Armed Forces charity CEO tells of veterans' struggle to adjust to civilian life once war ended

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For many of the men and women serving in armed forces during the Second World War, the day victory was declared in Europe marked the beginning of their own personal battles, as they faced returning home having experienced the true horrors of war.

A few days after VE Day, on Sunday May 13, 1945, the then chairman of armed forces charity SSAFA, Air Vice-Marshall Sir Norman McEwan made a wireless appeal.

In it, he asked the people of the United Kingdom to remember that, for many of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and their families, even though the war had ended, their personal battles had not, and in some cases were just starting.

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This week the charity has been asking people to mark this pivotal moment in history and to join in the celebrations, but also to remember that for those who serve this nation in any conflict, Sir Norman's words remain as true today as they were then.

Circa 1940. British tommies going to fight at the battlefront in France. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images.Circa 1940. British tommies going to fight at the battlefront in France. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images.
Circa 1940. British tommies going to fight at the battlefront in France. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images. | Getty

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, the charity's current CEO, Sir Andrew Gregory, said that when the Second World War ended, for many service men and women, their issues ran on - including for his father, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Gregory, who had been injured during D Day and suffered from depression when he returned home to Sedbergh in Yorkshire.

Sir Andrew said: "Whether it was PTSD I don't know, but he lived with some of this trauma for the rest of his life."

He said: "I think for the men and women serving in the British Armed Forces, May 8 1945 was absolutely a celebration - the killing and the maiming had stopped and that was wonderful.

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"I think they would have been delighted to party wherever they were, but I think there will also have been some apprehension about what society they were going to return to and how they were going to be understood, given what they had been through."

Sir Andrew Gregory, CEO of the Armed Forces charity SSAFASir Andrew Gregory, CEO of the Armed Forces charity SSAFA
Sir Andrew Gregory, CEO of the Armed Forces charity SSAFA | other

SSAFA, which was first set up in 1885, provides lifelong support to serving men, women and veterans from the British Armed Forces and their families and dependents.

For Leeds after the Second World War, the charity's West Yorkshire branch would have been at the forefront, helping veterans whereever and whenever they could.

But Sir Andrew said it is hard to know exactly how many needed help as many veterans were - and still are - reluctant to seek it.

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"I know, through running this charity, we find that people who serve in the British Armed Forces have great values - discipline and respect for others, being among them - and they are proud and they don't want to seek help. They are proud of being in uniform and of the work they do.

File VE Day image.File VE Day image.
File VE Day image. | other

"So when they leave, whether demobbed at the end of war or leaving the Armed Forces today, they go out and they certainly have no desire to be seen to be asking for help.

"They quite often say 'oh no, there are others worse off than me'. But you when you look into their circumstances, those people absolutely deserve support and we can help them."

To donate to SSAFA’s Emergency Response Fund, visit to ssaf.as/vedonate or text 75VEDay 5 to 70085 to donate £5. Texts cost £5 plus a standard rate message.

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Opera singer Katherine Jenkins will perform tonight, Friday May 8, on the Royal Albert Stage, to an empty auditorium, to mark the VE Day 75th anniversary - in aid of SSAFA's Emergency Response Fund. The half-hour concert will be streamed live on YouTube at 7pm.

Anyone needing support can contact the charity's Forcesline on 0345 2415600.

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