Forty years ago, at fifteen years of age, I had finished school and was waiting to join the Royal Navy. The careers advice I’d received at school in Sheffield was to work in the mines or the steel works. In fact, an Apprenticeship had been offered in Steel, but joining the Armed Forces was the only career I ever wanted to pursue. Thanks to Rod Stewart and the fly on the wall documentary ‘Sailor’ I decided I was best suited to a career in the Royal Navy. Watching the Spithead Fleet Review on our black and white TV, my joining date couldn’t come quickly enough. I wondered on which of those ships I would eventually serve.
First home leave 1977
During the next thirty four years, serving on various shore establishments and ships around the world, little did I know that the life and professional experiences being gained working with and managing sailors would come to great use in my next line of work.
I’ve worked for The White Ensign Association for just under six years now. When offered, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Nothing has changed. I have an office onboard HMS Belfast but I tend to work from home looking after my region. That region covers the south east of the country, outside of London and extending west to Royal Marines Poole. I manage to visit all the establishments in my area at least monthly and have the flexibility to make short notice visits when necessary. These visits include financial awareness presentations for new recruits; preparations for leaving the Naval Service and also tailored presentations depending on the requirements of individual ships. Recently one such presentation was given on request to the ships company of HMS Duncan as part of their wider Divisional Briefing Day. The presentation focused on explaining the increasingly complicated Armed Forces pensions. I am also fortunate to brief Executive Warrant Officers courses and the Naval Warrant Officers Staff Course regularly on the services we can provide to their people.
When conducting personal interviews, we usually don’t know what the individual wishes to see us about until they come through the door. Most commonly, these interviews tend to be around transition, the process of leaving the service and getting information on pensions, CVs, employment and sometimes housing. Sadly the word divorce also comes up occasionally. Although the vast majority of enquiries come from serving personnel, we do receive many approaches from the Veterans community. Just the other day I received a phone call from an elderly gentleman in his nineties. He joined the Royal Navy in 1938 as an Officer Cadet. He was calling on his wedding day, having finally got around to marrying his partner of 37 years. He wanted to find out how to obtain her a UK passport. Not an easy endeavour given our current political situation. Another regular enquiry from the Veterans community is that of wives ringing to say their husband has passed away and might they be entitled to some of his pension. Fortunately the answer to this question is usually yes. We then put them in touch with the right people to arrange it.
What I’ve come to realise is that if collectively we don’t know the answer, we always know somebody who does. So, as I’m in my sixth year with the WEA and the charity itself is now in its sixtieth, things are looking good and I hope this will continue for many years to come.
Written by - David Scholey, Regional Manager South East