Veterans honoured at royal garden party
Some 3000 old soldiers and young veterans have shared their combat stories at a royal garden party in their honour.
The Duchess of Gloucester hosted the annual event at Buckingham Palace , and was joined by celebrity supporters including singer Peter Andre.
It was organised by the Not Forgotten Association, a charity which has been helping ex-servicemen and women combat isolation and loneliness since 1920.
The duchess spoke to veterans who fought in conflicts all over the world, such as David Kerridge, a former major who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He has been helped by Combat Stress, a charity that supports the mental health of veterans.
Mr Kerridge said: “The Duchess took time to speak to me which was nice, a lot more time talking than just ‘hello, well done’ and then moving on.
“Combat Stress have been looking after me for a couple of years. They’ve brought me back to a better place than I was before. When they got involved I was in quite a bad place.
“Not to be rude to the NHS but they weren’t in the position to give me the treatment I needed. Combat Stress have been consistent and ongoing.
“Prince Harry and Prince William have really raised the profile of it [mental health]”
The duchess also spoke with Carole King, a former lance corporal who lost her leg following an accident while training.
She said: “This experience being here today is amazing – it’s once in a lifetime. My daughter has come as well for the first time and it’s lovely.
“The duchess was very easy to speak to, I was quite nervous but she made me feel at ease. She was genuinely interested and you could hear that which was really nice.”
Andre was there with his wife Emily MacDonagh, and between talking to veterans and stopping for photographs, he told the Press Association: “This is the second time I’ve come to this event. It’s such an honour.
“These guys have done so much for our country and it’s so incredible – and I say our country, most people think I’m Australian but I was born in England.
“You hear their stories and so many of them are injured – I think it’s just so incredible that the palace puts this event on.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that our country does which is give people recognition when it’s deserved, and I love that about England, I really do.
“Wherever I go in the world, I say that, the Brits give back to their own and I love that.”
Andre talked to Matthew Hillier, the youngest veteran in attendance at just 20, who was discharged last August for medical reasons and is doing a sports science course at college.
“It’s been fantastic today. I don’t really know how to put it into words, it’s so surreal, it probably won’t sink in until tomorrow or the weekend,” he said.
“I was in the Army for three years and joined at 17, one month and one day. There I was with all the 25 and 30 year-olds. I look back at all the photos and I was so skinny compared to the rest of them.
“My grandfather and great-grandfather were both in the army. My great grandfather was in the Battle of the Somme.
“It’s great meeting so many veterans. You have that bond, even though you’ve all done completely different stuff, the whole belonging that you have together really holds true when you talk to each other.”