I first went to Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Hospital 10 years ago in December 2008 to measure the patients for a complimentary bespoke shirt as a christmas gift for their courage and sacrifice. Yesterday I visited Headley for the last time as it relocates to the North in October.
BBC Points West accompanied me to Bearland House in the morning to follow the process of making the servicemen and women’s shirts to discuss with the cutters and seamstresses on what it meant to them to make these shirts over the last 8 years since the Factory opened.
In the afternoon BBC Reporter Steve Knibbs and I met Style for Soldiers Ambassador Matt Weston at Headley Court, returning after many years since his last rehabilitation.
I measured over 20 injured service personnel while Matt offered advice on future careers in the civilian world, where he plays such an important role as a leader in the Barclays VETS / AFTER programme. He also made time to create a pop up cigar club in the smokers bike shed!
Dressed in his Huntsman suit and our shirt, Matt embodied for the patients a successful transition into civilian life, despite every challenge life could throw at a 19 year old.
The Style for Soldiers reunion parties were inspired by the evident pleasure former Military patients took in seeing each other again at smaller Style for Soldiers events, and I decided to try and create a form of social cohesion between them as much as possible in the future using my database which now exceeds 750. The Christmas and Summer parties and family day at Woburn Safari Park are growing each year and importantly involving and linking wives, partners, families and children. Discussing the vital role friendship plays at the Hospital with a young soldier yesterday and when the struggles are made so much easier when shared with like minded Military friends, I heard how the strongest of bonds are made in Afghanistan. He had served in three war zones but said how there was nothing like the extremely intense experience in Helmand but forging the strongest of friendships. Two men I spoke to had lost best friends in Afghanistan, one had a grave stone tattooed on his inner arm and one who had his friends photograph by his bed at home.
As I drove away from Headley in the evening, I was struck by the same emotion I have felt so many times leaving this extraordinary place of humour, love and kindness and the most unimaginable pain and suffering. The skill and devotion of the medical staff and the calibre of the young men and women who risk their life to serve their country. It has been an honour to get to know so many of them and their families and we will endeavour to support the patients I have met over the last 10 years well into the future.