Johnnie and Dale getting lunch ready for the group. | NFA


An average of 22 British military veterans either attempt to or commit suicide every day in the United Kingdom.

Help for former and serving wounded service personnel, be this physical or mental, continues to be few and far between in both the public and private sectors. But despite a number of charities having fallen by the wayside due to lack of funding or a downgrading of their operations, one organisation is still thriving and that is the Not Forgotten Association. And for the first time since the pandemic struck, the Not Forgotten Association, which celebrated its centenary during lockdown, has returned to Mallorca with a mixed group of wounded British veterans of all ages, conflicts and from all of the three services.

The group, which yet again has been kindly accommodated by a British resident in the northeast of the island, has been enjoying the very best of the island while also getting away from their routines back in the UK and making new friends - and more importantly they have been amongst their own fellow veterans.

Very few knew each other before boarding the flight to Palma but all of them soon bonded and will return home friends for life - looking forward to catching up again and enjoying the numerous other events and activity breaks the NFA organises in the very capable hands of events organiser Rosie Thompson MBE.

In 2000, the first group, with the full support of the Bulletin, came to Majorca for some well-deserved rest and recuperation and, pandemic aside, they have been coming back ever since, on some occasions three times a year, as the breaks on the island have become so popular.

The Not Forgotten Association is a unique national tri-service charity which provides entertainment and recreation for the benefit of the serving wounded, injured or sick and for ex-service men and women with disabilities. It was founded in 1920. Although records were lost in a fire following an air raid in 1941, the association can be reasonably confident that since its formation over one million serving and ex-service men and women have benefited from its activities, and Mallorca has come to play a key role in what the NFA has committed itself to doing for wounded veterans.

This week, six veterans with their partners, two Wrens and their helpers are on the island.
Two of the volunteer helpers, former beneficiaries of the association, ex-Grenadier Guard Johnnie Ray and ex-member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Dale Mallin, who was awarded Volunteer of the Year by Good Morning Britain’s Million Minutes Campaign in 2020, are with the group “to give something back” to the NFA.

Johnnie lost a leg as a result of an explosion during a training exercise in Canada and first came across the NFA by chance in 1998. “It was a very tough time for me and my wife; she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. But I heard about the NFA, checked them out to see if they were genuine and was so impressed by what they offered and what they were doing that I signed up for a break in Devon with the full support of my wife. It was so great to be back amongst my own - fellow veterans who understood where I was coming from, the problems we were all going through. We were able to talk about and share our experiences. It’s not the same on civvy street, people neither understand nor talk the same language, plus there is not that level of confidence.

"The week was a life changer and saver, and I was a beneficiary of the NFA for years until I decided that it was high time, after everything the association had done for me and my wife, that I gave something back. Hence why I am now a volunteer and make sure that the vets going on the breaks, such as the one here in Mallorca, are well looked after, waited on hand and foot and have nothing to worry about. “While they are with us, they can leave their troubles at home and even though it may appear a relatively short period of time, it makes all the difference in the world,” Johnnie told the Bulletin.

“I obviously still have my physical limits, but I have lived to tell the tale, thanks to the NFA, and this is extremely important. I spent the last three years of 18 years service behind a desk in a recruitment centre until I was called to what I thought was my annual medical. It was in fact a discharge hearing and I was given my papers and out of the army. The door was closed behind me and I was sent out into what is a scary world for many servicemen and women when the time comes to leave, or you are given your marching orders. You’ve come from a highly disciplined, well-ordered world, then all of a sudden you are in a world where people speak a different language, you don’t know what to do with yourself, how to react in social situations of daily life. You miss the banter, the camaraderie and, quite often, there is nowhere to turn for help.

"So this is why the NFA is so important, and these trips to Mallorca are second to none. The view from where we stay is breath-taking. There’s no noise, we can sit around the pool, go to the markets, explore the island, have a beer and a chat, enjoy a good laugh and there are no distractions. It’s pure quality time that none of us get back home - plus it also gives the partners a break. The wives and partners are more often than not the unsung heroes, they deserve the medals,” Johnnie said.

Dale was a platoon sergeant training instructor when the second Gulf War broke out. He was recalled to active duty and deployed to Basra in 2002. He was wounded twice. “The first time, we were manning an observation post when a suicide driver hit us, and I bore the brunt of the back blast. I took a lot of shrapnel and lost part of my hearing. I was rushed to a field hospital, but my injuries were not considered serious enough for me to be evacuated back to the UK - I was patched up and put back in the field.

"Four months later, as platoon commander, we were out in the country on a routine patrol when the Land Rover ran over an IED (improvised explosive device). The blast was extremely powerful, the ‘Rover flipped up and back. My helmet and head went through the roof and I dislocated by knees and hip. This time I was flown back to hospital in the UK but when I was eventually discharged, the doctors had missed my spinal injuries. Initially I just put it down to back pain related to my injuries, but it got to the point that I lost all sensation in my legs. I couldn’t even sit up and was wheelchair bound for a few years while the doctors tried to solve the problem. That was extremely tough, especially mentally. I got to the point where I actually began to think about whether there was any point me being here,” he said.

“I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I was anxious, wouldn’t speak to people, wouldn’t even leave the house. I was bad tempered, I was unkind to myself and had it not been for my wife I honestly don’t know what would have happened. “She came across the NFA and decided to drive the 1,200-mile round trip from Scotland to an event the NFA was holding at Brands Hatch. I was uncomfortable at first, I was out of my comfort zone, but I eventually got chatting to an NFA helper, met a double amputee and eventually decided to go on one of the association’s five-day breaks - well I was ordered to by the wife! At first, I was isolated from the group but I was given such a warm welcome, began to open up and made so many friends, some of them I can’t get rid of now,” he joked.

“The NFA experience totally changed my life, personally and socially. I started to understand what I and many others have gone and are going through. On these breaks you have your own space, if you want it. You don’t have to be talking all the time, it’s a question of simply sitting with someone, knowing that someone who understands is there for you. And I know that for many others, the NFA has been a life saver and that is why I decided that it was time to give something back, repay the NFA for everything it did for me and help other fellow veterans who may be new to the set-up or still rather uncomfortable and scared about the trauma they are going through.

"“The wheelchair? Well, I’ve given it back to the hospital so someone else can use it. That way I have to make the effort. I now carry myself differently, keep on top of my medication properly. I eat more, look after myself better, take care of my appearance. I’ve regained that confidence I once had while serving in the army and I want to share that. I want everyone going home from Mallorca to return with good memories and new friends because life does go on and these trips go such a long way towards helping veterans cope and start moving in the right direction.

“I still have serious damage to my lower back, the vertebras are all shot and despite the great advances in medical science, they’re not able to put rods in because the bones are too brittle. So I still lose the sensation in my legs. Luckily, I have a good local cobbler who is always changing the soles of my shoes because I often have to drag them along. But I can get from A to B. I may need a rest along the way, but I know my limitations. I am in constant pain but that trip to Brands Hatch and being welcomed by the NFA changed and saved my life and quite probably that of my wife. She’s given me the tough love I need, there’s zero sympathy factor now in my family. I’ve just got to make the best of things and get on with it. It is what it is,” he said.

“Yes, we’ve all got our demons and we all have the odd wobble, some more often than others, but the NFA, despite its limited resources and staff, is always there. There are always people to go to, especially Rosie, I don’t know how she does it.

Everybody is different, but no one is judged. Mentally and physically, some are stronger than others, but as far as the NFA is concerned, we are all the same. We all know people who haven’t been able to hold it together; a mate of mine threw himself under a lorry nine months ago,” Dale added.
And they both agree that not enough is being done by the public sector to look after veterans in the UK. “Once you’ve been put out to pasture, that’s it,” said Johnnie. “Hence why the NFA is so important.”

Rosie said that one of the couples was very anxious about coming away on the trip to Mallorca, but as soon as they reached the finca they settled in straightaway and they told me that they immediately felt relaxed.

“That is what these breaks are all about, and to hear that so soon after arriving makes it all worthwhile. Thanks to the NFA, you know someone’s got your back,” Johnnie said.
“No one’s looking at you as a sick or ill person who must be an alcoholic or something and that is the reaction veterans sometimes get from the general public. “Ok, the government has many priorities, but veterans should be higher up the list”