Kayaking Hero Triumphs over Devizes to Westminster!

This Easter weekend, RAF veteran Chris Hawes took on the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race (or DW as it is often called) in a kayaking challenge to raise awareness of Help for Heroes.

Kayaking Motion

Chris’ feat of endurance covered 125 miles over the four day Easter weekend, negotiating over 75 locks along the route, some of which had a 500 metre walk between them, creating an added test of physical and mental stamina for Chris and the team.

The first of their four day challenge was the hardest with Chris and Ian completing the route with only 15 minutes to spare but from day two onwards the pair went from strength to strength! Not even the torrential downpour of rain on Easter Day could stop them as they finished in style on Easter Monday paddling through London in sunshine and style to the finish!Chris was supported in this challenge by kayaking partner Ian McClune and other staff and residents from Help for Heroes run Recovery Centre, Tedworth House. 

Adaptive Sports Coach & Adventure Training Lead at Tedworth House, Ian McClune said of the weekend, “It was emotional. The locks were a particular challenge but we had a fantastic time and would love to do it all over again next year!”

Devizes To Westminster

Chris was medically discharged in 2005 having been diagnosed with Chronic Pain Syndrome a year earlier. The pain became so bad that Chris and his family made the decision to have his leg amputated and in 2011 he had the operation. Since then Chris regularly attends the gym at Heroes run Recovery Centre, Tedworth House often preparing for a kayaking challenge of some kind and rumour has it a possible Yukon expedition!

Chris and Ian were not being sponsored for this challenge but if you would like to support their effort you can donate online at


'Horse Whisperer' Monty Roberts spends day at Tedworth House


Monty Roberts the original ‘horse whisperer’ last week, spent a day sharing his method of ‘Join-Up’ with veterans at Help for Heroes run Recovery Centre, Tedworth House.

Monty’s techniques have been adopted world-wide to use body language to communicate with horses. This communication allows both horse and handler, to build trust and confidence in each other. A number of Band of Brothers had the opportunity to take part on the day in an experience that was not only personally moving for many, but also lots of fun!

Read more about the day and experience of some of our Band of Brothers here

Kate’s 1000 Cup Cakes Challenge

Colossal Cake Sale – Kate’s 1000 Cup Cakes Challenge

1000 Cake Challenge

From 19 April - 5 May, Kate Goodchild will be baking, decorating and delivering 1000 Cup Cakes to local businesses and car show rooms in the Hull and East Riding area.  Kate is aiming to raise an incredible £2000 for H4H.

Kate has had amazing support from the local community and is busy experimenting with the H4H coloured icing at the moment!

If you are in Hull or the surrounding area and would like to place an order to help Kate reach her target, please contact her on

Kate is joining hundreds of cake sale organisers across the UK for this year's Colossal Cake Sale. For more information and to register visit our website.



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Mental Strength and Wellbeing: "My battles may last a lifetime..."

We all have our dark days; even Sir Winston Churchill famously talked of his 'Black Dog', the terrible lows that were the counter to his visionary leadership. Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry have both spoken publicly about their moments of doubt and despair. It’s a part of so many lives.

Support HubMany of those who have served have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and receive treatment. Help for Heroes, recognising the need, is the largest donor to Combat Stress and supports the great work they do to supplement the treatment available on the NHS.

Not everyone will have a diagnosable mental health condition like PTSD but many, having endured a high tempo of operational tours in recent years, are coping with mental wellbeing issues. They and their families also need our help and support in their dark days.

Everyone is different but everyone will have their own spark which will light up their darkness; the trick is finding it and helping it glow.

Colchester: TestimonialsOur Recovery Centres are all about finding that spark - we recognise that it takes time and there is no 'one size fits all' solution. We have a pastoral team on duty, ready to chat through the long sleepless nights. We have our Wellbeing counsellors on hand to help with coping strategies. We are building our Hidden Wounds programme to help support the mental wellbeing issues for our young veterans and their families and we have our Pathfinder programmes to help find the way to successful careers.

Sport is a proven and vital part of recovery and many of our wounded find getting involved with Battleback (a military initiative funded by Help for Heroes) or one of our challenges, life enhancing. Our Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters networks offer fellowship and understanding.

People ask me why we need more money now that we have our Recovery Centres in place and the answer is very simple; we need to keep them going. We need to be able to support those affected by these conflicts for years to come. The physical wounds may heal but the mental injuries will need attention long into the future.

We can only keep going with your support. In the next few weeks we will be asking you if you would be willing to commit to a regular monthly donation or consider leaving a legacy in your will. Our young men and women signed up to serve; now we need to sign up to support them for life.

Onwards and upwards,

Bryn Parry Signature

Tom Stimpson _ Frankie 's Christening 026Tom Stimpson, MBE joined the RAF in 1988, when he was 17, and served in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006 he suffered a head injury and severe concussion after falling during a rocket attacked in Basra where he was stationed at the time. In 2008, following a harrowing tour in Afghanistan, Tom was diagnosed with Non Epileptic Attack Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

He suffers from insomnia, flashbacks and intense seizures during which he is ‘locked in’ to his body and unable to talk. Tom is determined to help others through his experience and is now a vocal advocate for removing the stigma around mental health in serving Service personnel and veterans. He has spoken about the issue at Oxford University and at school’s across the country. He still has ‘dark days’ caused by his PTSD and describes these occasions as ‘having a dragon on my back’. He says:

“As time goes on you learn a little bit each day to live with who you are, the experiences you have had and how they have affected you. A strong support network is essential. My wife and three young sons learned to cope [with my seizures] but we must realise the effect PTSD and other mental health problems can have on our families. They go on the journey with us during the good times and always the bad and very intense times. Support, recognition and, most importantly, the removal of the stigma attached to mental health will make all the difference.

“Help for Heroes has been incredible during my recovery. I visited Chavasse VC House Recovery Centre in Colchester to prepare for transition into civilian life.  The opportunity to meet people there who are on the same journey and who I could relate to was priceless. Knowing that I can return whenever I need support is an amazing feeling. My battles may last a lifetime, and I only hope that the British public understand the difficulties faced by those with PTSD and continue to support this amazing charity."

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The Sweet Taste of Freedom - Vietnam Jungle Trek

Sheila Parry recently joined our Vietnam Jungle Trek, here she reflects on the journey and the vast differences that exist in standards of living.

Vietnam FarmingVillage life in the Tan Lac province (home to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve) is a tough existence, offering most people a meagre choice between keeping a few cattle or tending the rice fields on the terraces. Most homes are one or two-roomed huts with no power or utilities, other than an occasional cold water pipe provided by Government grants in 2011 and the most basic levels of sanitation. Rice farmers produce 2 or 3 harvests annually and earn about $25 per month, so few are able to afford education or health care for their children. Daughters can reportedly earn a family a healthy dowry - 400m Dongs - or $20,000 US Dollars, but most seem to be kept busy at home, tending their siblings or crossing treacherous mountain paths to trade eggs or vegetables at the local markets. Some wholesalers have emerged selling soft drinks and cigarettes at roadside sheds or from mobile stores and there are weekly markets selling fresh produce, although meat is generally in short supply. Currently a relatively hidden gem of Vietnam, Pu Luong is a beautifully rich jungle settlement, with rice fields and deep valley floors lying between heavily vegetated mountain ranges. Ecotourism is on the up and treks such as the Help For Heroes jungle challenge in April are an important source of economic growth for the region.

The trekkers themselves – fundraisers from all walks of life - face both physical and mental challenges: a 90km walk across four and a half days, in humid heat, including a day of 2 hours steep climbing followed by a 9 hour descent, the last two in complete darkness, save for the light of a few head torches. Four nights in homestays, in pretty basic conditions, 12 men and 16 women sharing two huts with sleeping quarters over the animals, usually a few pigs and several chickens. A staple diet of sticky rice, tao soup, steamed vegetables twice if not three times per day and the occasional highlight of water melon and sweet bananas. As always when trekking, breakfast seemed to be the most welcome  meal of the day, and it was great to rise to freshly made pancakes, rough granulated sugar and slowly-brewed strong Vietnamese coffee (a kind of coffee treacle) served with sweetened or evaporated milk. We weren’t allowed them every day: "Too slow, too slow" the guides said, and we weren't sure whether that meant the cooking time or the eating time, as such treats made for a more leisurely breakfast than cold noodle soup and guava tea. Everyone’s favourite meal was a packed lunch of sticky rice sprinkled with peanuts, wrapped in a palm leaf, but sadly it wasn't repeated, despite several heavy hints to the cooks.

There's also the physical shock of having to deal with the enforced intimacy of living in close quarters with new people, something that we are simply not used to in the UK. We had to get used to sharing a cold shower and hole in the ground loo between 30 people (or going in the equivalent of the village high street) and dressing and undressing under a mosquito net shared with a bunch of total strangers. Sleep is an issue for most people, who find it hard to settle down to sleep cheek by jowl, exhausted and trying to relax yet anxious about disturbing other people, losing your head torch and hand sanitizer in the dark should nature call and then putting your ear plugs somewhere safe and then losing them again minutes later and unable to drown out the few inevitable snorers. All of this makes for fitful sleep and low energy levels for the challenges of the day.

Sheila ParryThe physical effort of trekking and living conditions like this inevitably takes its toll but amongst Help for Heroes supporters, few actually buckle. Most people have enough spirit to overcome their own fears and misgivings. I found the way to deal with the grim reality of the homestays was to concentrate on documenting it, so in fact I started taking pictures of real life at the camps, the locals feeding the chickens at 5am, the cooks' primitive cooking area, which looked impossibly small spaces from which to cater for 30 and the toilet queue at 6am (prompting the question "what kind of person takes a camera to the toilet at 6am?" from one trekker). The conditions drew bravado in some and a warm charity in others, who started to help those who were struggling. Some participants said afterwards that they never knew how much inner strength they had, but others mentioned the kindness of a few stalwarts who were always there to help other people. Everyone seemed to be able to help someone - either guiding people down the mountain or providing a steadying shoulder or simply cheering tired or hungry people up with good humour, conversation or emotional support.

For all its natural beauty, I found the reality of life for the indigenous population of Pu Luong quite grim. I felt for the farmers, for the lack of infrastructure, transportation and healthcare. I felt for the children, for the inaccessibility of education, for their lack of day to day activity, and limited prospects in a world that is developing so quickly around them. And I felt particularly for the women, for their lack of freedom and choice, for living in a country where there is one political party, one social order and one way of life. So when I am asked how I felt after completing the trek it isn’t so much about the physical effort but about Vietnam. And the fact that I have been reminded that I am blessed to have been born into a western democracy, where there is infrastructure and sanitation and healthcare and some remnants at least of a social conscience, where women have access to equal education and broadly speaking, have the same chance as men to be happy, successful, independent and secure; and where we have freedom to move.

Walking through Vietnam with members of the British Armed Forces, the Army, the RAF, the Marines, I also felt acutely aware that they are the ones who put their lives on the line to defend our precious democratic rights. I believe we all owe a massive thanks to the people who defend our freedom but I want to say thank you for the insight they shared with us on this trek. The single most rewarding thing about this trek for me was meeting some of the blokes who have been, or are currently in active service. As a civilian, I cannot contribute to defence of democracy in the same way as they do, but I can show them the respect they deserve by understanding their psyche. Through Help for Heroes, we can also support them when things go wrong. Walking with us in Vietnam were three very special Heroes, James, Sean and Ed, all of whom have been injured in service and who have, as Sean described it, ”gone through the system.” That’s quite a euphemism for the massive rehabilitation they have all needed. At close quarters, we not only heard their individual stories of heroism, saw the impact that their injuries have had, but we were able to walk with them - physically and metaphorically - for a few days on their road to recovery. Walking with these Heroes was important not just to make us feel better about what we are doing, but to show the deep impact that their injuries have made on their own lives and to prove the ongoing lifelong need for us to continue our fund raising efforts.

I know that when I come off the trek I will slip back into my own differently demanding yet comfortable existence, with my lovely family and in a fulfilling job, doing what I want to do, going where I want to go, free in so many ways. Other women in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in other developing nations are not so lucky and many will be stuck in a life of servitude and inequality. But the Heroes, serving or in recovery, they will go back to something different again. To another tour of duty, to a round of operations, to skin grafts, to physio or to punishing occupational therapy.

I hope they do so knowing that their stories have been heard by a few more people this month in Vietnam and that, having been inspired by them; we will spread the word beyond the intimate surroundings of the trek.

Please give generously to Help for Heroes on my fundraising site:

Undertake your own trek of a lifetime! See what's on offer here: H4H Treks

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