IN 1974, on February 4 on the M62, an IRA bomb exploded on a coach carrying off-duty British army forces personnel and their families.

The explosion killed 12 and wounded more than 50.

Phil Garbutt was meant to be on that coach with his fellow soldiers, but because he had other regimental duty that day, he wasn’t.

He was 23 at the time. Now 63, he joined the army aged 17 and left at 38.

“I was a gunner. I did lots of tours in Northern Ireland,”he says. “It was difficult for everyone out there. I was with the first lot out there when I was just 18. I lost a few friends.”

And Phil was hit by a bomb just outside Belleek on the border.

“We were doing patrol in a Land Rover.

The driver and commander was in front, I was stood in back,”he remembers.

“A milk churn bomb went off, there were no serious injuries, but it was a big shock.

Three days later, I passed the crater in the road on foot patrol. Nothing bothered me after that: literally nothing. It’s hard to explain, it’s like falling off a horse and getting back straight back on. It makes you grow up.”

Phil had worked with horses in the army, and after he left had stints in Romania and Canada, working as a Farrier. His marriage broke down. A neck and shoulder injury from the army, impacted on his work.

“I came back to the UK, divorced and ended up homeless, living in my car for a while then in a derelict house.”

But help was at hand.

Riverside ECHG is a leading social landlord in the UK with an award-winning national network of veterans services, developed and driven by staff who themselves have served in the armed forces.

Its national helpline, SPACES, has helped 12,000 veterans into housing since it took its first call from a struggling homeless veteran back in 2000.

Riverside runs two flagship temporary housing, training and support centres, Mike Jackson House near Aldershot garrison and The Beacon, near Catterick garrison, with teams dedicated to ensuring every veteran they work with makes a successful transition into civilian life, helping with housing, health, counselling, training or jobs.

His local council put Phil in touch with Mike Jackson House and he moved in in 2012.

Mike Jackson House is home to 25 veterans at any one time for up to 18 months and has helped more than 200 homeless veterans since it first opened its doors in 2008.

Asking Phil about his trauma, he shuts down: “No offence, but it’s harder to talk to a civilian than another army person. I had support from Jane, she’s ex forces: the sort of people you can talk to.”

Jane McClintock is a support worker at Riverside who worked with Phil. Now 50, she served almost 23 years in the army, starting off in the women’s corps before moving to the men’s army in ’93.

She worked in the transport corps and Ghurkha logistics, looking after the welfare of 600 soldiers and their families, acting as a link to civilian agencies – social services, GPs, hospitals, mental health units.

Jane qualified as a counsellor outside the army. She explains why being ex-Services helps when caring for veterans: “You are taught very early on to be part of a team. You’re punished as a team and rewarded as a team. So from the offset you’re a band of brothers, which is imperative in a war situation. It brings camaraderie, a real closeness with people you work with.”

Veterans support organisation, The Forces in Mind Trust, estimate the cost of helping ex-Servicemen and women who have problems adapting to civilian life will rise to £122 million a year. Alcohol misuse has the biggest effect, followed by mental health issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), unemployment, family breakdown and homelessness; all issues at the coalface of Riverside’s work.

For older Veterans like Phil, Jane says leaving the forces is like bereavement.

“It’s like having lost a limb, no – like losing lots of limbs – because it was everything I lived and breathed for, for a long time,” she says.

Veterans can struggle with a sense of hopelessness, especially if they were revered in the army, but are now, just like everyone else.

“They also don’t know the procedures of being a civilian – getting a home, a job.”

More than 90 per cent of veterans helped at Mike Jackson House move on successfully – around 100 a year.

Phil said when he left the army he just got on with it, despite losing everything.

“Mike Jackson House puts you back on your feet.

The fact they let me help with the other blokes helped a lot. It gave my self-confidence back.”

Phil acted as a mentor to the younger veterans.

“Mike Jackson House helped me and I’ll help them help the lads. Some can’t sleep, and have PTSD,” Phil says.

After Mike Jackson House, Phil met his new partner Sue through internet dating, and now lives with her in Romsey. Now too ill to work, he spends his time fishing, going to auctions, and helping out at Mike Jackson House.

“While I was in Mike Jackson House I collapsed,”he says. “The staff were brilliant.”

He ended up having a triple bypass. “If I wasn’t for Riverside , I would have died in that derelict house. Nobody would have known.”

He feels older veterans on the streets are forgotten.

“Ireland is overlooked now,”he says. “All those years it went on, it’s forgotten about, and so are the boys. There are lads out there in a worse state than those in Afghanistan. In Ireland, you walked among people not in uniforms trying to kill you. Families were killed. Two of my mates were killed in the coach bomb on the M62.”

That coach bomb is still reverberating for Phil.

“Phil was a sergeant at the time and was supposed to be on the coach but there was a silly reason he wasn’t – a regimental duty,”

says Jane “Luckily he wasn’t on board, but as a result he suffers huge survivor’s guilt, and it’s difficult to deal with now. He could speak to me because he knows I know how he feels. We have a code of loyalty and a respect and love for each other. It is a love.”

  • Any single Veteran facing homelessness can call Riverside’s SPACES phoneline no matter where they are in the country on 01748 833797 / 830191 / 872940.