Forces veterans celebrate fifth anniversary of successful club

A group that was set up in Sleaford to provide companionship and support for armed forces veterans has celebrated its fifth year of existence, demonstratinghow it has grown and gone from strength to strength.

Former Royal Marines Les Budding, 96, of Aslackby, and Philip Collins, whose father was put ashore on Sword beach on D-Day by Les in a landing craft. They were both first-time visitors to the Camaraderie Club. EMN-220503-141545001

Sleaford Camaraderie Club meets regularly at the Legionnaires Club to give veterans a chance to meet up with like-minded people for a chat and friendship and be signposted to help and suport if they so wish.

The event on Tuesday saw around 60 members attend to enjoy drinks, cake, a raffle and a quiz.

Sign up to our daily LincolnshireWorld Today newsletter

The get togethers are assisted by four volunteers - all veterans themselves. One of them, Jean Cornford said that the group started out with just a handful of members and it has grown to 75: “For a lot of the older veterans this is often the only time they go out in the week,” she said. “Some are widows and it means a lot. Some have not been out in two years.

Cutting the anniversary cake on the 5th anniversary of the Camaraderie Club in Lincolnshire - volunteer Jean Cornford (right). EMN-220503-141515001

“We have had 10 new members join recently. All services are represented.”

Her husband Doug, also a volunteer, said they all get a kick out of it: “It’s nice to see people who don’t get out much meeting friends and telling tall tales.”

Another veteran, Katy Birge-Wilson, recited a poem for the occasion. She is of Anglo-French parentage and served with the French Air Force and Army, before settling in this country.

She said of the club members: “They give me so much energy here and feel like I belong. I want to help and get so much out of it.”

Around 60 members of Sleaford Camaraderie Club met to celebrate its 5th anniversary at Sleaford Legionnaires Club. EMN-220503-141525001

Katy said raffle proceeds would go towards something nice. She noted that it is not just a male domain, with many ex-servicewomen also in attendance.

Among the newest members are D-Day landings veteran Les Budding, aged 96, from Aslackby and Philip Collins from Bourne, both ex-Royal Marines who were visiting for their first time. Philip’s father was in 45 Commando and was delivered onto Sword beach via landing craft by Les.

Les said: “They were in the second wave to go in and we were giving covering fire as they hit the beach.”

Les was chairman of the Boston branch of the Normandy Veterans Association for 22 years until it folded: “So we have taken advantage of the Camarederie Club and are delighted with what we have seen,” Les said.

Left - Major/Squadron Leader Michael Barnes served with the RAF and Royal Australian Air Force, while Jim Haggenson, is a former US Army pilot. EMN-220503-141535001

“Everybody is really welcoming and supportive,” added Philip.

Michael Barnes is a retired Squadron Leader who served with the Royal Australian Air Force as well as the RAF and is one of the longest serving members of the club. He commented: “It helps break up the week and you meet some kindred spirits.

“If you have a problem or need assistance, there is always someone there to help you.”

Jim Haagenson is the only member who used to be a US Army pilot. He liked the social side with like-minded people.

Sleaford Camaraderie Club members enjoying banter. EMN-220503-141556001

Ex-RAF servicewoman Kerri Watkins answered the call for volunteers after her mum died and said: “We have a brew and a giggle and look after each other. I’ve helped them and they’ve helped me. They have all made their friendships and now nobody is lonely. It is what the community needs and it is free. We just keep a register to keep and can put them in touch with support organisations.”

Camaraderie Club volunteer Katy Birge-Wilson. EMN-220503-141423001