Friday, 10 November 2023, 17:00
The Royal British Legion Remembrance Day services that will take place all over Britain and the English-speaking world, and also in Spain, this weekend will demonstrate that those who lost their lives in conflict are always in the nations' hearts. However, even though in the UK the Legion is still wholly supported, some of the Costa del Sol branches have experienced some turbulent times, primarily a decline in membership, especially since the pandemic. According to the founder of the recently formed Mijas Costa Veterans' Group, this is now changing, and he believes that the future of the RBL on the coast "looks very positive".
Andy Nye (56), who served in the Royal Irish Regiment for 22 years, until he retired in 2007, has pledged to keep the flag flying. He moved to the coast in 2020, just as the world went into lockdown, and he has since become "heavily involved" with the RBL Spain South, taking on the position of welfare coordinator at the Mijas Costa Branch.
After bumping into some old military buddies, he decided to try to do even more to support his local branch, which, like many of the others, was failing to attract younger members to replace those who had died or returned to the UK.
"I met a couple of mates here that I didn't know lived in Spain, and we agreed that we should try to form a support group for veterans in order to look after each other. Although the group is separate to the Mijas branch of the Legion, the two are naturally connected," Andy told SUR in English.
The group is promoted by word of mouth, as Andy feels there is no need to set up social media pages, as the best way to "gain exposure is by veterans talking to each other".
Although the RBL on the coast has struggled of late to find younger members, Andy feels that this problem is now being overcome. In his opinion, the RBL has "peaked and troughed over the years all over the planet", but he believes it is one of many organisations that is "dealing with the challenges", although he is also aware that it still needs extra support.
The veterans' group, which gives a boost to the annual Poppy Appeal, organises extra fundraising events and social gatherings and offers help wherever needed, is attracting younger members. Some are not members of the RBL, while others are longstanding Legion members, the perfect mixture, according to Andy. But, he points out, "Spain South needs an injection of youth".
"I think the problem was that Covid stole three years of recycling people, and so, like a lot of other organisations, we are now paying the price. My personal focus is recruiting people of my age, or younger, and I don't think I am going to find that too much of a problem. What we are aiming to do is recruit some youth that will then go and recruit their friends. I think, to be honest, this is what is now happening. I was recruited last year, so I was the new kid on the block," he said.
One of the people that Andy recruited was former RAF medic Kelly McVite (45).
"When I came to Spain in 2020, after spending 17 years in the military, I joined the Legion to get to know like-minded people. It gives us a chance to talk about old times, and I like the camaraderie. I also liked the idea of getting involved with the welfare side, because I did three tours of Afghanistan and I looked after the guys who had ended up with life-changing injuries, so I had experience with welfare care," Kelly explained.
One of the latest members to join the support group is David Cass-Williams (59), who served in the Royal Navy for eight years, after which, he joined the Fire and Rescue Service.
"I believe that, like myself, younger families are making the move from the UK to Spain, and there is the potential demographic to carry the RBL forward, hopefully. During my time in the Royal Navy, I was very aware of all the fantastic support the RBL provided to our serving members and veterans alike. I benefited greatly from my time in the armed services. I consider it to have been my apprenticeship to life, so I consider it a privilege to be able to provide any kind of assistance to help in any small way," he said.
Andy Nye believes that the memorial services are still extremely significant, because they give some veterans the chance to talk about their experiences, especially seeing as some were only youngsters when they witnessed the atrocities of conflict.
"The Remembrance Day memorial services are held to remember people who had sacrificed their lives, but much more importantly for those who survived, it is an opportunity to come together to talk about the friends they lost and to talk about their personal stories. It's an amazing truth that the hideousness of conflict is usually experienced at a very young age. Of course, the older generation grew up differently. The men never cried, they kept their chin up and cracked on with it. These are the guys who benefit the most from RBL intervention and veterans' groups," Andy concluded.
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