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“I was young, I’d never been anywhere, and I wanted the Queen to pay me to go”

As usual on the last Saturday of each month, 24th June saw the regular get-together of the Orkney Armed Forces’ & Veterans’ Breakfast Club; on this occasion in The Neuk, at the Albert Hotel, Kirkwall. This is a popular venue with the group as the staff are always welcoming and of course, the food is very good.

The veterans meet once a month for breakfast and a catch-up, at various locations around Orkney. This month’s breakfast coincided with Armed Forces’ Day and, as well as welcoming five new members, they were joined by a few VIPs and guests; Depute Lord Lieutenant Craig Spence, MSP Liam McArthur, and the Editor of Orkney News, Fiona Grahame, who gave members a briefing on her research into HMS PHEASANT, a WW1 warship hit by a mine and lost, with all hands, off the coast of Hoy in 1917.

Bob Presland breakfasting with fellow veterans in The Neuk bar at The Albert Hotel, Kirkwall. – 24th June 2023 Image credit Adrian Hughes

One of the regulars, and older members of the club is 86 year-old Bob Presland, who joined the Army as a Cook in 1956. He served in Singapore and Malaya, travelling out there by air; a journey that took over three days back then, going via Italy, Lebanon, Bahrain, Pakistan, India, and Thailand, to refuel along the way.

“I was 18 at the time and called up for National Service, so I volunteered for Singapore and Malaya. I was young, I’d never been anywhere, and I wanted the Queen to pay me to go”.

This was the time of the so called, Malayan Emergency; a guerrilla war which went on from 1948 -1960, between the communist Malayan National Liberation Army and the military forces of the Federation of Malaya, backed by troops of the British Empire. Fortunately for Bob, he was never directly involved in the conflict.

“At the time, things were getting, ‘Hot’, in Suez. I was on Embarkation Leave when I got a telegram telling me to return to camp immediately. I went back to Aldershot expecting to be sent to Egypt, but was told by an officer that the reason they had got me back was to send me to Singapore to acclimatise, before moving on to Kluang in Malaya”.

National Service was the compulsory military enlistment of all medically fit adult males between the ages of 18 and 30. Most men joined the Army or the RAF, although a few served in the Royal Navy. There were some exemptions, such as Policemen, Lighthouse Keepers and Coal Miners and in fact, some conscripts were sent down the pits instead of the armed forces. University students could get a deferment until they had completed their studies and a small minority were judged medically unfit.

Initially, National Service was for eighteen months, but at the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, extended to two years. It ran from January 1949 and officially ended in May 1963. During that period, more than two million men were conscripted into the forces and saw service around the world, with 395 killed in action. However, Bob never fired a rifle in anger, and never knew anyone who was shot.

He’s been a member of the Orkney Veterans’ Breakfast club since it started in 2017 and attends as often as he can. He’s a Cockney by birth, but has lived in Orkney since 1973. Talking about the breakfast club, he said,

“I do think it’s a good thing; meeting other people who have been in the services. You can talk about your experiences, but you don’t have to; you can talk about the world. Meeting people is really the greatest benefit, especially after lock-down. I come to it as many times that I can”.

Veterans from all three services come together each month, to enjoy each other’s company over breakfast and maintain the camaraderie and esprit-de-corps they shared whilst serving.

There’s no admin fees or paperwork; the only thing they pay for is their food and drinks. Breakfasts run from 0930 – 1100 (ish) at various cafes, restaurants and hotels around Orkney. If you’re the boss at such a business, and could possibly host 20+ veterans for breakfast on the last Saturday of the month, please get in touch.

If you are a veteran, or their immediate family, from any nation, living in, or visiting Orkney, you’re welcome to join us.

More details are available on our Facebook page or you can call or email Simon, the coordinator, on 07909 640884 or orkneyveteransbreakfastclub@outlook.com.

The next breakfast will be in, ‘Adams Place’ on Ferry Road, Stromness at 0930 on Saturday 29th July 2023. Come along and say hello; we look forward to meeting you.

Simon Brodie

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