Welsh D-Day veterans back gardening 'Dig for Victory' project

By Rachael Garside
BBC Wales News

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Media caption,
The project aims to help veterans adjust to life outside the forces

In World War Two we were told to "Dig for Victory" and grow our own food - now some of the last D-Day veterans want to see others dig for pleasure.

They have praised a gardening scheme under way in Pembrokeshire, which sets out to help ex-service men and women adjust to life outside the forces.

Ted Owens might be 97 - but that has not stopped the Normandy veteran supporting the VC Gallery project

"This is outstanding," said the former Royal Marine.

He is not the only D-Day veteran taking part - he has the company of comrades Tony Bird and Gordon Prime, both also 97.

The trio are members of VC Gallery's over 90s club, and have been at the site to back the newly launched project, also aptly named: "Dig for Victory".

They said the need for services such as this one were in demand.

Image caption,
D-Day veterans Ted Owens, Gordon Prime, Tony Bird, all 97

Difficult to readjust after war

Mr Prime was a motorcycle despatch rider with the Royal Army Service Corps, and landed on Juno beach on D-Day when he was just 20.

He remembers the friendship of his fellow soldiers, but said re-adjusting to life after the war was difficult.

"When I first came out I couldn't settle at all. I suppose we were all suffering with this post traumatic stress, as they call it today," he said.

"It was at least two years before I could settle down.

"My mother used to say 'why can't you stay and talk to me?' But I couldn't stay in the house. I was out every day - (I) couldn't stay in just four walls."

Mr Prime explained that when they formed the Normandy Veterans' Association in Pembrokeshire in 1989, they had more than 100 members.

Now only three remain.

Mr Bird served in the Royal Navy and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day.

He played down his role during the campaign, but said it is important for younger veterans to have ambitions after they left the forces.

"My contribution was very small," he says. "But I enjoyed it.

"I think I helped a little to bring peace to the world but I felt that war was quite futile.

"My advice to younger veterans - they need to keep their eye on the ball.

"Set an ambition and aim for it and achieve it. Set yourself a goal - that's really important."

Image caption,
The land was donated by a farmer in the area

It is no surprise that in that vein, the project was also about inspiring younger veterans.

Among them is Dan Hancock, who served in the Royal Logistics Corps, and saw active duty in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

He said that seeing people living in poverty due to conflict was difficult and had a lasting effect on him.

"A lot of us were very young at the time - perhaps ignorant to certain situations," he said.

'Incredibly supportive environment'

"It was quite frustrating - you have in your mind that you'll go somewhere and help someone unimpeded, but you have to appreciate that there's a conflict going on, which made it really difficult.

"It is so important to talk through your problems. You'd be surprised how many people have had similar experiences to yourself. You're not on your own."

Former veteran with the Royal Navy Reserves, Linda Brown has been helping fundraise for the project.

She said social exclusion and isolation could be particularly difficult for people coming out of the forces.

She said: "It's not accepted or well-known in society, just what people go through and the impact it has on them.

"The difference in civilian life to military life, which has such a defined structure, means people can be sometimes left struggling without that focus and structure.

"This is an incredibly supportive environment - not only for their physical health but also their mental wellbeing."

Image caption,
Linda Brown is a former veteran with the Royal Navy Reserves

Mr Owens, from Pembroke Dock, was serving with the 41 Royal Marine Commandos on D-Day.

Despite being seriously wounded during the battle, he went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

"Somebody took a shot at me, missed me and hit the wall," he explained.

"The bullet disintegrated and went through my windpipe and it's still in there today."

Veterans needs support

He is full of praise for the gardening project, which he says will be a lifeline for many other veterans.

"I take my hat off to these gentlemen and ladies," he said.

"It was a derelict place and they've put a lot of effort into it. I thank them for inviting me here.

"If you look around the boys who are here today, we've all had experiences and I thank each and every one of them."

Mr Prime says people should consider what veterans have been through and be supportive.

"People say we glorify war as veterans but we don't, all we want to do is remember," he explained.

"Let's hope it never happens again. War is a terrible thing but we had to go, it had to be done.

"We had a job to do and we had to get on with it."