British Empire Medal for former soldier Brian O’Neill from Wivenhoe for services helping veterans
- Credit: Su Anderson
A former soldier who works tirelessly to support veterans and serving troops has been awarded at British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for 2016.
Brian O’Neill, from Wivenhoe, has been recognised for his commitment as co-chairman of the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery Past and Present Members Association (PPMA).
Mr O’Neill, 64, served with the regiment from 1969 until 1990, rising to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, before moving to another unit. He retired from the Army in 1997, after a spell being seconded to the UN in Iraq in 1994-5.
Under his stewardship the PPMA has grown from a handful of members to almost 2,000 veterans and serving soldiers from across the globe, with some of the former troops having served with the regiment in the Second World War.
As well as holding reunion events and taking part in the annual Remembrance parade at the Cenotaph, the association also helps those struggling to adapt to life as a civilian, and Mr O’Neill’s citation for the medal reads: “He has been unsparing of himself, caring for individuals, many of whom are long-term ongoing cases, often travelling long distances to support hospital appointments, visit bereaved families or to attend funerals. Because of his care, a significant number of veterans are now able to live with independence, dignity and hope.”
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Mr O’Neill said: “It was a shock to find out I had been awarded the British Empire Medal, I was not expecting it, but I am chuffed.
“I am quite pleased, but this is an honour for the whole team. I am over the moon, but still thinking ‘wow’.
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“We do quite well in putting the guys back together again, it can be quite therapeutic especially for those who have served in Afghanistan, Iraq or Northern Ireland. They have somewhere to go and it is not all doom and gloom.
“One woman said thank you to me for ‘giving me my husband back’ after we helped him get through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“There are charities out there who will help these people, but there’s often a lot of red tape and it can take longer to get support, so we try to cut that.
“Some find it very easy to adapt to Civvy Street but others struggle massively.
“We also maintain a link between the regiment, who play a big part in what we do, and those who served in it.”
Mr O’Neill, who runs a financial services business with offices in Woodbridge and Colchester which he set up in 2000, is also involved in military support groups based in Colchester.