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Dennington: Former soldier backs our Shoulder to Shoulder campaign

13:03 06 January 2014

David Williams used to be in the Royal Engineers but now suffers from cripple cluster headaches. He reached out to the Royal British Legion years ago and has since been supported by the charity.

David Williams used to be in the Royal Engineers but now suffers from cripple cluster headaches. He reached out to the Royal British Legion years ago and has since been supported by the charity.

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Following the launch of our Shoulder to Shoulder campaign to support military veterans and serving personnel in need, a former soldier describes the torment of living with an excruciating and incurable condition, and the invaluable help he received from the Royal British Legion (RBL).

Three years after leaving the army in 1993, David Williams developed what were later diagnosed as chronic cluster headaches - but it wasn’t until encountering another sufferer in 2011 that the former Royal Engineer discovered help was at hand.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Dennington, near Framlingham, with his partner, Tracy, and their three-year-old son, Edward, joined the army in 1989 after a spell as an apprentice printer in Ipswich.

Mr Williams became a Signalman before being transferred to the Royal Engineers on the eve of the first Gulf War. He was set for deployment but duties were instead extended for those already stationed in Iraq.

By the time of the Bosnian War, Mr Williams had decided to leave the army and resume civilian life in London, but found it difficult to adapt. “It was very different from having all my decisions made for me,” he said. “Within two years I was living on a traveller site. I was travelling for 10 years and met a lot of ex-service people along the way.

“Around 1996 I developed what I thought was toothache. By 2000 I was in pain every day - I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.”

Mr Williams became a dairy farmer in Oxfordshire, having separated from his wife the following year. His health problems persisted, and only after reading a news article about cluster headaches could he finally give the condition a name.

While in hospital, he was able to discuss the condition with a fellow sufferer and former serviceman of 25 years. “He asked if I had spoken to the British Legion. He said they were there to help me.

“I rang the Bury St Edmunds office and a case worker came to see me. I was having difficulty claiming benefits because I didn’t have a registered condition, but they helped me with my finances and took on my case with the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions). They didn’t give up - they kept fighting for me.

“They paid for my partner and child to have a break. While I was in hospital they paid for my partner to stay in a hotel. My other son lives in Gloucestershire and they helped me contribute to the cost of a school trip.

“My impression before all this was that the RBL collected for the Poppy Appeal and was a place to go for cheap drinks - but I could not have managed without their help.”

After seeing neurological experts in London, Mr Williams recently underwent deep brain stimulation, a surgical treatment normally used for movement disorders. The results were initially promising but the headaches are still a daily misery for Mr Williams. He said: “Up until last summer I was suffering 10 to 12 attacks a day. Every night the headaches were triggered by going from light to deep sleep.

“Now I have about three or four attacks a day but it’s still severely debilitating. I had to give up work. I’m registered disabled and unable to drive. This condition has rocked me.”

After returning to Suffolk, Mr Williams worked at Kiln Farm Nursery, in Kesgrave, but was forced to leave the job.

For the last year he has volunteered at Downham Cottage Care Farm, in Ashfield, where he travels on an electric bike provided by the RBL.

Have you been helped by the Royal British Legion? Would you like to share your story? Call the EADT newsdesk on 01473 324736, or email news@eadt.co.uk

There are a number of ways you can help the EADT’s Royal British Legion Shoulder to Shoulder campaign.

Cheques should be made out to: Royal British Legion – Suffolk. Please send them to: Sandra Bromley, Royal British Legion County Secretary, Unit 2, Hill Farm Barns, Ashbocking Road, Henley, Ipswich, Suffolk IP6 0SA. Please include a covering note mentioning the EADT’s Shoulder to Shoulder campaign.

If you wish to pay by BACS, the account name is Royal British Legion, Suffolk, Sort Code 20-16-12, account number 30201820. Please make reference to the EADT’s Shoulder to Shoulder campaign.

If you would like a receipt, or acknowledgement, then please pay by cheque and enclose your contact details.

Do you need help?

If you are a former serviceman or servicewoman, and you are in need of help, the Royal British Legion has a new helpline, which is 0808 802 8080.

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