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John S

John Smith was born in 1946 in Shoreham-by-Sea and raised on North Street in Worthing. His early years were a blend of typical post-war British childhood and personal challenges that would set the stage for an extraordinary life.

Despite a setback in failing the 11+ exam, a pivotal moment came in 1957 when John, at the age of 11, entered St Andrews. Here, amidst the nurturing environment and the guidance of Mr. Barley, his form master and an ex-military man, John discovered not only an enjoyment for education but also a clear direction for his future. Mr. Barley suggested that learning a trade could be his gateway to a fulfilling career in the army. This advice planted the seeds for what would become a defining part of John’s life.

In 1962, at the young age of 16, John’s journey took a decisive turn as he was accepted into the Army Apprentice scheme, choosing to specialise as a gun-fitter. His training took place at Hadrian’s Camp in Carlisle, a facility that operated much like a school but with a curriculum that blended military skills and academic education. Over three years, John immersed himself in the study and maintenance of heavy weaponry, mastering the intricacies of artillery, tanks, and armoured cars, alongside learning critical skills in fitting, machining, and welding. 

His apprenticeship was the first period of a distinguished 24-year career in the military. With the Army Certificate of Education class 1 in hand, John ventured beyond the confines of Hadrian’s Camp, taking with him an understanding of both the technical and human aspects of military service. His first assignment to Munster, Germany, as part of a Light Aid Detachment, exposed him to the practical realities of his trade in the harsh conditions of military fieldwork. It was a time for John to apply his skills in real-world situations, facing the adversities of winter and the complexities of maintaining vital equipment under challenging conditions.

In 1968, he returned, with his unit, to England, taking up residence in Barnard Castle. It was here that John embraced the camaraderie of military life, engaging in cricket and hockey, and sharing experiences with his peers in diverse locales, from the core in Germany to the expanses of the Middle East.

The subsequent years saw John navigating through various roles and postings, from serving with the 16 5th Lancers in Germany to an insightful period with the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, where he encountered the poignant history of combat, symbolised by the rusty crossed lances over the Commanding Officer’s office – rusty due to the blood that remained from their final use in combat.

His tenure at the Royal School of Artillery in Lark Hill was amidst every piece of artillery in use by the military, and, as well as advancing from Corporal to Sergeant, John entered a new chapter in his life by marrying Sandra, a constant presence since he was 6 months old.

In 1974, John was posted to the New Territories in Hong Kong, serving with the HQ 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade. This period stood out as his favourite posting, both for the professional challenges it presented and the cultural and interpersonal experiences it offered. As the head of the support workshops, John managed a diverse team that included two fitter-turners, two carpenters, a textile worker, a sign-writer, a welder, a sheet metal worker, and ten Chinese civilians. This role not only utilised his technical skills and leadership abilities but also deepened his appreciation for the nuances of managing a multicultural team.

John’s time in Hong Kong was punctuated by memorable moments, including his interactions with the local community and visitors. One such memory that lingered was during a heavy rainstorm, where he helped an Australian couple in buying an overpriced umbrella (initially inflated to $50 due to the ongoing typhoon) for the fair price of $5, highlighting the respect and goodwill extended to him as a member of the local military—a stark contrast to the treatment of tourists.

However, the rhythm of military life soon called John back to Europe, where in 1977 he returned to Germany to join first the 3 9 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, and then on to the 49 RA LAD REME. His expertise was put to use overseeing a medium battery, a responsibility that was cut short when an Achilles tendon injury during a hockey game altered his path. Instead of proceeding with his unit to Northern Ireland, John was assigned to the Rear Party, a crucial role that involved managing equipment and supporting the families of those deployed.

Promotion to Staff Sergeant followed, leading to a two-year tenure as a permanent staff instructor in Newcastle with the 101 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery’s Light Aid Detachment of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer volunteers. It was a role that honed his teaching skills and solidified his leadership and technical expertise.

The turn of the decade brought personal challenges that necessitated a shift back to the South of England. In 1981, with his mother’s health declining, John sought a compassionate posting closer to home. This led to his 1982 placement at the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (SEME) in Bordon, Hampshire, where he spent the final 4 and a half years of his military service and transitioned smoothly into a civilian role in 1986.. Here, John was deeply involved in the fitting, turning, and machining course, working alongside ten civilian instructors and another military colleague.

John’s post-military career at SEME was both rewarding and transformative. Initially serving as an Instruction Officer, Grade 1 (mechanical fitter), his role evolved significantly when the establishment was privatised in the early 90s. The takeover by a shipbuilding company marked a new chapter for John as he took on the responsibilities of a Quality Health and Safety Manager. This position not only leveraged his extensive experience and skills but also reflected his adaptability and commitment to excellence in a changing landscape.

John retired aged 62 but quickly found a way to keep himself busy. A chance encounter with canal-side team tackling the invasive spread of hogweed sparked a curiosity that led him to the Wey & Arun Canal Trust. The Trust, with its depot nestled on Tickners Heath, Dunsfold Airfield in Surrey, was in search of volunteers to maintain their machinery—pumps, lawnmowers, and the like. John, keen to stay active and engaged during his retirement, did not hesitate to lend his expertise.

For years, up until the global upheaval caused by Covid in 2020, John dedicated himself to the Trust, but as the pandemic forced the team to disperse, he made the difficult decision to step back. Yet, life’s trials were far from over for John. In 2021, he faced a profound personal loss when his wife succumbed to cancer, a battle she had valiantly fought and temporarily overcome two years prior. Their lifelong companionship, beginning when John was only six months old, left an irreplaceable void in his life.

It was at this time that John immersed himself in the role of treasurer at Friends of Homefield Park which provided a welcome distraction until fate intervened once more. An unfortunate fall in October 2022 resulted in a significant injury, leaving John with a spinal condition that progressively worsened. Medical examinations revealed a bleed on the spine, leading to paralysis from the chest down, a condition technically known as ‘T4 complete’.

The realisation that his independence was severely compromised hit John hard. His home could no longer accommodate his needs in a wheelchair. It was with a heavy heart that he decided to move to Stoke Mandeville, a specialist spinal injuries centre renowned for its expertise and care. 

In December 2023, John transitioned to Care For Veterans, a place familiar to him through years of supporting other residents via the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Association. This move marked the beginning of a new chapter, one filled with hope and the promise of rehabilitation. At Care For Veterans, John found not just medical care but a community. He enjoys the privacy of his own room, the simple pleasure of a well-loved meal—fish and chips being a particular favourite—and the professional guidance of physical and occupational therapists dedicated to his rehabilitation.

John has forged a strong bond with his neighbour, Graham, and made other friends within the home. Despite it being early days, he has thrown himself into the Wellbeing Hub activities, from quizzes to the unexpected joy of ‘laughing yoga’. The Care For Veterans team have thoroughly enjoyed welcoming John into the home and hope he continues to settle in swiftly.

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