommodation for separated families and child protection. It also helps service people who want to adopt – and possibly in future foster – but cannot do so via the normal channels because of the Forces' peripatetic lifestyle. And SSAFA runs a confidential support line which takes 5,000 calls a year.

Many of those who assist the charity have themselves been helped by it.

As one such volunteer says: "SSAFA is the bridge from absolute helplessness."


The Sunday Telegraph have now added further cases:

As Wally Alexander watched the television coverage from Iraq, the horrific battle scenes were frighteningly familiar. Since seeing those images, he has relived the bloodiness of warfare in his dreams. "The photographs of British soldiers, beheaded, their bodies pinned to poles," he says haltingly. "The sputtering sound of gun battles in the desert. The 120 degrees heat. It all came back in gruesome technicolour. I would wake up, covered in sweat, reliving that desert warfare."

Mr Alexander was not, as one might assume, recalling his days as a squaddie during the war in Iraq. He was, instead, remembering his experiences with The Royal Sussex Regiment (now The Queen's Regiment) in Aden during the 1960s.

Then, at 18, Mr Alexander witnessed one of Britain's most brutal wars. It took a horrific toll on his health. He still suffers from emphysema. But it has been the psychological legacy of the Aden war that has, until recently, caused him extreme distress.

When, earlier this year, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families' Association (SSAFA) contacted Mr Alexander, he was at his lowest ebb. "I truly believe I would not be here now if it was not for the SSAFA," he says. "They turned around my life. I was diagnosed as suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and my SSAFA counsellor is terrific. During the years directly after the Aden war, I barely thought of the gruesome things I had seen. Then, suddenly, during this Gulf war, it all came back shockingly."

But it hasn't only been at an emotional level that the charity has been able to help Mr Alexander, 58. Unable to work, he recently moved to housing association accommodation in Kent, but he had no belongings. "All I had was a mattress on which I slept on the floor," he says. "The SSAFA contacted my old regiment's association, the British Legion… all sorts of people. They helped to pay for furniture and decoration. They have helped give me back my sense of pride and a measure of independence again. I am enormously grateful."

Mr Alexander is but one of 50,000 British ex-service men and women the SSAFA helps each year. With 7,000 volunteers helping its specially trained staff, the charity provides practical and financial assistance and gives emotional support to those who have served – even if it had been for but one day – in Britain's Armed Forces.

Set up in 1885 by Colonel James Gildea, an officer of The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, it has been helping our forces since the Boer War and, in its early years, it created the forerunner of the district nurse. It is contracted by the Ministry of Defence to give health and social work services to members of the Armed Forces, especially those serving overseas.

For Peter Otterley, a sailor on the HMS Ardent during the Falklands War in 1982, the charity has transformed his life. When a heart attack in May last year led to by-pass surgery, he suffered major leg injuries caused by a lack of blood flow to his limb. In September, the limb was amputated. "The SSAFA stepped in, providing an electric wheelchair for me. When my family and I were rehoused in a bungalow, the charity helped furnish it," he says. "They even helped pay for clothes for my children. I cannot express my respect and admiration for the work the SSAFA does for servicemen and women who have fought for their country."

Like many sailors, soldiers and airmen, Mr Otterley, now 43, went to war feeling confident, even cocky. "As far as we were concerned, the Falklands was British soil, the Argentinians had invaded and we were going to throw them off it. But we had no idea, not really, of the reality of war. When the Ardent was sunk we lost about 22 men. I was only 19-years-old. It was utterly terrifying.

"Since the war I have been back to the Falklands twice, and the gratitude and kindness of the islanders has been humbling. The last time I visited I stood overlooking San Carlos Water, at the war memorial, and thanked God I had survived. And I survived, ultimately, because organisations like the SSAFA rallied around. One cannot buy that kind of support. And our Armed Forces deserve it."
Probably worth reiterating our long standing offer to any genuine forces charity ..... we are very keen to help you with your publicity and will offer free advertising on here. We get 6-7 million hits per month and have over 20k register users so that is a great way to get your message across. If you are interested please drop us an email at


Article about the SSAFA confidential Helpline in todays Telegraph

A force for good in a tough world

Life on the front line can have painful repercussions for servicemen and their families – but help is now at the end of a phone. Cassandra Jardine reports

The man at the other end of the Confidential Support Line is in tears. He cannot cope, he is saying; he keeps having nightmares about the time he served in Northern Ireland. Those memories were stirred up when he lost his brother in a car crash, he explains, and soon after that his parents also died.

Black Watch soldier reunited with his wife
Service families look forward to leave but it can often bring heartache

He has rung the helpline as a last resort because he doesn't know where else to turn. He cannot speak to his wife about his feelings – she has enough to deal with looking after their three children. The mental health service, to which his doctor has referred him, has told him he can't have an appointment for six weeks and he is frightened about what he might do in the meantime because he is having thoughts about harming himself and others.

There are no names, no service numbers attached to calls like these because the whole idea of the helpline, run by SSAFA Forces Help, one of the charities supported by the Telegraph Christmas Appeal, is that it is totally confidential. Although run from within an Army site, the service, which helps the Royal Navy and RAF as well as Army personnel, is strictly civilian. The idea is that those who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces, and their families, need somewhere to turn that is outside the chain of command.

Such an idea used to be anathema within the closed worlds of the forces but since the line was set up in late 1997 it has highlighted an urgent need: the number of calls has grown to its current level of 4,500 a year. It is just one of the ways in which SSAFA picks up the emotional pieces left behind by jobs that not only require those who do them to witness terrible sights, but also place uncommon stress upon their families.

The need for this help is becoming increasingly apparent, with a succession of senior Army officers speaking out about the poor conditions endured by those who work under them.

Over Christmas, Major-General Sir Richard Shirreff, commander of British forces in Iraq, said more should be done on the home front for soldiers serving on the front line and in November, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, spoke scathingly of the pay, just over £1,000 a month, that soldiers receive for putting themselves at risk. As matters stand, not only the serving personnel but their families feel discounted and mutinous.

The SSAFA Stepping Stones home in north London is a refuge to which families of servicemen retreat when they can no longer bear life in quarters. Mandi Cameron, the manager, says she is expecting another influx, with troops going back to their units after the New Year break. "That's the time when the wives who have been struggling to cope over Christmas realise they want to get out," she says. "We are braced for it."

The women arriving will be like Clare, 31, who left Cyprus with her four children, aged between one and 12, last summer while her husband returned to Iraq. Her husband wasn't violent towards her – unlike the husbands of half the women at the refuge – but she echoes the feelings of a woman who says: "The men go out to the front line as nice guys and they come back animals."

Clare's husband, whose name she does not want to give, is a Fusilier. "He's a brilliant bloke," she says, "but after his return from Iraq the first time he was changed.

"A close friend of his was blown up and he helped carry the coffin. He tried to mask his feelings, like many of them do – they think they can play the tough guy and deal with it – but he was angry, moody and he had started to dislike the Army. It can be humiliating when everyone shouts at you and disciplines you. He would take it out on me because he was really unhappy in himself. It wasn't good for the children to be woken at night by arguments."

Her husband was one of the few who faced up, with her help, to his need for treatment, but he didn't get it. "He was dreading going back again this summer. He asked for help from the psychiatric nurse at the base in Cyprus. But the nurse didn't turn up for the first appointment and his boss didn't want to give him the time off to see the nurse because he felt there was no need.

"When he finally saw the nurse he was asked to fill in a questionnaire and was told he was not suffering from anger. He was so sure that he needed help that he got a book about it and underlined long passages that seemed to be all about how he felt and behaved. But the psychiatric nurse didn't take him seriously even after he took an overdose."

In despair, Clare talked to SSAFA marriage guidance counsellors and social workers. "They were wonderful," she says, but eventually she decided that she had to take the children away.

Leaving a husband in the forces is not undertaken lightly, because it is the men who stay in forces housing, while the family has to leave within 93 days of a separation, or even bereavement. They don't have homes to go to and are not on council or housing association waiting lists, and a move means taking children far from their fathers.

"We see the children arrive here angry or withdrawn," says Cameron. "For them, separation is like bereavement."

The Stepping Stones home helps those who do leave to sort themselves out, emotionally, financially and practically, with the help of social workers, debt counselling and aid filling in forms.

After four months, Clare is about to move into a three-bedroom house near her mother in the Midlands; she hopes her children will no longer have their education and friendships disrupted by constant change. Her husband is back from his second tour in Iraq and in hospital. There's a possibility that they might even be reconciled one day.

"But there's a lot of work to do before I could live with him again," Clare says.

Relationship problems are the main reason why service people and their families call SSAFA's Confidential Support Line, which was set up in response to the bad publicity that the Army, in particular, was receiving for bullying and harassment.

"It was quite awful," says Myra Orr, manager of the helpline, referring to the stories of homophobia, rough initiation ceremonies and victimisation.

Many of those issues have now been addressed and that reason for calling has sunk to fourth on the list. After marital troubles and bereavement, the second most common reason is health welfare, followed by terms and conditions (pay and postings). Recently, one category of call has become so prevalent that, a year ago, a specialist line was created – for those who have gone Awol. Disenchanted with Army life, or traumatised by conflict, some would rather run than return at the end of a leave.

Last May the MoD admitted that nearly 1,000 British soldiers had gone on the run since the start of the Iraq war and were still missing. Many more go absent temporarily, even though deserters know that they will be arrested and sent to prison.

"Those who call me," says "Awol Andy", who runs the line, "are at a loss to know what to do with their lives. What I can do is contact their commanding officer and find out what they face if they return – they must return because you can't run an army, navy or air force with people saying 'I don't like it' after they have signed up – so they have to go back, but this allows them to make an informed decision."

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has called for an urgent review of the support given to the services and their families. "They are doing so much for us, we need to help them," he said. Housing, education, psychiatric and medical support – all these need to come under scrutiny.

The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved successful at least on this front: they have made politicians and civilians take note of the way we treat those who serve this country in the most taxing of jobs. While much more may be done in future, right now SSAFA Forces Help is working to pick up the pieces.


deleted duplicate, gremlins


Book Reviewer
There is another piece in today's Telegraph on SSAFA Help.

Meanwhile, I thought it was worth reprinting this item from the paper's editor just before Christmas:

Time to say: 'Thank you, Mr Atkins'
By Charles Moore
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 09/12/2006

Last month, after attending the funeral in Liverpool of a comrade killed in Iraq, two Royal Marines tried to enter the Walkabout bar for a drink, wearing their uniform. They were refused entry, according to a spokesman for the bar "due to previous issues with uniformed customers".

We have been here before. Kipling's most famous poem about the neglect of the British soldier ("It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that…") begins with these lines: "I went into a public 'ouse to get a pint of beer,/ The publican 'e up and sez, 'We serve no red-coats here.' "

Because the 20th century was one of total war, everyone knew something of what it is to be in the Services. Hardly a family was untouched by the conflicts. In the 21st, we have reverted to the pre-1914 situation that Kipling described. Soldiers, sailors and airmen do the most astonishing things on our behalf, and we neither know nor care very much.

It is this sense of separation from the society that they serve, more than any single issue about money or kit or conditions or Iraq, which is behind the present grumbling from the Armed Forces. This is what General Sir Richard Dannatt was trying to address a few weeks ago: he even raised the possibility that the Army might not survive. It was this "cultural" problem that lay behind General Sir Mike Jackson's Dimbleby lecture this week.

I have been talking to various Servicemen, of different ages, to try to understand more of what worries them.

The first thing that they all say, perhaps surprisingly, is that the service is better than when they joined it. Those old enough to remember Cold War years recall boredom. Now there is plenty for everyone to do — sometimes too much — and real skills are more in demand than ever. They also claim that comradeship and loyalty have been maintained. The ethos is still there.

But life has also become more difficult because the civilian world has so little idea of the military one. There are fewer than a quarter of a million people in the Services, so many people do not know any servicemen personally.

Who else, in the age of quick air travel back and forth, has to endure such long separations from family? Who else has to move house so often? Service life can be particularly difficult for a man in the Territorial Army who lacks the regimental support available to the full-timers. He comes home and resumes his normal job after six months facing danger and hostility in Iraq, and his mates barely notice what he has done. He feels a stranger in his own land. There can be a sense of disappointment with one's fellow citizens.

One young officer who had been serving in Sierra Leone returned home. The first story he noticed in the press was of a black woman suing because she had been given a white prosthetic limb. He had just come from a place in which 100,000 people had suffered amputations: he could see that her situation must be annoying, but he could not share her sense of outrage.

He feels that modern society is ungrateful — not just for what he and his comrades do, but for everything that makes their lives comfortable and easy. Soldiers feel a bit wistful about a celebrity culture that lauds a television star, but pays scarcely any attention to the men in 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand province who fought for literally every day of their six-month tour of duty.

Sometimes it is worse than indifference. The Muslim Council of Britain will not condemn the killing or kidnapping of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some Muslims here abuse servicemen in person.

Some teachers preach to their pupils against joining up. This week, Plaid Cymru, uncritically reported by the BBC, attacked the Army for recruiting hard in schools in poor areas in Wales. It was "exploitation", they said. Why wasn't it seen as offering opportunity to young people who needed it?

Then there is my own trade. The papers often speak of servicemen as "heroes", but in fact the media are much readier than we used to be to pass instant and critical judgment on a nasty incident. It is the age of the "strategic corporal" — the one, small, junior error having a global, often photographic presence.

No one defends barbaric behaviour, but the issue of "scrutiny", both by media and by lawyers, is a painful one. People who do not know what it is like to be in combat happily tell people who do what they have done wrong.

Human rights sound good, but the trouble with rights as now interpreted is that they exalt the individual over the shared, and in battle the capacity to do the opposite is a matter of life and death. Young men will risk death for their comrades: it can be too much to risk litigation as well.

If, added to all of this, you have pretty poor housing, pretty poor pay, and an unpopular campaign in Iraq that sends some men back there three or even four times to a role in which they feel they can achieve little, you have trouble. Kipling again: "You're droppin' the pick of the Army/ Because you don't 'elp 'em remain."

Then there is the Government and the Ministry of Defence. One officer summed it up in a good phrase. Everything, he told me, is shown in such a "depressingly positive light". It perfectly describes New Labour's presentational skills in the twilight months of the Prime Minister. Servicemen feel that there is a radical disjunction between what politicians say about their lives, and what their lives are actually like. General Jackson called it "Kafka-esque". Perhaps it is more Orwellian — the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four in which huge ministries announce unreal achievements in interminable wars. Between the two stools of optimistic Tony Blair asking the earth and grumpy Gordon Brown pinching the pennies, the Services fall with a heavy thump.

Kipling's poems were loved by common soldiers because he saw everything from their point of view. They feel desolate to know that so few people in positions of power — cultural, educational, political — now understand what that point of view is.

Hearing all these anxieties has made me feel how urgent it is to help. How to do so is a big, complicated question about modern life. But there is one small, simple thing that Daily Telegraph readers can do at once, in time for Christmas. That is to support the paper's Christmas Appeal for SSAFA, the servicemen's charity.

SSAFA helps maintain that "contract" which General Jackson worries is under strain. It accepts the lifelong obligation of society to people who have served in Army, Navy and Air Force and to their families. And its 3,500 volunteers have enough of that Kipling-esque sympathy to understand the mental strain of readjustment to civilian life, or of memories of war long buried and now troubling people in old age. They help people who once, perhaps, had their share of glory, but now have more than their share of debt, invalidity, homelessness, alcoholism or bereavement.

They understand the peculiar poignancy of once-strong people who now find themselves in a weak position. We all need to do more of that.

well said. SSAFA deserve our support.

Next time the Big Brew takes place in your location, make sure you go along and dig out a couple of pennies to help.

Le Chevre
I will not be donating to SSAFA. Whilst their volunteer side (with whom I work quite often), is excellent, I do not like some of the business practices of their commercial arm (which includes the helpline).
ViroBono said:
I will not be donating to SSAFA. Whilst their volunteer side (with whom I work quite often), is excellent, I do not like some of the business practices of their commercial arm (which includes the helpline).
Care to expand?


RFUK said:
ViroBono said:
I will not be donating to SSAFA. Whilst their volunteer side (with whom I work quite often), is excellent, I do not like some of the business practices of their commercial arm (which includes the helpline).
Care to expand?
Yes care to expand.
Without donations there would be no excellent volunteer side for you to work with quite often.
RFUK said:
Care to expand?
I think that in some areas of their SSAFA's commercial work for the forces the tail wags the dog to an extent - though not as much as it used to.

I find the automatic appointment of senior officers's wives to SSAFA committees somewhat feudal, and that this arrangement may also give SSAFA an unfair advantage when bidding for commercial contracts, and when dealing with other agencies. I think that this sometimes creates difficulties in the event of complaints against one of SSAFA's 'commercial' staff or their services.

Just my opinion.

Similar threads

Latest Threads