Falkirk Bairn praises unique Legion Scotland service
Veteran David Lawrie was in danger of becoming a virtual recluse but the 86-year-old is enjoying a new lease of life.
For he now receives regular visits from former Royal Navy petty officer Robert Holland thanks to the Veterans Community Support Service.
The area co-ordinator, Peter Kerr, also encouraged David to rejoin the British Legion and set the wheels in motion for his first holiday in four years.
The father of three and proud grandad of six sadly lost his wife Betty to cancer four years ago.
David said: “Betty was the heart of our home – we were married for 58 years and had courted for four years before that, so it was a big loss.
“I was on my way to becoming a virtual recluse, with just the television in the corner for distraction.
“But the Legion’s support service has got me back into the fold a wee bit – I’ve even rejoined the British Legion.
“The area co-ordinator Peter Kerr took me and my friend George Lumsden to a concert in the Carnegie Hall, where we met fellow former servicemen.
“It was great – we had a rare old blether.
“Peter also put me in touch with Unforgotten Forces which helped organise a holiday for me to Blackpool and St Annes.
“It’s the first time I’ve been on holiday in four years – it gave me a chance to meet even more new people.”
Born and brought up in Victoria Road, Falkirk, David went to Victoria Primary School where former Falkirk Herald editor Ken Waddell was also a pupil.
The pair often played together in Victoria Park.
Coincidentally, they were also both at Hampden to see Falkirk win the Scottish Cup Final in 1957.
David worked as a bookbinder at Dunn and Wilson after leaving school.
But his apprenticeship was interrupted when he was called for national service, serving as a corporal with the Gordon Highlanders in Malaya from 1951 to 1952.
He said: “It took us about five or six weeks to get across to Singapore by boat.
“I was only 18 or 19 so it was a real culture shock, spending most of your time in the jungle on patrol.”
On returning home, David met Betty (nee Vallely) at the 1952 Christmas social at Dunn and Wilson, while he was playing the piano in a dance band.
David recalled: “This young lady came up to me and said, why can’t you play something we know – and that was it!”
The couple married on September 14, 1956, in Falkirk Parish Church and had three children – Kathryn (60), who now lives in Aberdeen, George (57) who lives in Airth and Douglas (52) who lives in Perth.
David, Betty and the family moved to Alloa in 1970 when he became personnel manager at the glassworks.
Taking early retirement in 1988, he was not content to rest on his laurels and became a much respected football coach with Forth Valley Disability Sports.
He subsequently led the team to gold medal glory at the Special Olympics in Cardiff in 2001.
David also received the SFA Forth Valley Coaches Award in 1998, was named Scottish Coach of the Year in 1999 and in 2004 was awarded the SFA Scottish Disability Coach of the Year.
So he has plenty to talk about when Robert Holland, his Legion Scotland support service buddy, visits.
David added: “In the army, you had three or four special pals – sadly, God Bless them, they are all gone now.
“So it’s nice to have someone to talk to and know you’ve not been forgotten.
“It really has made a big difference to my life.”
Robert has volunteered with the Veterans Community Support Service for six months.
The 63-year-old, who was a petty officer in the Royal Navy for 24 years, has six veterans he visits once every six weeks. He fits it in with his job as a security officer.
He said: “I get as much out of it as the veterans do.
“I lost my wife Jane three years ago so I really look forward to visiting them in my free time.
“For the veterans, it gives them someone to talk to who is an ex-serviceman and knows some of what they have gone through.
“I get a lot out of listening to their experiences too – we all miss the comradeship and friends we made in the forces. That’s what we miss most when we come out.
“I feel the service is really making a difference to people’s lives and it’s nice for me to be able to give something back.”
An hour to make a difference
Legion Scotland’s Veterans Community Support Service was launched in July 2017 and 315 veterans have since been buddied up with a volunteer.
But the service only has five co-ordinators across Scotland, responsible for overseeing the 28 existing volunteers.
Which is why Kevin Gray, Legion Scotland chief executive officer, is now calling on people in Falkirk to volunteer their time.
He said: “We have a lack of volunteers, which is our biggest problem just now.
“The fact that our existing 28 volunteers are dealing with 315 veterans is testament to the fact that we need more people on the ground locally.
“It’s fantastic if our volunteers are veterans or in the services themselves, but that’s not vital.
“Part of the job is the reintroduction of former servicemen into the community – what we need are people who are able to help them do that. As long as people have an affinity with veterans, we would be delighted to hear from them.”
Meanwhile, demand continues to grow for the service.
Kevin explained: “It was quite shocking to us to discover veterans were suffering from isolation and loneliness – it was alien to us as comrades look after each other.
“But it’s a genuine problem that is increasing and the more people hear about our service, the more calls we are taking.
“We must tackle the problem now but we need people to offer their free time to do so.
“It only takes an hour or two a week to make a difference to someone’s life.”
Following an interview and Disclosure Scotland check, volunteers receive full training and are overseen by one of five area co-ordinators.
To volunteer, email [email protected] or call 0131 550 1560.