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Help for Heroes - A cause we can all fight for...
It began with a charity bike ride to help soldiers seriously hurt on the frontline in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now it is one of the most recognised charities in the country. JENNY MAKIN talks to
Bryn Parry, founder of Help for Heroes, about his passion to help our brave boys and girls
AT THE start of next month Bryn Parry’s only son will deploy to Afghanistan for the first time. An officer aged 23, Tom is one of a battalion of around 650 men being sent to arguably one of the most dangerous places on earth.
If statistics continue it is highly likely that they will return, six months later, almost a third lighter in strength. Comparing it to recent tours in the troubled Middle East, at least 12 will have lost their lives and more than 150 will have been critically injured and have lost an arm, leg or both.
Bryn, the founder of Help for Heroes charity, who has himself served a decade with the Royal Green Jackets, knows his son will experience a new level of war that he never has. And he is rightly worried.
“I did three Northern Ireland tours and on the last one we lost seven men, yet I never even fired my rifle. In Afghanistan, Tom will have to deal with things I never had to. We will never be on the same level. It’s a dangerous place and I’m pretty worried.”
But instead of feeling helpless like most families with a relative in theatre, Bryn and his wife Emma have something to focus on.
Their charity, Help for Heroes (H4H, has become an overnight success, with celebrities from across the spectrum wanting to get involved.
Today it is set to reach £19m after the people of Britain took it to their heart following its launch in October 2007 and set about fundraising in every weird and wonderful way imaginable.
Private Johnson Beharry, above, was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth armed forces, for twice saving the lives of members of his unit under ambush.
A strictly non-political organisation, H4H is about getting people to support the troops, whether or not they support the wars – and providing first-class rehabilitation centres for those who come home with life-changing injuries.
Speaking at the Hampshire Roadshow this week, the start of a tour of village halls around the UK to get people on board, Bryn said: “Anyone who is related to someone in the armed forces feels helpless when they go into theatre.
It helps to think you are doing something positive - and the good news is that anybody can join us. You can’t stop them being wounded but you can genuinely help them get better.”
Meeting Derek, a big Fijian soldier, was reason enough to remind them they are doing something incredible. He was staying at Headley Court, the army’s rehabilitation centre in Surrey, having been seriously injured in Afghanistan and losing both legs.
Before Help for Heroes injected £8m into the hospital for a state-of-the-art swimming pool, there was only a handful of exercise machines housed in a greenhouse to help recuperating soldiers.
“Derek was lying there with both his legs off. The sheets were back, so it was there for us to see. His neck was in a brace. It was moving, trying to talk to someone and knowing they have lost both legs.”
Bryn later had the pleasure of introducing Derek to the England rugby team, who he trained with for three days having been fitted with prosthetics.
“To Lawrence Dallaglio and Jason Robinson, Derek was their hero. There was this mutual respect.”
A further £3.5m has been handed to charity Combat Stress, which helps veterans with mental wounds to deal with their experiences even years down the line, while £500,000 has helped to complete a ‘home from home’ for relatives visiting injured squaddies in the MOD’s Selly Oak hospital, Birmingham.
Bryn said: “We talk about the fun ways to raise money be it from a bike ride to a cake sale or body wax, but it’s not all about that. It’s about the men and women who are going out and risking their lives every day.
“When we met some of the guys with the most horrific injuries they were so brave, so matter of fact, so determined to be normal again. We just felt so humbled we had to do something.”