Launch of 'Wel Hats' campaign for soliders in Afghanistan
PUBLISHED: 09:57 13 July 2013 | UPDATED: 10:08 13 July 2013
SMALL gestures can go a long way in tough conditions, especially in Helmand Province.
"People are so kind-hearted and they send out a lot of stuff, but you can’t use it. The hats are something you can use and the lads who had the time to write back wrote back so it creates a dialogue."
When soldiers face IEDs, bullets and rockets a woolly hat may seem like an afterthought – but they can provide troops with a lifeline to Britain, as well as protecting them from harsh winters.
This is something army linguist Jonny Ball saw first hand, when his aunt started sending out handmade hats to his patrol base.
Now, as troops prepare to face the unforgiving winter of Afghanistan for the final time, Jonny wants Welwyn Hatfield to follow her lead and show Our Boys we have not forgotten them.
The 34-year-old has launched charity Wel Hats which aims to bring Times Territory together by knitting hats for serving soldiers.
And his efforts are being supported by both the Welwyn Hatfield Times and Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps who is chairman of the Conservative Party.
Jonny is Mr Shapps’ constituency agent.
He said: “It’s important that this gesture will let people know we haven’t forgotten about them and we still care as a community. And if we can bring the young and old people together through knitting that would be amazing.”
It all began when his elderly relative sent him a hat and then asked if any of his mates would like one while he was overseas on a six-and-a-half month tour.
Interest was so great she mobilised her local WI and soon his fellow soldiers were modelling the knitwear that came with hand written notes.
“Towards the end of the tour most of the lads had my aunt’s hats on, they started writing from Helmand to home and that meant a lot to the people at home,” he said.
“I want to do it on the other end this time.”
Aside from the morale boost soldiers also get an item sent from home that has a real practical use, with conditions in patrol bases often basic.
The hats are not regulation uniform, but as the bases are away from the top brass, squaddies can reap the benefit of the gifts.
Jonny, who was attached to a stabilising unit in The Yorkshire Regiment, said “he has never felt cold” like when he was in Helmand and knows the knitwear can make a real difference.
He said: “So many of the lads came up to me and said thanks to my aunt.
“People are so kind-hearted and they send out a lot of stuff, but you can’t use it. The hats are something you can use and the lads who had the time to write back wrote back so it creates a dialogue.”
At present there are 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and Jonny wants to send hats to 10 per cent of them, which works out as 500 hats.
They will be shipped to the famous 7th Armoured Brigade – known as the Desert Rats.
Anyone taking part is urged to attach a hand-written note to let the soldier know who made it.
Jonny’s boss Mr Shapps has thrown his political clout behind the campaign and hopes Welwyn Hatfield will help our troops in their final Afghan tour.
He said: “I’m delighted to be launching the ‘Wel Hats’ campaign alongside many members of our community, including the Welwyn Hatfield Times.
“It’s an easy campaign for us all to get involved with, whether you’re a seasoned knitter, want to learn for the first time or just want to donate some wool, there is a way in which you can help.
“It’s our way of helping those who need it most.
“I know, from chatting with my agent Jonny who served there, just how cold it gets, but it’s about more than that.
“It’s the receipt of a small token from us here in the home base. Knowing that we care here in Welwyn Hatfield is important, and if we can come together as a community, learn a new skill like knitting, then even better.”