The tragic tale of “Tankie Dan”

The tragic tale of “Tankie Dan”

by Stuart Crawford
article from Wednesday 24, January, 2018

MANY FOLK will have been as shocked and saddened as I was to learn of the death of ex-soldier Darren “Dan” Greenfield in Edinburgh just before Christmas.

Dan (as he called himself) was a familiar figure to many as he sat, in his combat jacket and shemag at the top of the Waverley Steps exit from the rail station, with a handwritten cardboard sign displaying his old army number and asking for help. It’s an all too familiar sight these days in towns and cities across the UK.

Such has been the public outcry at his untimely passing, though, at the age of 47, that it might just signal a tipping point in the fight to get a better deal for our veterans, far too many of whom live like Dan did, or fill a disproportionate number of places in our prisons.

Dan was unfailingly polite and cheerful, and many of his former comrades-in-arms, and members of the public, took time to stop and have a chat with him, makes sure he was OK, had something to eat and drink, and to offer their help. I know I did, as did many of my regimental friends.

And yet he died a relatively young man in the most miserable of circumstances. That he did so has rightly been labelled a disgrace and a failure of our modern society. Now many dismayed and angry people want to know how and why we let this happen.

Well, as ever, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Portrayed in some newspapers as “homeless and abandoned”, he was in fact neither, not strictly speaking anyway. For starters, he was on the radar of Edinburgh City Council and had been offered a flat back in the summer of 2017. But that was it; a flat, but no furniture, carpets or equipment.

He texted to a regimental colleague of mine: “Hello, Tankie Dan from Waverley here. Accommodation secured. In, with keys and everything. It’s completely empty, however, not a stick of furniture or a bit of carpet. Appointment now but I’ll text you later for a chat if that OK? Hope you and yours are well and look forward to talking later. Thanks, bye for now, Dan.”

I don’t know if he moved in or not, but I have no doubts that furniture and carpets could have been sorted out by some of the many charities, like SSAFA and others, who reached out to him with offers of help.

Nor was he abandoned. In addition to those who stopped and tried to help, and the offers from charities, he was supported financially by his former regiment, the Royal Tank Regiment (hence the “Tankie” moniker), via its Benevolent Fund on at least three separate occasions.

I also understand that Dan had a partner, children and two sisters who tried to help him. He may also have had “other issues”, but he was certainly not unloved or forgotten. On balance, therefore, it appears that he chose to live the life he did, for reasons that we may never fully understand.

But the stark reality remains that a vulnerable ex-soldier passed away in plain sight on the streets of our capital city, having slipped through the various safety nets that should have caught him, on a cold December night. Sadly, we can’t bring him back. The main question that remains, therefore, is how do we stop this happening again?

To tackle this, political will is paramount. Here in Scotland we are lucky, because we have a Minister for Veterans in the form of Keith Brown MSP, a former Royal Marine with 45 Commando and combat experience gained in the 1982 Falklands War. I can think of no better qualified person in Scottish politics to hold the veterans’ portfolio.

We also have a Scottish Veterans’ Commissioner, although he is not allowed to take forward individual cases.  The Scottish Government has also committed substantial funds over the years to support ex-servicemen and women in the community.

What we don’t appear to have, though, is a standalone Department for Veterans’ Affairs like the USA and Australia do, to name but two. In the US this department is a federal-Cabinet level agency with sweeping responsibilities for healthcare, rehabilitation, education, home loans, burials and memorials and much more for eligible veterans.  Shouldn’t we try to provide something a bit along the same lines?

There is also a plethora of charitable organisations in Scotland that look out for the wellbeing of ex-service people, possibly as many as 100 or more. Some, like Poppyscotland, are well known; others, including some regimental associations and niche charities, less so. But there is no lack of effort and good intentions here.

Yet as a relative outsider looking in, and notwithstanding the excellent and greatly appreciated work such organisations do, I sometimes get the feeling that it’s all a bit ad hoc and uncoordinated at times. Yes, there are umbrella bodies that seek to represent the sector’s interests as a whole, but would they not perhaps have their gallant efforts better focused under the aegis of a Scottish Department for Veterans’ Affairs?

Another thought. As we train young men and women to get into the services and be useful members of the armed services, perhaps we should also train them to exit the forces and be useful members of civilian society at the end of their military careers? The MoD does provide “career transition” courses for all ranks..  But they are too short and tend to operate along the “one size fits all” banner. I know the one I attended was next to useless.

One suggestion is that a redundant barracks, say Redford Cavalry in Edinburgh, be taken over to run short residential resettlement courses where all veterans’ needs are addressed. This might provide an excellent opportunity to indentify those most vulnerable at a relatively early stage. Who would pay, MoD or Scottish Government? Well, arguably both have a moral duty to contribute.

Finally, employment.  I believe that anyone who has served in the armed forces for a specific minimum period of time – and I’m not going to suggest how long that might be – should be guaranteed a job at the end of their service. It should be part of the Armed Forces Covenant and written into conditions of service. Lord knows the MoD splashes enough taxpayers’ cash around the defence industries and provision of employment from defence contractors would be an entirely appropriate quid pro quo.

None of this can be a panacea for all the ills that beset our ex-servicemen and women as they struggle to various degrees to re-enter civilian life. But it might provide a start, and we owe it to Tankie Dan and his like to try to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again.

Stuart Crawford is a former officer in the 4th Royal Tank Regiment (Scotland’s Own).

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