Monday, 15 April 2024
Monday, 15 April 2024

Charity planning to close after 100 years supporting Commonwealth veterans

A charity which exclusively supports pre-independence ex-Service men and women across the Commonwealth celebrates its centenary next week but is already planning to close its doors in the next decade.

The Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL) has been distributing money to beneficiaries throughout the world for 100 years.

Using a network of ex-Service representatives, they aim to provide two meals a day to Commonwealth veterans who served The Crown (or their widows), and are living in poverty overseas.

However, with many of those beneficiaries now in their 90s, or even older, the RCEL will cease to exist in the next ten years when the last surviving beneficiaries die.

The RCEL holds its conference at the Canadian High Commission on September 26-27 September to commemorate and celebrate its centenary, but they are already looking for final funding to maintain their vital support until the last veteran or widow passes away. UK Government and Commonwealth representatives will be in attendance.

Chris Warren, Secretary General of the RCEL, said:

“Our conference is an opportunity for us to honour the memory of our patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who, for 70 years, remained committed to the plight of those Commonwealth veterans who served in the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom and their widows. Her Majesty showed a personal interest throughout her life and there is no doubt her involvement has helped to lift tens of thousands of veterans out of poverty.”

The London conference will be the first time delegates have been able to meet since the previous conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2016.

Chris Warren said:

“In 2018, the government announced a major grant from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) allowing us to increase our support from just one meal to a daily healthy diet each day and provide life-saving support to thousands of veterans and widows across the globe. The major UK Services charities provide match funding support, but the Government funding is due to end in March 2024 and we still have vital work to do.

“In many ways, our work is more important than ever, with our beneficiaries entering the evening of their lives.  Until the last one dies, in partnership with the Service charities, and we hope for an extension to the programme for Government funding we will work to ensure that no resident overseas who has served in our Armed Forces does not have sufficient to eat.

“Without additional financial support, the consequences will mean that many, with over half being widows, will die malnourished and in poverty. They came to support us in our hour of need, and we must continue to remember them in their hour of need.”

Chris added: “We must continue to work towards prevention of starvation, malnutrition and to improve their quality of life through a healthy diet. The WWII generation is ageing and in need of support due to few countries having a national health system similar to our NHS. The need to provide certainty with the provision of food to some of the most disadvantaged in the world is perhaps more important now than it was when we started out 100 years ago.”

This year the RCEL has assisted some 5,000 veterans and widows across 37 countries including Commonwealth nations and former Commonwealth countries pre-independence, via caseworkers who conduct assessments and distribute welfare support.

Charity planning to close after 100 years supporting Commonwealth veterans
Private Winston St George Harrison, who sadly passed away recently aged 96

The organisation has been in existence since 1921 following the First World War, with the Royal British Legion as one of its founding members, and the RBL continues that support today, providing match funding grants and office accommodation. More than 4.4 million Commonwealth service men and women from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean fought in the Second World War, with 360,000 casualties.

RCEL supported veterans such as the now recently sadly deceased Private Winston St George Harrison, 96, from Montego Bay, Jamaica (image inset). Winston joined Jamaica Home Guard in October 1943 serving through to September 1945.

Charity planning to close after 100 years supporting Commonwealth veterans
Cedric receiving a certificate to celebrate his 100th birthday

Cedric Chimala was born in Malawi on the 28th of January 1921 and earlier this year celebrated his 101st birthday. Mr Chimala left school at 15 and in 1937 when he was 16, the army came to his village looking for men to enlist and he enrolled.

When he returned to Malawi after the end of WW2, Mr Chimala had a breakdown and later relocated to Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he eventually settled in Bulawayo and found work as a gardener. His mental health improved over the years and in 1953 he married his now wife Elizabeth who was working for the Red Cross, training nurses. The couple went on to have children and continue to live in Bulawayo. Mr Chimala and his wife are now both retired and she is bedridden. Two of their great-grandchildren live with them and assist with their care.

Mr Chimala’s only income is his RCEL grant which provides food for him and his wife. Despite his age, he remains active and alert. He is very grateful for the support from RCEL on which he depends.

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