One of the best things about having been in the army is that you become part of a massive family and wherever you go or whatever you do there are always people who come up to you and talk, just as if they are mates who only saw you yesterday.
When you are injured, it’s as if it happened to everyone. Of course you are the one with the scars, but from the lads in your regiment to veterans in your town, everyone wants to help, to fundraise, and to laugh at you and the fact that your injuries really aren’t as bad as you make out and are in fact just a way of you getting off guard duty and into the Jack Wagon.
There is never any embarrassment or shyness with ex-army lads. You have all been in the same boat and all seen each other in a bad way, especially if you’ve done P Company para selection!
During this summer, veterans and their families have raised money for military charities on so many ways. My mate Benny, who is now a paramedic in Birmingham, rode with his crew from John O’ Groats to Lands End, using all his holiday to raise money. He was with me when I was injured, his mum was the ambulance dispatcher from Birmingham when I was flown back, and his wife was the ambulance driver who picked me from Brize Norton. His aunt immediately went to church and her congregation started a prayer group for all injured soldiers. How’s that for a family connection.
In Doncaster I have a lovely lady called Jean who is an extreme knitter! Her late husband was ex military, and Jean now supports injured lads by knitting toys and selling them to raise money. The service days may be long ago but the connection never stops.
Shaun from Rossington supports me at every event. Always behind me and looking really scary, till you realise that his many tattoos are in fact the names of every fallen serviceman and woman from Iraq and Afghanistan.
And then there is Paul. How someone so very small can have such a massive heart is a mystery to science. He works on massive radio masts although he doesn’t like heights, and every year does something harder and madder to support the wounded.
This is a tiny fraction of the people doing the Three Peaks, the Tough Mudder, climbing mountains or cycling miles for charity.
Once you have been in the forces you are family. When I was at Headley Court, my mum was often there when the Princes used to visit, and Prince Harry always called her mum too. She says it’s great knowing all the lads, but now she’s got thousands to worry about and not just one.
I love my army family. I may not see them all as often as I like, but I know if I put out a call saying I needed them Bawtry Road would need to be widened to get them all here.
* Ben Parkinson, Injured Doncaster war hero