By Paul Hutchinson, Hub Lead at Nacro’s Boston youth housing project
Traditionally Remembrance Day is to commend the end of the First World War and those who sacrificed themselves, but more recently we also acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country in any conflict and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve.
I’m called a veteran. I’m not even sure what it means, it’s a word that get used all the time – what I do know is I gave seven years of my life to my Queen and country. I was 17 years old the first time I walked on to a military camp. I served in the Queens Royal Lancers tank regiment – we were known as the Death or Glory Boys. Initially I was a tank driver, but soon found myself sat in a gunner’s seat in charge of one of the biggest, and most deadly main armaments on any tank in the world.
I served overseas on operational tours in Bosnia and I’ve been to places that very few people in the world will ever even know exist, let alone be able to visit. I’ve spent time training in more countries than I have time to list. Amongst all that, I did it with a group of other men and women, people to this day I call my brothers and sisters
Luckily, a lot of them came home with me, sadly though, quite a few didn’t. This is why Remembrance Day is so important to me.
I know that it’s important to a lot of British people, for them to remember loved ones, friends, family or even to just remember the sacrifices our ancestors made for our safety, freedom and for peace. However, for a veteran it’s a bit different, if you’ll indulge me in a story I’ll briefly explain.
When I got to basic training in Winchester I roomed with another young lad, Ben. He was also going to be in my regiment and lived up the road from me – we hit it off and became good friends. He was known as Bill (for Bill and Ben) but I always knew him as Joker, due to his resemblance to Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the early Batman movie.
(In Bosnia in 2001)
Joker and I did 11-week Basic training together, three months trade training together and we got to the regiment at the same time. We remained friends for the next few years until I decided to move on to something new. But not Joker, he was a career soldier and he wanted to do 22 years. He wanted to go to more war zones, which he did. 18 months after I left the regiment, Joker went with the with the regiment to Iraq, on Thursday 18th April 2007, age just 24 years old. Ben, Bill, Joker was killed by an improvised explosive device.
Ben is just one story I could tell of friends I’ve lost and why Remembrance Day is so important to me. This week I will remember, my good friends, Joker, Mave, Bob, Turts, Stevie A, Andy H, Clarkey, “Jack” Frost, and Linden – my brothers.
Post-military and coming to Nacro
It’s really hard for ex-military to fit in in civilian life – many people end up going back in or joining another uniformed service. I flitted around a few different careers when I left, in the prison service and care homes but I still struggle to feel like I am part of society.
I found Nacro by chance. I was between jobs after really struggling to find my calling, I’d even looked at going back in the army. But due to injuries received while I was serving, I was on a war pension, so I was turned down. I contemplated retiring early and being a stay-at-home dad, but I needed something to alleviate the boredom. Nacro were advertising for a sessional worker in Boston, five minutes away from my house.
I so that’s how I started out, as a sessional worker, expecting very little. But what happened next surprised me. I was refreshed to find that Nacro was different than where else I had worked – people listened to me, no one judged me, I was nurtured and developed, my ideas were listened to like an equal and I soon found myself wanting more wanting to be part of this family, something I’d never felt since I left the army.
Now I am a hub lead, leading staff forwards, not into battle but into a new youth homeless contract. Finally, I feel like I belong.
(With my beautiful new dog, Dexter)