Veterans charity boss becomes Freeman

May 15, 2012

An honour dating back to the 13th century has been granted to the CEO of a post-modern charity for Veterans in crisis. Dr Hugh Milroy, former RAF officer and now at the helm of Veterans Aid, has become a Freeman of the City of London in a ceremony believed to be first performed in 1237. Dr Milroy, a straight-talking Scot and Gulf War Veteran known for his strong views on ex-Service welfare issues, said he was delighted with the honour.

“I understand that the medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord, but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. Much of that resonates with Veterans Aid, a charity that operates with an almost unique degree of independence, flexibility and focus on the individual’s needs. Our mantra is Caring for Veterans in Crisis . . . Now! and that means immediately; if you’re hungry, homeless or in distress you can’t afford to come back in a week’s time. We don’t accept ‘donations with strings’ because we are an operational charity, focused on prevention as much as cure and that relies on the ability to act swiftly on professional assessments.”

VA, which has helped homeless or distressed Veterans for nearly 80 years, operates from small, crowded offices near Victoria Station. It also runs a hostel in East London where Veterans of all ages, ranks and backgrounds are helped to rebuild their lives. It receives around 2,000 calls for help each year and provides around 20,000 nights of accommodation. The charity has helped former British Servicemen and women from all over the world – including gurkhas, foreign and commonwealth Veterans, teenage girls, single mothers, alcohol/ drug dependents and those facing legal problems.

“We are, quite literally, the A&E department of the Veterans world,” says Milroy who has been courted by academics and politicians in the UK, Canada, Croatia, Ireland, Argentina and Japan for his expertise. A senior visiting fellow at Kings College he is also Chairman of the Ex-Services Action Group(ESAG) and former Head of Welfare Services for the RAF. Like all new Freemen he received the book of ‘Rules for the Conduct of Life’, written by the Lord Mayor of London in 1737. A number of other ancient privileges are associated with the Freedom – although few are relevant today! They include the right to herd sheep over London bridge, to go about the City with a drawn sword, and if convicted of a capital offence, to be hung with a silken rope. Other advantages are said to have included the right to avoid being press-ganged, to be married in St Paul’s Cathedral, buried in the City and to be drunk and disorderly without fear of arrest.

“I have no sheep,” said Milroy “and I don’t think I’d get far in Victoria with a drawn sword, but it’s a nice thought!” Prior to 1996, the Freedom was only open to British or Commonwealth Citizens over 21 years of age and of good character. Now however, it has been extended globally, and people of any nationality may be admitted ether through nomination or by being presented by a Livery Company. There is a long-standing tradition of admitting women, who used to be called ‘free sisters’, and their number includes Margaret Thatcher and Florence Nightingale.

The City may invite individuals who have made a significant impact in their field of work or in the City to take up the Freedom to acknowledge their personal contribution and the Honorary Freedom is occasionally awarded to world leaders and other internationally prominent individuals in recognition of their achievements. Dr Milroy was joined at the short ceremony by his eldest daughter Victoria and Veterans Aid Treasurer Robert Clinton.