‘There was an immediate sense of panic’

Gill Elton with certificates from the charity Help For Heroes
Gill Elton with certificates from the charity Help For Heroes
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A former army wife, she has seen one of her sons, and now her grandson, sign up to serve their country.

It’s one of the highlights of the Hayling Island social calendar and has so far raised nearly £10,000.

Families emerged from what was left of their houses into a thick smog. They could not see their hands in front of their faces, the air was so thick with dust and dirt

But many people won’t know about the very poignant reasons behind Gill working so hard to put on the event and make it such a success.

A former army wife, she has seen one of her sons, and now her grandson, sign up to serve their country.

And going back to 1855, Gill’s great-great grandfather Corporal William James Lendrim was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in uniform.

Then there was the dramatic day when she and her two sons had a narrow escape when a terrorist bomb exploded close to their home in army married quarters in Northern Ireland.

On the morning of August 9, 1973 – at the height of The Troubles –the fathers and husbands had gone to their barracks to start their day shifts.

Unbeknown to anyone, a bomb had been planted outside Lisanelly married quarters, underneath a Post Office van, in Omagh, County Tyrone – the first time the IRA had targeted army families.

It was 9am and Gill, now 73, was getting breakfast ready for her boys, Mark and Paul.

On any other day in the long summer holidays the children would have been playing on the green outside. But, fortunately, it was raining.

Suddenly the bomb detonated, blowing out the windows of the houses. Miraculously, no-one was killed.

Gill says: ‘Some houses were more protected than others by the fact the road where the van was left was in a dip with banks either side.

‘Families emerged from what was left of their houses into a thick smog. They could not see their hands in front of their faces, the air was so thick with dust and dirt.

‘There was an immediate sense of panic, with children screaming and crying and bewildered adults.’

Gill’s house was uninhabitable and, after staying in emergency accommodation for a short time, she took the children and returned to the UK.

A few years later, she developed agoraphobia as a result of the attack.

It is something she struggles with but is determined to stay positive about. And organising the concert for Help For Heroes helps her deal with it.

She says: ‘I absolutely have to be at the concert, it’s not something you can run away from. That is probably why I do all the organising myself.

‘When I go out I must have my car with me, so that if I start to panic I can leave.

‘I tell people about my agoraphobia because I feel it’s something they need to be aware of. Because if I feel I need to go, then I must go.’

Gill, of Mengham Lane, Hayling, says: ‘I’m passionate about helping servicemen and women and when I read about Help for Heroes I felt it was the charity I needed to support.

‘It takes a lot of hard work but it’s well worth it.

‘The British Army are the best in the world. I will always be there for them.’

The bomb blast is the reason why it was hard for Gill when first her son Mark and now her grandson Mathew, just 20, announced they would be joining the British Army.

Mark, who now lives in Canada, joined the Royal Signals and grandson Mathew is doing his Phase One training.

Gill says: ‘It felt dreadful on the day Mark joined up, because of what happened.

‘I didn’t want him to and I didn’t want Mathew to either.

‘But Mark loved the army. He still talks about it and keeps in touch with his friends. It’s like a big family.

‘These men and women put themselves on the line every single day. There are people who say “they joined up, they know what they’re letting themselves in for”.

‘But no-one gets up in the morning to go and be shot. They are serving their country and do a very good job.

‘That’s why I do the concerts.’

Although she had a long career in finance, singing was Gill’s great passion and she has performed with the Hampshire Police Band, who are the stars of the Help for Heroes concert.

She loves brass band and military music and was the former chairman of Hayling Operatic Society, which went on to become Hayling Musical Society.

Now Gill has an enormous sense of pride that her daughter Gemma is a singer too.

Each year Gill invites a different cadet team to help her on the night. This year Havant Air Cadets 2327 Squadron will be volunteering their time.

Gill says: ‘The concert is so well-loved that people ask when the next one is going to be as they are walking out the door from the last one.’

The concert is on November 28 at Hayling Island Community Centre, Station Road.

Tickets are £10 and are available from the community centre or Tibbles Florist in Mengham.

Alternatively, call (023) 9246 1942.