Johnny Mercer drops a cheeky s-bomb in speech praising military community at Soldiering On Awards

Newly reappointed Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer has paid tribute to the Armed Forces community at the Soldiering On Awards, saying that veterans affairs have come a long way in this country.

He then dropped a cheeky swear word in his speech to rapturous applause and laughter from the guests.

Mr Mercer, at the London event to join others in celebrating the outstanding achievements of people serving in the Armed Forces and those who support them, was making light of his recent sacking by Liz Truss and his reappointment by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

He said: "I pay tribute to all the staff who have been through the sort of political mill as I have been… in the last couple of years. 

"Because there's a revolving door, I think it's more like a toilet, and I'm the s*** that just won't flush," he joked.

Hosted by former SAS soldier Jamie Hull, who lives with 60% third-degree burns after the plane he was training in caught fire, and ITV News presenter Lucrezia Millarini, the Soldiering On Awards recognise a multitude of achievements. 

It was a night of glitz and glamour to honour some truly inspirational people.

The event, which takes place every year, aims to raise awareness of the selfless individuals and charities who give their time to support the Armed Forces.

As part of the award ceremony, Mr Mercer made a moving speech that reminded the audience just how important the work they do is. 

The Veterans Minister believes that it's not glamorous, it doesn't demand recognition or praise. It is essential and it is what makes the Armed Forces community an inspiration to so many. 

The British Army veteran turned MP shared a touching moment he experienced on the flight to the UK from Belfast where he had presented an award at the Northern Ireland Veterans Awards ceremony. 

He said: "A young girl came over to me on the airplane and her name is Alex Hale. 

"She was eight-years-old and her sister was 13 when Captain Mark Hale died in Afghanistan… picking up one of his soldiers coming out of the scene of an ID. 

"He literally sacrificed his life for others. 

The Soldiering On Awards winners for 2022 (Picture: Soldiering On Awards).
The Soldiering On Awards winners for 2022 (Picture: Soldiering On Awards).

"My girls at the moment are eight and 13 as well and I cannot imagine the sort of pain and the trauma that she's been through, but she was very quick to say and to point out to me the extraordinary support she'd had from the forces community and so, whilst it does feel lonely at times, the reality is that… this is an extraordinary, special community that at times like that in Alex's life and (Capt Hale's widow) Brenda, just wrapped their arms around people like that and that is deeply inspiring. 

"I get my inspiration from you and from the work that you do, day in, day out, that's not glamorous, that's away from the cameras, that might be in the small hours with a veteran who might be close to taking his life or who needs to get into work. and you're there every day irrespective of who's watching and that is what inspires me. 

"That is what makes my job easy because I'm not in it for them and what they think in Parliament. 

"I'm in it for you, I'm in it for Alex and that will never change," he added.

The Soldiering Awards 2022 winners

Lifetime Achievement Award – Sip Powers 

Alongside a distinguished British Army career of 34 years, during which he suffered his own significant health issues, Maj (Retired) Sip Powers dedicated much of his spare time to supporting wounded, injured and sick (WIS) service personnel. 

The veteran devoted more than a decade to the BattleBack initiative as an adaptive senior instructor and established the Help4Heroes Para Climbing Team. 

After two years of planning, he completed Enduro7 to raise funds and awareness for Combat Stress. This personal endurance challenge demonstrated the effects of sleep deprivation linked to mental health issues and highlighted veterans suffering in silence. 

When it comes to being an inspiration, Maj (Retired) Powers has, among other achievements, completed 17 Ironman competitions and co-ordinated and completed the Everest Charity Climb – raising more than £40,000 for military charities. 

The veteran now has his own business, 'EXtreme Outdoors', enabling WIS personnel and veterans to access the great outdoors to assist with mentoring, coaching and wellbeing development. 

Healthcare & Rehabilitation Award – With You 

With You for the Armed Forces Community is a substance misuse service that offers serving personnel, veterans and family members a bespoke support package, from assessment to recovery. 

The non-profit organisation began as a pilot scheme in 2013 when its founders recognised the impact of substances on veterans and families after serving in the military and saw how some people reverted to drugs or alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism. 

With You's services include peer support groups run by veteran volunteers who are also in recovery and specialist one-to-one treatment sessions. 

Pathways to veteran-specific mental health support are offered, plus referrals to specialist drug or alcohol prescribing services. 

The organisation also runs various social events which help veterans build trust and foster positive networks of support among peers, friends and family.

Family Values Award – Seren Killpartrick 

In August 2021, 12-year-old Seren Killpartrick discovered that her dad, Paul Killpartrick, a Royal Navy Engineer, had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. 

Unfortunately, there was no cure, but a special life-prolonging treatment was available privately. 

Faced with one of the scariest times of her life, Seren decided to raise funds so that her dad could benefit from this treatment. 

She decided to paddleboard from the Isle of Wight to Stokes Bay, Gosport, and crowd-fund to raise the £100,000 needed for Paul's treatment. 

Together, Seren and Paul created a YouTube video blog to raise the profile of the challenge using #SerensHope on social media to rally support and share her progress. 

The Armed Forces community, especially those in the Royal Navy, supported, donated and shared the vlog and Seren's crowd-funding page. 

On 16 September 2021, Seren achieved her goal to raise £100,000, drawing on the resilience, determination and courage she accrued by having both parents serving in the Royal Navy. 

Very sadly, Seren's father died in August 2022. 

Defence Inclusivity Award – Lance Corporal Natasha Day 

Lance Corporal Natasha Day joined the British Army in 2014 and deployed on various overseas exercises and an op tour. 

After returning from maternity leave, LCpl Day set up the award-winning Defence Breastfeeding Network to support servicewomen who continue to breastfeed when they returned to work. 

Natasha runs the network alone, supporting more than 900 families and has opened 22 breastfeeding rooms in military establishments to support women in the workplace. 

She has organised and trained 60 breastfeeding peer supporters, is part of the Commander Field Army's Gender Council and instigated the policy change in dress regulations so that women can claim up to £200 back on mess dress alterations after maternity leave.

To raise awareness, Natasha organised for breastfeeding to be added to MATT 6 and a policy change she worked on with the maternity and pregnancy passport has helped women across the entire Armed Forces. 

Natasha has achieved all of this while undertaking her paramedic course, carrying out shifts for the NHS during the pandemic and raising a toddler. 

Her support has enabled families to continue to breastfeed, which has aided in retention, reduction of post-partum depression and support to families during deployments. 

Defence Inclusivity Award Special Recognition – Lt Col Gilly Moncur 

In 2019, it was recognised that diversity and inclusion needed to feature more on the Army Cadet Force (ACF) agenda alongside the core values and standards. 

This was achieved under Lt Col Gilly's leadership of the ACF Step Change Diversity and Inclusion project. 

As Project Officer, Gilly rose to the challenge of addressing the need to embed all aspects of Diversity and Inclusion into the ACF alongside the values and standards. 

With unstinting enthusiasm and energy, she worked day and night to ensure and drive a change in awareness and understanding. 

Gilly ran nationwide celebratory events and conducted a survey of 2,000 volunteers to ensure that the project's work was based on empirical evidence. 

The change in culture has been palpable. People are behaving in an inclusive way and are more supportive of differences in background, abilities, culture and belief. 

More than 500 people have attended workshops on disability, learning difficulties, gender identity and trans awareness. 

Diversity and Inclusion feature throughout all ACF training and activities. 

Sporting Excellence Award – Sally Orange 

Former British Army Major Sally Orange is an endurance athlete, physiotherapist and award-winning mental health campaigner who has completed a marathon on every continent, each time dressed as a different piece of fruit. 

Maj (Retired) Orange holds multiple Guinness World Records and world firsts. 

The veteran completed 22 years of exemplary service in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Physiotherapy Officer before being medically discharged in 2019. 

Speaking out about the difficulties she has faced with severe depression and chronic anxiety, Major (Retired) Orange used the virtual London Marathon to highlight the importance of understanding mental health and found a novel way in which to do so – in a pod of the London Eye, reflecting the highs and lows of the nation's mental health.

Over the years, Major (Retired) Orange has raised more than £500,000 for about 40 charities.

Education, Training and Development Award – Building Heroes 

Building Heroes provides a second career for service leavers and veterans. The tri-service charity aligns the transferable skills gained in the military with those of the construction industry to provide career progression pathways. 

Building Heroes aims to tackle veteran unemployment with free fast-track construction skills training and deployment support across the UK. 

Learners can achieve nationally recognised qualifications in as little as five weeks. 

Established with one centre offering 50 places in 2014, Building Heroes now has 14 centres to accommodate 850 training places per year. 

To date, the charity has trained more than 2,000 individuals and looks set to receive around 2,000 applications this year. 

Education, Training and Development Award Special Recognition – Professor Alison Baverstock 

Professor Alison Baverstock is the founder and director of the charity Reading Force, which promotes shared reading within Forces families. 

In addition to promoting family connectivity through books, teachers have noted improved SATS scores from those involved. 

The Department for Education and Skills highlighted the project early as 'good practice'. 

Through delivering Reading Force and as a military spouse and mother of four, Prof Baverstock noticed that comparatively fewer Armed Forces children aspired to attend university. 

The UK's 130,000 Forces children typically face ongoing challenges: disrupted education, uncertainties and parental absences. 

Alison proposed initiatives to promote understanding of forces children and raise higher educational aspirations, engagement and transition. 

She proposed the specific needs of Armed Forces children should be part of learning for all education students and trainee teachers, just as issues of other special-needs groups are addressed.  

Animal Partnership Award – Stable Lives 

Stable Lives provides equine courses for military veterans and their families dealing with the effects of mental health trauma. 

The charity provides a calm place to rest, relax and reconnect to society. The unique side of its work is that it uses horses and ponies who have been rehabilitated from physical and mental abuse. 

Each veteran who attends is assigned their own rescue pony for the duration of their six-week course, during which time they learn to build trust, respect and resilience together, as they work through an industry-recognised qualification.  

Examples of these remarkable animals include Slinky, who joined Stable Lives after being rescued from a tiny barn, where he had been locked in with 100 other animals for four years. 

Children and adults marvel at his story and see the transformation from extreme fear to hope and resilience. 

Working Together Award – Sporting Force 

Sporting Force aims to promote veterans' recovery and transition into civilian life through sport. 

Sports activities provide an environment where physical skills and emotional resilience are developed by establishing social networks and freeing people from the stress and anxiety of everyday life. 

They help veterans redefine or recapture their identity as a civilian, rather than as a soldier. 

Sporting Force offers sport, exercise, camaraderie and being part of a team again – things that veterans miss. 

Since April 2021, Sporting Force has supported 800 beneficiaries. 

More than 200 people working in the veteran community have completed fully funded Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) two-day courses with Sporting Force, with another 400 places available over the next two years. 

Inspiration Award – Gina Allsop

Gina Allsop is a British Army veteran, adventure racer, volunteer with the Army Cadets, volunteer Marine Mammal Medic and successful fundraiser. 

She is also the editor of a poetry book, 'Military Memories', which was inspired by her brother's funeral. 

The book raises vital funds for military charities and is a conduit for mental well-being, both for those who wrote the poems and those who read them. 

Gina completed a cycling challenge to raise more than £10,000 to set up an art therapy class for a cancer charity. 

She has also run, walked and cycled more than 5,200 miles for charity in honour of her late brother. 

Business of the Year | Start Up Award – Craig Smith, NDA Homes 

When Craig Smith created NDA Homes Ltd in March 2020, his aim was to create a trusted company based on military values that would be known for quality construction. 

NDA Homes' success is a testament to Craig's leadership, which builds on his military experience in the Royal Logistic Corps, including tours of Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. 

Craig is an active supporter of a local military charity helping veterans to find work in the construction industry. He also supports the veteran's foodbank by loaning a vehicle to aid deliveries. 

Resilience comes from experience and Craig exploits his previous military experience to enable his business to thrive and develop. 

Business of the Year | Scale Up Award – Lee Harris-Hamer, White Horse Cleaning Company 

Lance Bombardier Lee Harris-Hamer joined the Royal Artillery in 2008 at just 17 but suffered a devastating back injury that cut short his British Army career. He was medically discharged in 2016. 

Upon his transition to civvy street, the veteran became a self-employed carpet cleaner. 

ABF The Soldiers' Charity supported him with funding for cleaning courses and the purchase of specialist cleaning equipment. 

After a few months, LBdr Harris-Hamer expanded his business to offer general cleaning, became the Managing Director of White Horse Cleaning Services and was offered a contract to clean a factory. 

It was a massive jump for a fledgling business, but the veteran's military career had taught him to take risks. 

He signed the contract, employed staff and was helped with a business expansion loan by X-Forces Enterprise. 

The company thrived and today has 42 employees and aims to become the number one specialist commercial cleaning contractor in Yorkshire. 

Business of the Year | Community Impact Award – Scotland's Bravest Manufacturing Company 

Scotland's Bravest Manufacturing Company is the country's leading enterprise providing employment opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled veterans, employing 91 vulnerable veterans since opening in 2019. 

The committed team manufactures road and rail signs for some of the UK's biggest infrastructure projects. 

They created bespoke engineered projects for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee and contributed to the pandemic response by manufacturing COVID-19 safety signage for the NHS and the Prison Service. 

This veteran-led project sees the very best of military values implemented in a manufacturing setting. 

It is an opportunity for veterans to put their military expertise to positive use and ensures that the efficiency, conscientiousness and adaptability unique to the Armed Forces are instilled in the factory's processes. 

Scotland's bravest veterans are given working opportunities that align with any challenges they may face due to physical or hidden disability, PTSD, or drug or alcohol dependency and they can receive accredited training and formal qualifications, gaining practical work experience. 

Cover image: The Soldiering On Awards winners for 2022 (Picture: Soldiering On Awards).