Buckingham Palace reception for 92-year-old St Albans veteran

Pam and John Clifford who travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet The Princess Royal with other war v

Pam and John Clifford who travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet The Princess Royal with other war veterans - Credit: Archant

HE supped on cucumber and mint finger sandwiches and Yorkshire curd tarts – a far cry from the meagre rations dished up to those serving the Merchant Navy during the Second World War.

But then 92-year-old war veteran John Clifford of St Albans was at Buckingham Palace, where he joined hundreds of fellow war veterans recently at the Not Forgotten Association’s (NFA) annual garden party.

The event goes back to 1921 when the first Royal patron Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, invited some 600 wounded beneficiaries to afternoon tea.

The NFA, founded in 1920, is a tri-service charity for injured serving and ex-serving personnel and was established by Marta Cunningham, an American mezzo-soprano. The garden party was attended by the current Princess Royal and her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, and over 2,000 beneficiaries, in uniform with their medals.

John’s five years service with the Merchant Navy included sailing to Murmansk, Russia, on Arctic convoys.

He was part of the Royal fleet auxiliary, after voluntarily joining the Merchant Navy as a steward at the age of 19, and worked on oil tankers during the war, going on convoys escorted by Royal Navy vessels. John explained: “We were the ‘oiler’ so when they ran out of fuel, they came to us and we refuelled them.”

It is understood that while 65,000 men sailed on the convoys where supplies helped Russia during the Nazi invasion, 85 merchant ships and 16 Royal Navy vessels were destroyed.

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John, who said that prayers helped him through those times, recalled the “23 hours of awful darkness”. Although he and fellow veterans were spoiled for choice for food at the palace, on board his ship “we never saw eggs or bananas”.

The party menu included English Madeleine fruit cake, ginger cake, strawberry tartlet, coffee eclair, mini scones and strawberries and cream. While at Buckingham Palace, John said he enjoyed a “chat with the Princess Royal.

“She asked what part of Scotland I came from [Ayrshire]. She used to ride horses there. We had a good laugh, and she congratulated me on being on the convoy.”

The Princess Royal also congratulated the nonagenarian for being in the theatre for 20 years. Other groups she met included veterans of the Bomber Command, the Falklands, Afghanistan, Aden and Headley Court.