When Ed Archibald found himself living rough after leaving the Parachute Regiment, he kept a low profile as he scavenged for food by using his Army training.
The former paratrooper is one of many veterans helped back to work thanks to advisers at the factory that assembles Britain’s remembrance poppies, crosses and wreaths.
The Poppy Factory in Richmond, south-west London, employs veterans who are disabled or have mental health problems. But it also helps many more ex-servicemen and women find work through its advice and mentoring programmes.
The factory’s chief executive, Melanie Waters, said it assisted those who “lack a little bit of confidence to get back into the workforce”. Part of the £1m the factory must raise annually comes from ABF The Soldiers’ Charity which, along with Veterans Aid, is being supported by The Independent’s charity appeal.
Mr Archibald, who served as a chef with 2 Para, was discharged in December 1984 following tours which included Northern Ireland and Belize.
He suffered from alcohol dependency and post-traumatic stress disorder linked to his Falklands War service, which was only diagnosed two years ago.
“The day that I picked up my mate and put him on a stretcher I was a different person forever,” said the 51-year-old father of three, who witnessed his friend’s fatal blast injuries. “His shoulder was taken off and half his head was off,” he added.
“I was living on the streets, or living in wooded areas, going behind supermarkets every day for food. If it hadn’t been for the Army I wouldn’t have survived,” he said of his period of homelessness.
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
“I could go weeks in a town without anyone having to look at me, just by being camouflaged, by having reconnaissance on everything, knowing where you can go and can’t go, where people are and people aren’t.
“Civilian life was too unstructured and fractured.”
He credits a family-run restaurant that employed him as a kitchen hand for showing him a way off the streets.
Mr Archibald was later put in touch with The Poppy Factory, which helped him find his current job as a Royal British Legion case worker.Reuse content