Soldiering on for Army Veterans
An Army veteran, who was forced to give up military life due to injury, is pledging to plough ‘every penny’ back into the charity that helped him rebuild his life by embarking on one of Scotland’s toughest endurance challenges.
Royal Artillery Veteran Lee Harris-Hamer (31), from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, is the new Ambassador for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity’s Cateran Yomp, which challenges teams of soldiers, veterans and civilians to walk 22, 36 or 54 miles across the rugged terrain of the Perthshire countryside in less than 24 hours.
Participants will head off on the Cateran Trail in the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains at 6am on Saturday 3rd June 2023, returning to Blairgowrie in the early hours of Sunday 4th June. Last year’s event raised just over £500,000 for soldiers, veterans and their families, with 630 participants travelling as far as the U.S, Canada, Australia, Cyprus, Poland and the Netherlands.
Speaking at the launch of the 12th Cateran Yomp 2023 at Edinburgh Castle alongside the British Army’s most senior soldier, Warrant Officer Class One Paul Carney, Lee is now urging others to join him or sponsor the event which has, since its launch, raised over £4M for the Army’s National Charity.
Looking to the future, the Cateran Yomp team hopes to raise £1M each year to match the growing need for support from soldiers, veterans and their families in Scotland.
Lee joined the Royal Artillery in 2008 at the age of 17. Deployed to Afghanistan twice, he served a total of eight years, rising to the rank of Lance Bombardier. However, at the age of 24, a back injury dramatically ended his Army career. For a fit young soldier and the father of a three-year-old, the news was devastating. Lee struggled with feelings of worthlessness and developed anxiety and depression.
However, with a grant from ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Lee was able to transform his future. Deciding to use the skills he had developed in the Army to start his own business, the grant allowed Lee to fund training and purchase specialist cleaning equipment. Seven years on, Lee employs 50 staff through White Horse Cleaning Services, providing a full suite of cleaning services for commercial premises across North Yorkshire.
Lee said, “Being discharged from the Army was absolutely devastating. I was injured, unemployed, lost my family home and, because I signed up at 17, had no qualifications or job history to speak of. I was lost and couldn’t see a future, so my mental health took a massive blow. However, with the help of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, my life began to change. It wasn’t just down to the funding though; it’s the lifelong support they provide. The charity has allowed me to move on and carve out a future.”
As a result of his own experiences, Lee is determined to give back to the charity and to others.
Lee added, “When I received the grant, I vowed to pay back every penny, whether in money or time and that’s what’s driving me as the Ambassador and a participant in this year’s Cateran Yomp. Adversity hits you head-on but, in many ways, it’s an amazing thing. My experience has taught me the importance of perseverance, resilience and adapting; but I’ve also seen, first-hand, what can happen when someone gives you an opportunity and picks you up when you’re at rock bottom. ABF The Soldiers’ Charity sparked a wider ripple effect for me too – I’m now creating employment for around 50 people, giving local people opportunities to sustain themselves and their families, to upskill and strive for a better life.”
Joining Lee at the launch event, Warrant Officer Class One Paul Carney, who is also a Trustee of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, added, “Having joined the British Army as a combat engineer 26 years ago, and served in Macedonia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, I am acutely aware of the need for lifelong support for soldiers, veterans and their families. Each and every one of them should have the opportunity to avoid hardship and enjoy independence and dignity. Having seen first-hand the impact which ABF The Soldiers’ Charity can make, I am determined that we continue and build on that valuable work. Having completed the Yomp in 2022 and currently training for this year’s event, I would urge businesses and individuals to get behind the Yomp, whether taking part, sponsoring or making a donation.”
In 2022, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity also nominated Lee for the Soldiering On Awards. He went on to win the ‘Business of the Year – Scale Up’ award, which honours an individual or group of individuals linked with the Armed Forces Community who have started a successful new venture more than two years ago and who still retain a minimum of 50% interest in the venture.
Since 1944, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity has provided a lifetime of practical and financial assistance to soldiers, veterans and their families across the UK. During the financial year 21/22, the charity supported 65,000 people in 48 countries worldwide. Since its launch, the Cateran Yomp has raised over £4M for the charity, with donations funding everything from wheelchair ramps for the homes of soldiers, veterans and their families, to respite care and personal recovery plans for injured soldiers returning from the front line.
This year’s event is sponsored by Famous Grouse, Dover Fueling Solutions and Arnold Clark.
Major General Tim Hyams CB OBE, CEO ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, added, “We are extremely grateful to all our fundraisers and supporters for their generosity, which enables us to make a significant and positive impact on the lives of serving soldiers, veterans and their families. All members of the Army family deserve to avoid hardship, and live with independence and dignity. With more people signing up to the Cateran Yomp every day, we look forward to seeing hundreds of soldiers, veterans and civilians take on the challenge this year. We wish our participants all the very best with their training over the next few months.”