Imagine dedicating twenty-four years of your life to Her Majesties Armed Forces only to have the Ministry of Defence and your local council palm you off and turn their backs on you.
As far as I am concerned, if you have ever served in Her Majesties Armed Forces, then you deserve a lifetime of sufficient support. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and there have been many occasions where I have witnessed veterans being left in the dark.
Paul Biddiss committed twenty-four years of his life to The Parachute Regiment but in return for his loyal service, he was abandoned.
“I joined The Parachute Regiment in 1988 and after serving twenty-four years, I decided to end my career at the Parachute training school in RAF Brize Norton. To be truthfully honest, I was looking forward to the challenge of civilian life”.
Did you feel like you were prepared for the civilian world?
“I prepared every part of my exit two years beforehand, from courses in close protection and surveillance, the correct lines to take in setting up as a sole trader, networking, learning about tax and all of those admin areas we normally take for granted while serving. Even attempting to warn the local council and the defence housing well in advance of the normal guidelines due to having a disabled teenage son”.
Paul sets a high quality example for other soldiers who are preparing to leave the armed forces.
What did you find most challenging when transitioning from soldier to civilian?
“Housing! Despite my best efforts, both the local council and The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation had informed me that they and the council would help find a suitable place that could be adapted for my son’s needs in time for my exit but they never did”.
“I have four other boys so five in total. Chandler is the youngest and we needed to stay in the Oxford area due to all the specialist care Oxford provided under one umbrella”.
“Chandler had endured several operations over the years from brain surgery to hip replacement”.
“Having a disabled child can be emotionally and financially draining, so trying to save and buy our own home which needed to be large enough to be adapted specifically to Chandlers needs in an area such as Oxford would be financially impossible. Even with a pension at the end of my service. I had warned both organisations of this fact several times leading up to my exit.
Each time they assured me that all was in hand. Until I left the army, they both changed their minds”.
“So sorting a housing issue and starting a new career with the financial and emotional needs of my son in the background was a tall order to start with”.
As a result of both the MOD and Council abandoning Paul, he and his family ended up as piggy in the middle while two organisations attempted to pass the buck to each other and avoid the fact that Paul had warned them both two years in advance to avoid that very situation.
Paul refused to be left abandoned and took both departments to task and publicly banged their heads together.
“First I gathered the evidence to prove I had forewarned both organisations well in advance and that they had acknowledged it. I managed to contact the local councillor who was on my side and write a letter of representation to my then local MP David Cameron, hitting on such points as the armed forces covenant”.
“At first, the council attempted to mislead the Prime Minister and claimed that they were never informed, so I sent my email train which proved otherwise. While that was ongoing, I represented myself in court to explain to a judge the situation I was in”.
“At the same time, I contacted a friend with the national press who attended the court hearing. I arranged this without warning the MOD. The MOD wanted to force the council’s hand by evicting us and making us pay for all of their court costs for a situation out of our control”.
“Before the hearing, I offered the MOD’s solicitor the option of giving his client (the MOD) the chance to adjourn the hearing until they had satisfied themselves with all the facts I was going to present in court”.
“The MOD refused after he called them and still wanted to press ahead with a fourteen-day eviction notice”.
So the Ministry of Defence were literally kicking Paul and his family out onto the streets.
“At this point, I called over my friend who is a journalist and he introduced himself to the MOD solicitor. The journalist had already been granted permission to attend”.
“The MOD could not stop the shit storm I was about to brew up”.
“The judge was not happy with the MOD and although his hands were bound by the law, he did have a few powers. He would only grant the MOD a forty-two-day eviction notice which could only be actionable if the council found me a suitable house. He informed the MOD that they would need to apply again to the court for a further forty-two days if the council could not. He then told the MOD I would not be paying any of their costs”.
“The judge publicly ripped them apart for putting my family through court. The next day the press went to town on both the MOD and the council”.
“As expected the council was under pressure and attempted to fob me off with a house infested with Japanese Knot-weed. The council tried to keep it from me and would not tell me where the house was, but I managed to track it down after tricking them with a few questions about the location and his allowed me to bracket the location”.
“Once I found it I identified the knot-weed and obtained photographic evidence, and I hit them again”.
“The next day after the article. I put in a surveillance plot on the property and managed to capture images of not only the council dept head with a representative from the defence housing walking out of the property but also workmen who were obviously instructed to cut down the knotweed. Which I and they knew was illegal”
“With the photographic evidence, I arranged a meeting with David Cameron’s right-hand man for Oxfordshire council. I gave him my new business card (PB investigations) along with a few other facts obtained”.
“The next day, a suitable house was found, just like that! The Prime Minister was forced to intervene as it was getting embarrassing for him”.
“A nice house in the countryside, the job was done”.
This proves how it is vitally important to be persistent in ‘civi street’. Although Paul prepared well for his transition from soldier to civilian, it was the MOD and his local council that let him down. Nonetheless, due to Paul’s persistence and determination, he finally got the support that he and his family deserved or in my opinion, the support that he was owed.
My understanding is that you now work within the film industry, what is it that you do in the film industry and how did you get into that line of work?
“As for work, it was frustrating at first as I had to deal with the housing issue before I could start looking to branch out. However, once I started, work was easy to find within my network”.
“I never planned or even thought about a career in the movies. My entry into the film world was helped by ex-Royal Marine Billy Budd, who is one of the top military advisers for Hollywood”.
“I was sent an advertisement for ex-soldiers needed in a movie called ‘Monuments Men’, I sent in a photo and was picked as a core soldier. I soon found myself giving advice to the director and star of the film George Clooney. Billy was impressed by my delivery of the advice and within weeks I was called to Pinewood Studios and tasked to set up and run the selection and training of extras for a Brad Pitt film called ‘Fury'”.
“Gradually I was building a new network of friends and my reputation for training actors close to reality grew. I now find myself travelling the globe training actors, stuntmen and extras for specific roles in films and TV. From BBC’s ‘War and Peace’ to ‘Jason Bourne'”.
“My role involves leasing with several departments on a movie production to offer advice pre-shoot from the costume, script to art departments, this can take place months before the first shoot date. I then construct a boot-camp training program and risk assessments to ensure the training given is safe and relevant to the script plot. That way when the camera starts to roll, there are less takes to get the look right as everyone knows what to do the first time, which saves production time and money”.
“I would then be available for the director to answer any technical questions he may have as well as other departments thought to film any militarily related scenes and coordinate those scenes in conjunction with the stunt coordinator, again this saves time and money”.
If you could give one piece of advice to a soldier who is planning to leave the Armed Forces, what would you say?
“Prep as early as you can and embrace the challenge, don’t fear it”
– Paul Biddiss
It is because of stories like this that I have lost trust in certain areas of the Ministry of Defence. However, I have learnt from Paul’s experiences that it is absolutely vital to be persistent, determined and resilient in order to succeed not only in ‘civi street’ but even when you are still serving in the armed forces.
Although it is essential to plan and prepare efficiently prior to leaving the armed forces, I would like to remind you that there may be times where certain situations don’t go as according to plan. Therefore, I would like to reiterate that it is important to be persistent, determined and resilient when transitioning from soldier to civilian.
Thank you for reading this week’s blog, I appreciate your time.
I would like to thank Paul Biddiss for taking the time to share his story with us.
Pop back next week for another ‘Soldier to Civi’ blog.
Jamie and special guest Paul Biddiss
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