One of our Band of Brothers, Navy veteran Nick Richardson, recently attend a Help for Heroes charity dinner on board HMS Victory. Nick has been to Tedworth House multiple times, either to attend courses, or for respite periods. His wife is a member of the Band of Sisters and the whole family are always trying new ways to support Help for Heroes. Below is the charity night, in Nick’s own words…
As one of the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers, I had the great honour to be able to attend a charity dinner on board HMS Victory.
Warmly welcomed on board by Simon Butt and his team, I was treated to a VIP tour of the ship before taking a pre-dinner drink on the upper deck prior to dinner on the lower gun deck of the ship. As a former Naval Officer I was no stranger to mess dinners, but I had not had the pleasure of being able to dine on board HMS Victory and was touched by the genuine feeling of support from those generous people I was lucky to meet with during the course of the evening.
HMS Victory, famous as Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, was a first rate ship of the line, designed to carry 100 guns with a ships company of over 800 men. During the battle the British Fleet gained supremacy over the combined warships of the French and Spanish Fleet, and while Lord Nelson was fatally wounded during the course of the engagement, the British victory spectacularly confirmed the naval supremacy that Britain had established during the previous century. This was achieved in part through Nelson's departure from the prevailing naval tactical orthodoxy, which involved engaging an enemy fleet in a single line of battle parallel to the enemy to facilitate signaling in battle and disengagement, and to maximize fields of fire and target areas. Nelson instead divided his smaller force into two columns directed perpendicularly against the larger enemy fleet, with decisive results. It is also worth noting that HMS Victory still flies the White Ensign as flagship of the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord.
Against such a backdrop, dinner was served between decks, with some of the guests actually sitting on messdeck benches with tables rigged between the main armaments of the ship! As you can imagine it is a great honour to be allowed to use the ship and a very big vote of thanks must go to those in Navy Command Headquarters who allowed the ship to be used in support of Help for Heroes.
For those with no prior naval experience it certainly gave a very unique perspective of life in a ship of the line; it certainly gave a flavour of cramped living conditions that were endured by sailors during the time of Lord Nelson. While the food was rather better than that provided to sailors of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars (happily for the evening’s guests there was no salt pork or ship’s biscuit on the menu that night!) guests were provided with a real taste of the living conditions endured by the ships companies of ships of the line. Nelsons “matelots” certainly deserved the reputation of being "iron men, serving in wooden ships."
The event was attended by several other members of the Band of Brothers, all of who were very warmly welcomed by the other guests. I found myself on a table with five other gentlemen who, until then, had no experience of the armed forces, all of who were extremely interested in hearing about life in the armed forces and the story of my journey from injury to life as a civilian.
After dinner, and having taken the loyal toast (sitting down in true naval fashion so as not to bang ones head on the low deck heads), David Richmond treated the guests to a short after dinner speech where he provided a very honest picture of the work done by all those involved with the Help for Heroes team – again, I found this a fascinating insight into his perspective of the organisation; something that I would not normally have been able to hear.
Again it was also good to show that Help for Heroes not only assist those who have been wounded on active service, but also provides practical support for other members of the armed forces who find themselves injured in service; it is a truly tri-service, and that the consequences of injury or sickness can be equally as devastating as being wounded in front line service. In this respect Help for Heroes embraces the naval tradition where, regardless of rank or trade, ultimately you all belong to one team under the banner "all of one company."
The evening was finally rounded off with a charity auction, where £3800 was raised. A special mention must go to Andy Millard another of the naval Band of Brothers who, during the course of the auction donated a pair of cufflinks that had been specially commissioned to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005.
I was genuinely touched by the feeling of pride these people had for all members of the British Armed Forces; in some ways it was a very humbling experience, and has helped put my own personal situation into a wider context. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the events that Simon and the team at Absolute Challenges are undertaking in support of Help for Heroes – these include a cycle ride from Naples to Tidworth to planned for June/July 2014, and of course, Simon hopes to host an equally successful, and well supported dinner on board HMS Victory next summer, which will be the sixth one!