War hero continues to serve

A FALKLANDS hero who lost an arm while trying to defuse a bomb will be helping to raise funds in Woking next month for a charity that helps ex-serving and servicing forces personnel in need.

Captain, then Warrant Officer, John Phillips, who lives in Goldsworth Park, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions during the conflict, which marks its 35th anniversary this year.

For the past 15 years John has dedicated himself to helping ex-service personnel and now works as a volunteer for the Woking division of the Soldiers, Sailors Airforce Families Association, (SSAFA) having recently retired as a caseworker.

John, who will be taking part in the charity’s fundraising day on 13 May, mans the SSAFA desk at the ex-servicemen and women drop-in centre at Woking Football Club on the 4th Thursday of every month. The next drop-in event will be held next Thursday, 27 April.

During the Falklands War, John and his colleague, Staff Sergeant James Prescott, were called to the frigate HMS Antelope, which had been hit by two 500kg bombs that had not exploded.

After numerous attempts to defuse the bombs, one of them detonated, killing Staff Sergeant Prescott and badly injuring John. After recovering, he continued to serve in the Royal Engineers for eight years, rising to become chief instructor of the Bomb Disposal School.

John is originally from Coventry and he and his wife Christine lived in various places, most recently in the village of Marton in Warwickshire. Five years ago they moved to Woking to be near their eldest daughter Paula, her postman son Andrew and granddaughter Emma. Paula works in the offices of Sainsbury’s in Knaphill.

In comparison his work with SSAFA might seem less dramatic, but it is certainly no less important, and the drop-in centre enables visitors to get help with a variety of issues.

“These cover a very wide range of needs for serving and ex-service personnel,” John told the News & Mail. “It could be anything from dealing with rent arrears or other primary debts, to help with getting furniture, a cooker or a fridge.

“Particularly, for the elderly, it can also cover vital disability equipment that may not be covered by state schemes and be beyond the means of an individual.

“For example, my very first project as a case worker was to raise the finance to buy and install a stair lift. This was going to cost upwards of several thousand pounds and was quite beyond the individual’s ability to pay.”

But SSAFA’s work isn’t always just about money. “Another recent case in Woking involved two former Gurkha soldiers and their families,” said John. “They had no financial support due largely to the fact that there was a problem with their National Insurance documentation.”

“We were able to act on their behalf to address state agencies and see the matters through to a successful conclusion as well as provide interim financial help through the Army Benevolent Fund Soldiers Charity. I always get a great deal of satisfaction when a case is completed successfully and a client has received all the help they needed.

“The need is still very much evident today.”

He said the Woking division has upwards of 100 new enquiries for help a year. Referrals come from the Citizens Advice Bureau, other charities, social services and the Police or Prison Service.

“While the level of need remains constant, cases have become more complex. In the past, a typical case might be help with getting a cooker, carpet or washing machine. Today, we often deal with a client’s need for, say, an exercise bike, school uniforms or a computer.”

A life vice-president and former vice-chairman of the South Atlantic Medal Association 1982, John helped to organise the 25th anniversary pilgrimage to the Falkland Islands, chartering an aircraft to take 250 veterans, including 60 PTSD sufferers, to Port Stanley.

While there is no official 35th anniversary, a parade is planned by veterans in Gosport at a gathering and reunion on 10 and 11 June. John will attend an anniversary dinner with the crew of HMS Antelope aboard HMS Belfast on 21 May – the anniversary of the Task Force arriving in the Falkland Islands.

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