Young nurses take over running of Doncaster central Royal British Legion

As a youngster just over a decade ago, Tom Heath was a pupil at Nightingale Infants School in Balby.

Tuesday, 14th August 2018, 8:40 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th August 2018, 8:43 am
Tom Heath who has become Chairman of Doncaster Royal British legion at the age of just twenty. PIcture: Dean Atkins

Today, the same building is the Victoria Cross Trust's Ashworth Barracks Museum, packed full of old old military hardware, and with armoured cars in the grounds.

By co-incidence, today, he is friends with many of the people who used to use those types of old guns and vehicles.

That is because at the age of 20, Tom is the chairman of the Doncaster Central branch of the Royal British Legion - possibly the youngest it has ever had. He has struck a double act with his girlfriend, Hannah Kay, aged 19, who is secretary of the same group.

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They run it between them.

As a youngster Tom enjoyed science and geography, and was keen to get out on his mountain bike.

Then when he was 14, his grandmother brought him home a leaflet she had seen for the Air Training Corps, thinking he may be interested. He had been shy as a youngster, but he signed up for the group which met at the Army Reserve barracks at Sandford Road, in Balby. Being an air cadet with 103 Doncaster Squadron helped get him out of his shell.

He loved the experience. He traveled around the country with the group visiting RAF bases. They got to fly to the Isle of Man on and RAF Hercules C130, even doing low level flying in it.

He got to take the controls of a Grob Tutor aeroplane at RAF Leucharas and RAF Linton on Ouse. He loved it.

Then in 2014, the Royal British Legion's Doncaster Central branch was looking for cadets to act as standard bearers for them. The branch had been quiet for several years, but John Elliott had been put in place as chairman and was running it with his wife Lynne.

Tom volunteered to be one of those standard bearers, and took up the role for three years.

He had planned to join the RAF after leaving Balby Carr School. But he met his girlfriend, Hannah, and decided to train as a nurse instead, going to Hull University.

Throughout his time at Hull, he also did voluntary work as a first responder for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, driving to the scene of calls to ambulance service with a defibrillator to help people before the ambulance arrived. He maintained his link with the legion throughout.

Last year, John decided to step down as the legion's branch chairman, to go travelling with Lynne.

None of the other members were keen to take over, and there was concern that the branch would close. Tom and Hannah felt it would be sad for that to happen.

Tom said: "We said we quite liked a challenge - we'd do it.

"People were a bit shocked about our age. But it is not about being a veteran, it's about being a community and going on trips. It can make people's lives happier, and it is a great community.

"They are great down to earth people. There are us, then people aged 45 to 95. There are just under 70 members on the books.

"We meet at Scarborough barracks on the third Wednesday of every month. You don't have to be a veteran to get involved. There are quite a few who have not served, and quite a few bring their wives.

"The members have been really supportive of me and Hannah.

The group helps people who have just left the forces adjust to civilian life. It also provides comradeship for them with other people from a military background.

The couple hope to modernise aspects of the organisation. They help to run and annual gala, and get T-shirts with the branch logo.

On August 8, they went to Ypres, in Belgium, to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate for the branch, at a major event to mark 90 years since and event known as the Great Pilgrimage, when families remembered those who died in that part of the World War One battlefields.

Tom is now thinking about joining the RAF as a reservist, using his nursing skills.