Ex-Cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, former shadow Defence minister Julian Lewis and crossbench peer Lord Hastings have called for urgent action to be taken for 600 Commonwealth veterans living in destitution in Zimbabwe ahead of Armistice Day on Saturday (11th November).
Iain Duncan Smith, who was part of the British delegation that negotiated Zimbabwe’s independence, said it was “unacceptable” that men who were prepared to lay down their lives down for the British Crown should be living on one meal a day and without access to basic medical care.
Mr Duncan Smith commented: “In its darkest hours of the last century, this country turned to men across the Commonwealth for help, signing them up to fight for the British Crown, most particularly during the Second World War.
“Many came from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. They fought in conflicts many thousands of miles from home in far flung countries including Malaya, Aden and Borneo.
“Upon their return to Zimbabwe, they have been subject to political and economic turmoil with crippling hyperinflation that wiped out the value of their pensions overnight. They have been left destitute.
“When they signed up to serve the Crown, they did so in return for a promise that they would be cared for by the British government under the solemn oath of the military covenant. That promise must be fulfilled.”
Former shadow defence minister and head of the influential defence select committee Julian Lewis commented: “Britain has a great tradition of honouring its international obligations and these veterans should be no exception.
“These are the last of a generation of foreign soldiers who served the Crown. They deserve to be properly cared for in return for the huge sacrifice they made for us.”
Lord Hastings CBE, who is vice-chairman of UNICEF, commented: “Many of these veterans are in their 80s and 90s. They have earned the right to live out their twilight years in basic comfort. It is unacceptable that they should be having to subsist on only one meal a day.
“The British people are always unparalleled in their generosity and I hope this Armistice Day they will dig deep for these Commonwealth veterans.
“I also feel the Ministry of Defence also has a role to play in honour the duty of care promised to veterans in their hour of need.”
The Zimbabwean veterans are at the centre of a campaign launched today by Zimbabwe A National Emergency (ZANE), a charity which raises money on behalf of pensioners in the poverty stricken country. Over a million flyers will be distributed in national newspapers in the coming weeks.
Tom Benyon, a former Conservative MP and officer in the Scots Guards, founded ZANE fifteen years ago in the midst of widespread land grabs by the Mugabe government.
Mr Benyon commented: “I fear for the people of Zimbabwe. The spectre of hyperinflation once more hangs over the country. At its worst less than ten years ago, inflation ran at an eye-watering 500 billion per cent.
“With confidence in the new ‘bond note’ currency, which in principle runs in parallel with the dollar, falling dramatically, I see the signs that history might be able to repeat itself.
“The Commonwealth veterans in Zimbabwe came to our aid when we were in need. Now they are old and frail. We need to come to their aid in their darkest hour.
“The military covenant is a really important pledge. It’s a solemn promise that the United Kingdom will sustain and provide for those people who have served for the Crown.
“It’s unthinkable that we should let them down when they were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for us.”
The launch of the Zimbabwean ‘forgotten legion’ campaign comes as a powerful alliance of military top brass and veteran charity leaders have been formed under the leadership of Sir Malcolm Rifkind to investigate the scale of Commonwealth veterans’ living in destitution around the world.
The committee are due to report early next year with estimates of the funds needed to give the last of the Commonwealth veterans the treatment the military covenant promised to them.
Notes to Editors
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About Zimbabwe A National Emergency (ZANE)
ZANE was set up by Tom Benyon OBE in 2002 to help the victims of Zimbabwe’s political and economic situation, including the dramatic effects of the country’s hyperinflation, which wiped out assets and savings and left large parts of the population destitute.
ZANE provides financial support for destitute pensioners and health care such as hearing aids and prosthetic limbs for land mine victims, as well as small business training and development, farming training, pop-up classrooms, support groups for vulnerable people.
The ‘forgotten legion’ campaign aims to raise money for 600 Commonwealth veterans living in Zimbabwe to provide them with two meals a day and basic medical care. It is distributing 1.25 million flyers in the Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Spectator, The Oldie and The Week.
ZANE is supported by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, John Simpson CBE, World Editor of the BBC and Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE, Vice-President of UNICEF.