More than 100 veterans and service personnel from Croydon were brought together for lunch on Monday to celebrate Armed Forces week and learn about support services available in the borough.
The lunch at the Croydon Park Hotel followed the raising of the Armed Forces Day flag at the Town Hall and was a key element of the borough’s Armed Forces Day celebrations.
Financed by a grant from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund, the event was organised by Croydon Commitment, a charity that links businesses in Croydon with the voluntary sector in the area. Veterans with service spanning the last 70 years were joined by representatives from Croydon’s five Army Reserve units – The Royal Yeomanry, 31 Signal Squadron, B Company 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 151 Regiment RLC and 150 Field Recovery Company REME. Various support services, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, SSAFA and the Royal British Legion, were also on hand to provide advice and information to Croydon’s Veterans community.
Katharine Glass, Chair of Croydon Commitment welcomed the veterans to the Croydon Park Hotel, saying the lunch was held “to recognise and thank Servicemen and women for their service to the country and to Croydon. All relationships start with an introduction and we hope that this bringing together of communities will be the start of continued dialogues and friendships between different groups. We realise that, for many, it is not always an easy transition back into civilian life and we hope our guests can be signposted to relevant support organisations and access services they may not have been aware of.”
Rick Forrest, 90, joined the Army in January 1944, the day before his 18th birthday. He landed in Normandy on 7th June 1944 and fought his way through France into Belgium, Holland and Germany, crossing the Rhine at Wesel in a US amphibious ‘Buffalo’. He was in Hamburg on VE day and remembers finding it difficult to adjust to “not being frightened every day”. Rick enjoyed meeting both young and old present at the lunch saying, “it’s been a wonderful day”.
Alex Starr, an Army Reserve veteran and serving policeman with the Metropolitan Police Service in Croydon said, “Anything that encourages businesses to engage with Veterans and their Associations in Croydon is a good thing. There are lots of Veterans in Croydon and many are not aware of the support available to them. I would like to see enhanced support to reach out to people in the community, to prevent Veterans feeling isolated.”
The Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, said it was, “A great honour and personal privilege to be with people who had put their lives on the line for liberty and freedom so that we can be here today.”
Colonel Vic Matthews, who oversees the Army Reserves in London, thanked the London Borough of Croydon and Croydon Commitment for honouring their Veterans and Service personnel, saying, “We are part of your community and from your community.”
Croydon’s Armed Forces Day celebrations will continue on Saturday 25th June with a family fun day with arena entertainment and Army equipment on display at the Army Reserve Centre on Mitcham Road, from 10am.
See more pictures from the day in the Gallery section.