Top award for ex-gunner with so many friends

A FORMER gunner who has raised thousands of pounds for the Poppy Appeal, has visited more than 2,000 ex-servicemen in hospital, and is a case worker for the British Legion will receive a national award in May. Ray Cole, of Southern Way in Letchworth GC, w

A FORMER gunner who has raised thousands of pounds for the Poppy Appeal, has visited more than 2,000 ex-servicemen in hospital, and is a case worker for the British Legion will receive a national award in May.

Ray Cole, of Southern Way in Letchworth GC, will receive the Gunner of the Year award at The Royal Artillery Assembly in Blackpool.

Speaking about the award, Mr Cole said: "I can't ask for any better than that."

He joined the army in 1956 to do his two years national service and ended up serving for six years, in places including Cyprus, Egypt and the Far East. He worked his way up from gunner to second lieutenant.


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The 72-year-old was born in Biggleswade and lived in a cottage on Shortmead Street. In 1969, he took over the Biggleswade army cadets and ran the club for 10 years.

Mr Cole belongs to the Biggleswade branch of the Royal Artillery Association and was nominated by members of his branch, who are all ex-gunners, for the national award.

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He said: "It's concerned with what I have done in the past. I have carried a standard for 39 years. I have raised thousands of pounds for the British Legion, and I have made well over 2,000 hospital visits to ex-servicemen. I also used to do repairs to old age pensioners' cars."

Mr Cole explained how methods of raising money for the Poppy Appeal have changed over the years. He said they are no longer allowed to shake tins in the streets and "we used to go house-to-house but, because of the dangers, we don't do that any more."

He said they now rely on shops and supermarkets to take collection boxes and put them on their counters.

Mr Cole also helps with luncheon clubs once a month at the Stotfold branch of the Salvation Army. He has two allotment plots in Letchworth GC and gives most of the vegetables he grows to luncheon clubs. He said keeping the allotments is "a great hobby and good exercise".

As a British Legion case worker, Mr Cole visits ex-servicemen who can have a variety of needs, from rehabilitation and physiotherapy to re-education or requiring a loan to set up a business.

"A recent example is an 86-year-old I discovered who needs a walk-in shower. I took all his details and put in a request. We basically fill in all the paperwork," he said.

Of his charity work, Mr Cole said: "It's enjoyable and rewarding but it can be heart-breaking." He attended more than 50 funerals last year.

He went on: "At the moment there are a lot of people who have all done national service. Now we are coming to the end of them and people are saying there won't be the need for the British Legion. That's a joke. We will need it more because current servicemen are in more conflicts than we ever were. We are finding more injured people than ever before.

"We need people to join us in the British Legion and there is a lot that people can do, like visit ex-servicemen. It's surprising how many old people are out there on their own.

"I'm busy every day but I'm not boasting about it. There are thousands of us doing it and we do it because we want to do it and we love to do it. It gets into your blood and you do it naturally. It's a sheer pleasure and you do get a lot of benefit from it. You make an awful lot of friends."

For more information about the British Legion and volunteering, visit www.britishlegion.org.uk or call 08457 725 725.

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