Falklands war veteran Andrew (Harry) Harrop left the Royal Air Force in 1988 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The RAF Benevolent Fund has been by his side ever since, helping him to continue to live independently. Now 62, Harry tells his story of support.
I joined the RAF in July 1975 at the age of 17. My ambition from a very young age was to be a soldier, so of course I became an RAF Regiment Gunner. My grandfather always told me to choose the RAF over the Army for whatever reason. From my point of view, the RAF Regiment seemed to offer the specific role of defending airbases and ensuring RAF planes could deploy thereby delivering airpower.
I was a Detachment Commander during the Falklands War in 1982, at that time I was serving with 63 Sqn. We received the call to move, and so eventually we made our way in convoy to Southampton in order to board the QE2. The vehicles and surface-to-air missile units were placed on the Merchant Ship Atlantic Causeway.
During our voyage, we the troops transferred from the QE2 to the Canberra at South Georgia for the next leg of the journey. When within reach of our destination, the troops again changed ship for the final time to the Landing Ship RFA Sir Lancelot. Our destination was the inlet at San Carlos – also known as bomb alley. Anchored there was a hospital ship. Surrounding the inlet were hills on which we deployed the missile units.
Prior to this, one man from each missile detachment (including me) were flown by helicopter to specific points on the hills. There we took bearings and measurements and pegged the sites to ensure the incoming missile systems were dropped off in the correct positions by the helicopters. The resulting operation was a success insofar as only one enemy aircraft managed to penetrate our defensive umbrella around bomb alley.
On return from the conflict I experienced numbness down the left side of my body. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1993. My MS condition has worsened over the years. In the early stages, I began tripping over flagstones on footpaths because I was unable to lift my feet properly. People took a wide berth because they thought I was drunk. I also had problems with my eyes, darker vision in one eye and double vision, both of these were only temporary and my vision corrected itself.
I continued feeling a numbness in areas of my body including my head, again this feeling went away, but I noticed it came back when I became stressed. My ability to walk using crutches finally came to an end when, with much regret, I had to resort to using a wheelchair – my legs had finally given way. I felt this was a further worsening of my condition.
Within the last few years, I have lost the use of my right hand and arm, and more recently the movement in my left arm has become increasingly difficult, so I am virtually quadriplegic. However, I now have 24-hour care, and so I am able to continue writing and have a normal life, such as going to cafés and restaurants.
The Fund has supported me throughout my discharge from the Royal Air Force in 1988, and the RAF Benevolent Fund has provided help when I have asked. In particular, since 1999 the Fund bought me a moveable electric bed, a powered wheelchair, standing sling, and paid for holidays in the UK. Without doubt, the RAF Benevolent Fund has provided me with wonderful support in my times of need. Without them, I would feel totally lost and alone, and my quality of life as it is now would not exist. Before the Fund's support, I did not realise the extent to which they would offer help.
Finally, to all serving members of the RAF, the Benevolent Fund is a truly wonderful organisation, and one which I cannot thank enough for all the help and support it has given me.