As we approach our 75th anniversary in August, we are looking back at the penultimate year of the Second World War and the circumstances which led to our founding. This time, we tell the story of our beneficiary, Joseph Connor, who served as a Trooper with the Reconnaissance during the Battle of Normandy in July – August 1944. Meanwhile, in London, the Army Benevolent Fund is established by Trust Deed.
July 1944. Joseph Connor, a Trooper with the 15th (Scottish) Reconnaissance Regiment, watches the ramp of the landing craft rattle down into the surf. Ahead, the Normandy coastline rears out of the Channel: wet, smooth sand and beyond it, rolling green country retreating into mist. The skeletons of stranded landing craft project like fins from the sand as Joseph’s vehicle plunges into the shingle, ploughing through six inches of water and on towards the dunes.
Joseph is one of millions of British servicemen involved in operations across the globe. As the tide of the war begins to turn, the Army Board in London turns its attention to the welfare of those soldiers after peace is won. The mandate is clear: to protect this current generation from the hardships endured by those returning in 1918. Thus, even as Joseph’s vehicle is plunging into the Normandy shingle, plans are in motion to form a national charity for the British Army.
The Army Benevolent Fund (ABF) – as the charity was then known – was born from months of careful planning. As early as February 1944, Secretary of State for War Sir James Grigg, had placed before Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet a memorandum calling for the creation of a Benevolent Fund. The Fund would mirror the work of the other Service Benevolent Funds by providing timely and confidential financial support “to the serving soldier and his dependents.” The War Cabinet approved the scheme on 28th May and the ‘ABF’ was established by Trust Deed on 15th August under the Patronage of HRH George VI.
In Normandy, Joseph’s route takes him through dusty, potted roads; over trampled hedgerows and into a field where the squadron comes under attack from German mortar fire. He remembers passing a tank on the side of the road “with just legs sitting outside it.” His first taste of battle is during Operation Bluecoat, a 9-day offensive between 30th – 7th August 1944 in the Caumont area of Calvados. Joseph’s vehicle is a Humber Light-Armoured Car, with a gun projecting from a central turret. As reconnaissance, his job is to drive towards the enemy, drawing fire in order to pinpoint German positions. Flanked by two heavies, he often finds himself in the first car driving towards enemy lines. Joseph’s war ends in October 1944. Whilst on sentry duty, his gun slips from his shoulder and discharges; wounding him in the lung. Joseph is shipped back to Britain to receive treatment and medically discharged from the Army. He is subsequently awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for the part he played in the liberation of France.
Today, 75 years after the Battle for Normandy, Joseph is a sprightly 95-year-old living independently at home in Glasgow. He struggles with limited mobility and uses an electric scooter to get around. Back in 2017, The Soldiers’ Charity responded to a request for help. Joseph was living in a terraced row with a raised forecourt, meaning he had to negotiate four steps onto the pavement and store his car and scooter several streets away. For Joseph, the walk was becoming increasingly treacherous – especially in winter. The Soldiers’ Charity stepped in with a grant for a new tarmac driveway, enabling Joseph to park his car and mobility scooter outside his front door. This has transformed his quality of life, meaning he can continue living with the independence and dignity he deserves. Reflecting on the grant, Joseph says: “I appreciate the fact that I left the Army all those years ago and still I get help from The Soldiers’ Charity as if it was yesterday.”
For the past 75 years, The Soldiers’ Charity has served as the Army’s National Charity, providing a lifetime of support to the soldiers, veterans and families when they are in need. In 2018/19, it has helped over 70,000 people in 68 countries across the globe and funded 92 other charities and organisations to support the Army family at large.
While there is a British Army, there will be The Soldiers’ Charity.
Kemsley, Riesco and Chamberlin, Scottish Lion On Patrol: 15th Scottish Reconnaissance Regiment. (London: P & Sword Military, 2010). 15th Scottish Division War Diaries. Web. www.15thscottishdivisionwardiaries.co.uk.