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Queen meets 99-year-old veteran at armed forces support unit

The monarch was met with smiles from hundreds of schoolchildren, ex-armed forces personnel, families and staff gathered at Centenary Village in Kent.

The Queen was visiting the Royal British Legion Industries village in Aylesford in Kent (Michael Drummond/PA)
The Queen was visiting the Royal British Legion Industries village in Aylesford in Kent (Michael Drummond/PA)

By Michael Drummond, PA

A 99-year-old war veteran reminded the Queen that she will owe him a birthday card next year when the monarch met him in Kent today.

Cheers and shouts of “God save the Queen” greeted the monarch as she arrived in Aylesford to tour facilities designed to support armed forces veterans and their families, ahead of Remembrance Day.

She was greeted at Centenary Village, run by the Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) charity, and met war veterans and their families.

The Queen also had a minor run-in with a guide dog, which appeared entirely unfazed as it blocked her path during her visit.

Smiling, she quipped: “He’s bored of this, I think.”

The Queen took her time speaking to dozens of people, listening to their stories of service for the country all over the world and in numerous different conflicts.

The village houses specialist accommodation for armed forces personnel and veterans and their families, as well as those with a disability and the long-term unemployed.

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The Queen spoke to dozens of people during her tour (Michael Drummond/PA)

The new Appleton Lodge is the latest part of the £22 million Centenary Village development which, when complete, will provide homes and welfare support, as well as a community for vulnerable veterans.

RBLI, which was formed in 1919 to provide support to sick and wounded soldiers returning from the First World War, launched a campaign in 2019 to build the Centenary Village, which the charity says will see it support hundreds of the most in-need ex-servicemen and women every year for another century.

At every turn, the Queen was met with beaming smiles from the hundreds of schoolchildren, veterans, families and staff gathered at the village.

Among those eager to meet the royal was Irene Mount, who was born in the same year as the Queen and was one of the first residents to move into the new Appleton Lodge.

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Onlookers gathered to catch a glimpse of the Queen (Michael Drummond/PA)

The Queen said to her: “You have got a nice place here, haven’t you.

“And they look after you well?”

Mrs Mount, 93, sitting next to her son, said she was happy at the lodge.

Her husband Reginald Mount had served as Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy in the Fleet Air Arm and died 15 years ago.

Turning to Mrs Mount before she left, the Queen said: “I am very glad to see you today.”

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The Queen unveiled a plaque to officially open Appleton Lodge (Michael Drummond/PA)

After touring the facility, the royal was invited to unveil a plaque to officially open Appleton Lodge, which she did to cheers from the crowd.

Elsewhere on the Centenary Village site, the Queen was treated to a tour of Victory House, another set of apartments for veterans.

There she met Fijian-born John Ahben, who served with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment before he was involved in a car accident.

Mr Ahben, who was unconscious for more than two weeks after the incident, stayed at rehabilitation centre Headley Court several times before he joined the RBLI in 2016.

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The Queen encountered a guide dog during her visit (Michael Drummond/PA)

He now works as a horticulturist, tending the Chelsea Garden which he showed to the Queen.

The Queen also met members of Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company, an enterprise run by the RBLI which employs veterans and people with disabilities.

The factory employs over 100 people, 70 of whom are veterans, have a health condition or both.

Brigadier Steve Sherry, RBLI chief executive, said: “One hundred years ago, a group of philanthropists and forward thinkers came together to set up a community encompassing homes, welfare and employment to support vulnerable veterans.

“We’re immensely proud to still be doing this today.”

Today is a moment of celebration, but also a time of reflection on the sacrifices the Armed Forces make in times of need Queen's time capsule message

“This century of experience has culminated in our most ambitious project yet, the Centenary Village, which will place us at the very forefront of veteran support, ensuring RBLI is there for those who need us most for another century to come,” he continued.

“Whilst we have moved closer towards our goal, we are still not there yet. We are delighted that Her Majesty’s attendance marks the beginning of the next stage of this exciting development.”

Later in her visit, the Queen buried a time capsule in the grounds, to be unearthed in 100 years.

She enclosed a letter in the capsule saying: “I wish to congratulate Royal British Legion Industries on their centenary, and their support of veterans over the past 100 years.

“Today is a moment of celebration, but also a time of reflection on the sacrifices the Armed Forces make in times of need.

“I send my warmest best wishes to RBLI and all who support them.”

PA

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