By Nicola Coughlin
Each year on the 11th of November we observe Armistice Day to recall the end of World War I and honour the veterans of previous conflict. But how many of us consider those who are carers of veterans and what all of this means to them? The following story may resonate with many of you.
Sue, daughter to 97 year old Tony, a much decorated veteran of the Second World War, talks fondly about her dear Dad and his wartime experiences. “Tony’s active service began in May 1943, when he was just 20 years old, on the Atlantic Convoy escorting merchant vessels sailing from New York. Later, deployed on the Arctic Convoy, Tony endured appalling conditions from violent storms to freezing temperatures which left the deck of the ship completely ice laden – this was in addition to facing the constant danger of enemy vessels. Sir Winston Churchill described the Arctic Convoys as ‘The Worst Journey in the World’. Tony was also part of the D-Day Invasion, sailing to Normandy early on June 6th 1944, surrounded by gunfire, a journey which today he feels he is lucky to have survived”.
In recent years, Tony has been keen to attend many post war reunions and commemorative events for which he has inevitably relied heavily on Sue’s help. As well as many Remembrance Sunday trips to the Cenotaph, they joined the Royal British Legion D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance*. Sue felt it an honour to be with her Dad, and the other veterans, on such an incredible occasion.
What makes caring for a veteran different?
Sue feels there is additional emotional, physical and logistical support needed on top of her regular responsibilities as a carer.
- Preparation: It is always a great privilege for Sue to attend these wonderful occasions but few of us would consider how demanding they are for the carer. Every event involves a lot of planning and preparation, including cleaning all the medals!
- Logistics: There is a lot to consider in getting an albeit fit but nevertheless elderly gentleman to the right place at the right time, ensuring he can cope with the transport and that he gets adequate rest and refreshment throughout long days
- Medical Needs: Invariably at this age a veteran will have some medical needs so it is important to ensure that supplies are prepared and plans made for them to be administered at the right times, which can be very tricky during strictly timed ceremonies.
- Physical Help On event days Sue often has to get her Dad up very early, helping him to wash and dress, as well as getting his uniform on. Being smart is obviously of paramount importance to him
- Appreciation of achievements and memories – good and bad. Sue recognises a responsibility in keeping our appreciation and memories of our war heroes alive, being aware of the much bigger picture.
- Emotional Support Sue says Tony rarely spoke about his wartime experiences when she was growing. However, with all the recent memorial events, some of his locked away memories have surfaced. He mentions feelings of guilt for those who weren’t lucky enough to survive as well as terrible recollections of seeing Prisoners of War. This means that he often becomes emotional at the events and Sue needs to be able to listen and empathise, at the same time trying not to allow Tony to get into dark places for the sake of his own health.
- In speaking to Sue I sense her most prevailing feeling is one of an enormous sense of pride in caring for a Dad who has given so much for his country.
Of course this is just one example of a Veteran Carer. There are many many more veterans of different conflict of all types all requiring different types of emotional and physical support.
*If you would like to read more about the Remembrance Voyage please follow this link: Royal British Legion D-Day Voyage | Fred. Olsen Cruises
Support for Veterans and their Carers
- Armed Forces carers | Action for Carers
- Care for Veterans
- Veterans | Royal Navy
- Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund | The RAF's leading welfare charity
- Service Leavers & Veterans | The British Army