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Breakfasting with Orkney’s Veterans “I like getting out and about whilst I can and not being stuck indoors”

Orkney Veterans’ Breakfast Club – 28th October 2023

by Adrian Hughes and Simon Brodie

(L-R) RAF veterans Ken Wiley, Simon Brodie and Colin Will, at The Smithy Cafe, Shapinsay. Image credit Adrian Hughes

After seeing an article about the Orkney Veterans’ Breakfast Club, Ash Boyd, Chairman of the Shapinsay Development Trust, and a veteran himself, invited the Orkney Veterans’ Breakfast Club to have one of its monthly get-togethers over at the Smithy Café on Shapinsay; something the members jumped at as they had never ventured off Mainland to eat, before.

Twenty-five of them headed over on the first ferry of the day, to be warmly welcomed by Ash, Mark, and the Smithy’s team. They were joined by some local veterans and their partners, which brought the number up to twenty-nine; a new record turn-out for them, and a record number for the café, too. It only has 27 seats and they don’t usually do breakfasts!

As well as enjoying a hearty meal, the veterans also surprised ex RAF man, Kenneth Wiley, with a birthday cake made especially by the Smithy’s staff for the occasion. He was born on the 13th November 1928, so will be celebrating his 95th birthday, in a couple of weeks.

RAF veteran, Kenneth Wiley, with a birthday cake made especially by the Smithy’s staff. He was born 13th November 1928, so will be celebrating his 95th birthday, in a couple of weeks. Image credit Adrian Hughes

Ken joined the Royal Air Force in 1947, at RAF Compton Bassett, Wiltshire and was later sent to RAF FAYID, in Egypt where he worked as an Orderly Room Clerk. [Office Administrator]

“It was a big RAF station. We still had prisoners of war there; there was a gradual repatriation, but they were still kept in the compound enclosed by barbed wire and everything. Some of them were allowed to drive the RAF vehicles and we had some of them working in the Orderly Room”.

The repatriation of POWs had begun in 1946, but it was a slow process as every prisoner had to be correctly identified. There were also logistical problems such as a shortage of ships to transport them back to Europe. Some remained in captivity until the end of 1948.

Whilst Ken was in Egypt, the British were pulling out of Palestine as Israel was being established, but despite the political tensions in the area, Ken enjoyed his time in the middle-east:

“Although I ended up staying out there two or three months longer than I was supposed to, I was only 18 at the time, so the only thing I was interested in was going to the sands of the Great Bitter Lake, [part of the Suez Canal], sunning myself and drinking Coca-Cola. Being posted to a nice hot country was great. We worked from seven in the morning, but by one in the afternoon it was too hot to work”.

Originally from Walthamstow, in London, Kenneth first moved to Orkney with his late wife Margaret in 1973, living on Sanday for six years. They then returned to Scotland for work, but came back later and bought a house in Deerness. He now lives in Sheltered accommodation in Kirkwall. He is a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, and next year will become a, great-great-grandfather.

Ken didn’t know about the Breakfast Club until he was was told about it by a neighbour, Angela, who is also a veteran:

“It’s a good idea; I like getting out and about whilst I can and not being stuck indoors, and it’s a good chance to socialise. I’m lucky; I’ve got family who take me out, but its not quite the same as doing it yourself.

The Orkney Armed Forces’ and Veterans’ Breakfast Club, to give it its full title, meets at various locations around the county on the last Saturday of each month. It’s just an opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. There’s no formalities, there’s no admin; members just show-up, eat, pay for their food and go on their way again, although there is usually a lot of chat and banter in between.

Breakfasts usually run from 0930 – 1100 (ish). If you are a veteran, or their immediate family, you’re welcome to join us. We also welcome current members of the armed forces, Regulars and Reserves, as well of those who serve or served any other country.

The Smithy Café on Shapinsay is an excellent community hub and the veterans highly recommend it; they’ll certainly be going back in 2024. However, the next breakfast is now scheduled for 0930, Saturday 25th November in The Neuk, at the Albert Hotel, Kirkwall.

If you’re the manager of a restaurant, café or bar that serves food, that could host the veterans one Saturday morning, please get in touch.

More details are available on the group’s Facebook page

or you can phone or email Simon, the coordinator, on: 07909 640884. orkneyvetransbreakfastclub@outlook.com.

Please come along and say hello, you can be sure of a warm welcome

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