It is a surprising thing to hear from the person at the top of the national charity of the British Army. “When I was getting to the end of my military career, people would ask me what I was going to do when I left,” says Martin Rutledge. “I’d say: ‘Well, the one thing I’m not going to do is work in the charity sector’.”
The 60-year-old major general, who took the job as chief executive of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity almost three years ago after calling time on his 38-year Army career, adds that his time in the military taught him to treat large charitable organisations with caution.
“I had worked quite closely with big international charities overseas, mainly in the Balkans and one or two other places. I knew enough about the world of charities to know that it’s not always sweetness and light,” he says.
“Charities can be ruthless organisations in pursuit of what they regard as good deeds or important work. It’s a very political environment. It wasn’t a type of job that particularly appealed to me.”
When he first saw the job advert for the vacant post at the top of The Soldiers’ Charity, an umbrella organisation that gives grants to thousands of individuals and up to 100 other delivery organisations each year, Rutledge says he thought, “That’s not for me.” But when he learned more about the scale of its work, he became increasingly fascinated by its activities.
For 70 years, the charity – one of two benefiting from the proceeds of The Independent on Sunday’s appeal for Homeless Veterans – has been offering financial help to serving and former members of the Army and their families. Its grants pay for everything from the care home fees of an elderly veteran to the construction of an access ramp for a soldier who has lost both legs in combat.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
It is a complex operation requiring careful judgements and particular attention to resources – which is precisely why it appealed to Rutledge, who in his youth wanted to be an investment banker. “Charities are not businesses, but they must behave in a very businesslike fashion, and that doesn’t come naturally [to some],” he says.
“Lots of people work in charities because they really, really care. If you don’t care, you shouldn’t be in a charity, but really caring is quite a dangerous emotion. You’ve got to bring a degree of dispassionate logic, because otherwise you chase the priorities that are the most emotionally attractive – which may not relate to those most in need.”
Before giving out grants to smaller projects working with soldiers, the charity checks to make sure that whatever it is funding is doing its job properly – and if it is not, either refuses the money or offers assistance. It is also able to “shape the market” by discouraging people from setting up charities that might duplicate the work of others.
Although Rutledge admits he has been “Army barmy since the age of about four”, he did not always plan for a career in the military. His father was a corporate lawyer, and “the expectation” was that he would either follow suit or work in the City. But everything changed when he spent his gap year with the Army.
After university, Rutledge’s first full-time Army appointment was in Northern Ireland during the Troubles but, among many other places, he also deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo, where he was Security Adviser to the UN’s Special Representative. Although he says he “thoroughly enjoyed” being on operations, in the main, it is clear that there were moments he would rather not dwell upon.
“The Balkans were not funny at all,” he recalls. “I was only miles away when the Bosnian Serbs massacred all those young men and boys in Srebrenica, so I remember the aftermath of that very vividly. It was an extremely difficult period.”
Later, he took part in planning the Army’s operations for a totally different conflict: the Iraq war. “It’s one step removed, but it doesn’t mean you’re not acutely conscious of what you’re involved in, what you’re planning – and to some extent authorising and participating in,” he says.
Rutledge is very aware that he is more fortunate than some of the soldiers he served alongside. Some suffered from alcoholism or depression, but were unaware of the support offered by charities like the one he now leads.
“The vast majority of individuals who serve in the Armed Forces subsequently go onto flourish in their civilian lives,” he stresses. “But of course, it doesn’t work for everybody. Some individuals get into a wide range of difficulties, because ‘stuff happens’. Homelessness is perhaps the ultimate indignity – having served your country and put your neck on the line, you can’t even find somewhere sensible to sleep.”
He is keen to dispel the myth that the majority of veterans are battle-scarred, broken individuals who require only help and sympathy, which he says is not only “factually incorrect” but also “demeans them”, which is damaging for morale and recruitment.
“Even the most hopeless soldier who proves not to be suited to that way of life will still have had the courage to step into a recruiting office, go through basic training and try his best,” he says. “They should be respected for that. It’s not the same as another job.”Reuse content