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Chapter 23 – Welfare Matters
the UDR Old Comrades’ Association
“When I retired from the UDR, one of
the first things I did was to form an association of old comrades
so that we could meet old friends, hold social occasions and of
course most importantly talk about old times and re-fight old
battles. We met in the
men’s canteen at Laurel Hill; our first Hon Secretary was John
Kerr. He and our first Hon. Treasurer both used a plastic bag to
carry their papers! Changed
days now as all officials seem to carry lovely brief cases,
although the Hon Treasurer now uses a fancy brief case containing
two chequebooks and many other very secret official papers. However
it soon became obvious that although the craic was still
good many old comrades were not as healthy as they used to be and
welfare matters came more and more to the fore and of utmost
Forming E Company Welfare Office
Although there was a substantial amount
of money in the Benevolent Fund it was very difficult for anyone to
fill in the forms and go through the other hoops necessary.
The Army Welfare Office had to deal mostly with family
matters and their own serving soldiers.
I felt it necessary to try to organise
our own Welfare office and staff who knew the local area and the
men and women who had served the local community so well.
What a task this turned out to be.
I went to many meetings, met many government officials and
just listened to how others were setting themselves up with
Government and EU money. I
must say that many of these organisations seemed pretty odd and
many of the things I have learned at these meetings I could not
repeat. I did meet members of Loyalists and Nationalists who were
out to get what they felt they needed.
Amongst these people was the MP for Fermanagh and hasn’t
she come a long way.
Applying For Funds
First of all I managed to get a grant
from the EU to hold a survey of potential members and their future
needs. We were
extremely lucky to have a room etc given to us at Laurel Hill so
our financial needs were small compared to some and only the salary
of staff had to be considered plus a few other items.
Certain members of NIVT were very kind and came to help us
through the maze of forms necessary and helped us give the right
answers to questions which in fact had to be given with emphasis on
facts that impressed the committee concerned.
Spreading the Word
When I knew my way round and had
received our grant I felt I should tell other UDR Associations how
to go about setting up their own Welfare Groups as it is fair to
say that some branches had a greater need than ours.
Strangely this was frowned upon by the “headyins”. So I
went on my own and this is why there is only one Welfare Office not
connected with the Army.
On the good side when we found ourselves with a cut in our
grants it was the UDR Benevolent Fund who came to our aid.
Advertising for a Welfare Officer
Our first task was to advertise (as per
grant regulations) for a Welfare Officer.
Many good people applied but the outstanding candidate was a
Sergeant “Greenfinch” Liz Clarke.
She understood from her own experiences how to help others
and by going to many meetings she soon found out the ways
New Welfare Office Premises
Eventually Laurel Hill closed and the
Army gradually disappeared. We
had to find a home in 2001. It
needed to be accessible and of course this meant more money!
We managed to get a central office in
New Row in Coleraine and gradually our borrowed equipment was
updated and experts like our new Chairman were able to help.
We also acquired photographs and other memorabilia to make
quite a pleasant base for old members to come to and Liz dispensed
tea and buns to all and sundry.
It was a success move and with the help of Alan, Charlie and
others it has prospered” George Lapsley (2007).
All In A Day’s Work – And More
To describe a typical day working as
Welfare Officer with the Association would be very difficult as
each day is different, bringing with it new problems and
challenges. Since we opened the office in the town centre 2001 we
have all been involved in a steep learning curve trying to balance
what the ‘funders’ expect of us and what our members actually
As with anything involving outside
finance there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ and paperwork
begets paperwork, meetings to ensure your face is known, working on
the premise, probably naively, that if ‘funders’ know you
personally they are more likely to look favourably at funding
applications. All this takes up valuable time which some would say
could be better spent.
Having said that, a typical day starts
with a quick cup of tea and chat about the plan for the day ahead
with my hard working volunteer, Charlie.
The plans have always one thing in common; they are always
good, always well thought out and always unsuccessful because we do
not know who is going to walk through the door and what problem
they might have. Sometimes
it can be easily worked out with a quick phone call to any number
of contacts built up over the years but sometimes it can be more
complex requiring a lot time, effort and sensitive handling.
When members are in need of financial
assistance we can approach the UDR Benevolent Fund for some help. The Fund was set up in the early 1970s when it
was the opinion of the courts that compensation to the tune of £400
for a murdered husband was enough for the family!!!
The Fund has flourished and can provide financial support to
all former members of the UDR and their families who are in need,
when the relevant paperwork has been completed, of course.
The UDR was formed in 1970 and many of
the recruits at that time were in the 30-year-old age group and in
some cases the 40s. We have an aged client base and with all the
inherent problems thereof. Trying to get a handle on the inflexible
and unimaginative working of government departments especially the
benefits branch is a very necessary part of our work, especially
when working with that age group.
Also try to convince people who have
worked all their lives, in the case of part time soldiers carrying
on two jobs, that they should apply for benefits which help their
quality of life is not easy. Sadly
another part of this equation is the trust issue; the idea of
confiding in a stranger your work history is not only invasive but
raises the issue of personal security. After over 30 years of
vigilance the transition to a purely civilian mode of thinking is
One of the many sad cases I had to deal
with was an elderly lady who was in poor health. Her son had served
in the Regiment and had died in a tragic accident.
I visited her on several occasions and helped to sort out
financial problems and just to have a chat with her.
One day she said to me that when her son was alive she
thought of him first thing when she woke and last thing before she
closed her eyes. On every visit to the local supermarket she bought
something he might like as a treat because she worried about him
and now she did not have to worry about him any more. But the worry
had been so much easier to bear than the pain she now had to bear
all day, every day. She
followed her son not long after.
I never understood why God could not have let her son live
just a few months longer and follow the natural course and let him
bury his mother.
Cancer is common among our membership
and watching some of them fight this appalling disease with the
same fortitude and determination that they fought the IRA is
moving. One of our Greenfinches fought the disease for
years and never gave up hope even when it returned for the fourth
time. Sadly she lost
that battle but she never lost her sense of humour and pride in
herself, demanding that her hair was washed and ‘set’
her every week in the hospital was a hard task but she was always
so glad to see visitors and that helped me!
She was weighed about 6 stone when two of our Greenfinches
along with her two daughters and granddaughters carried her coffin
into Killowen Church, Coleraine.
On a brighter note our ‘Drop in Centre
‘ in New Row is a great success with people dropping all the time
for a chat, a cup of tea and a look (and in many cases a good laugh
at the hair cuts) at the many old photographs.
I have heard ‘manys’ a good story over of a cuppa and a
digestive biscuit and quite a few not for publication.
Also, quite often, after a causal chat the main reason for
the visit can emerge and that is when the most important part of my
job starts. That can
range I said before from financial difficulties, to problems with
form filling, but also to the physical and mental problems faced by
many of our members.
Problems like arthritis are prevalent
from to long spend in the ditches doing cover man, bad knees caused
by to many long training marches on hard surfaces, wearing army
boots and carrying heavy bergans, damaged hearing (inadequate or
rather non existent hearing protection issued for use on full bore
ranges) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Try getting a GP in Coleraine to recognise and correctly
treat someone suffering from PTSD; the Army has only recently
admitted to such a thing exists.
All these new battles have to be fought and won for all
members who served in the UDR and while the funding lasts we will
The people I deal with come in all
shapes, sizes, sex and ages but all have one thing in common; they
all served their country in the UDR with courage and pride and they
deserve the very best that can be done for both them and their
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