[W]HEN you’ve been shot at by snipers in Gornji Vakuf at the height of the Bosnian war, running around a lake in the middle of the night will hold few fears for former Sergeant Major Mal Bellamy.
The 42-year-old from Cumbria has made the switch from serving his country to raising money for veterans under the banner of the Royal British Legion.
Not content with doing a pitch black sponsored run around Kielder Lake, Northumberland this Mothers’ Day, Mal has also signed up to be the Legion’s Poppy Appeal Organiser for 2017 in his home town of Appleby.
Mal said: “I joined the Army from school at the age of 16 and did 25 years’ Service, mostly in the Royal Logistic Corps, reaching Sergeant Major. I gained so much from my time in the Armed Forces so I’m delighted to spend time putting something back via the Royal British Legion.”
As well as going to Bosnia, Mal did tours of Iraq (2006) where he was involved in numerous repatriations in the desert, which he describes as “sombre and difficult” occasions. During his time there, Mal was responsible for helping to run the Forces Hospital Transport section, teaching soldiers and commanders how to operate Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs). He also drove water tankers for the troops in Kosovo (2000) and spent a total of nine years stationed in Germany.
Mal said: “The most memorable incident during Service was probably in Gornji Vakuf, when I found myself carrying our Army padre in a UN Land Rover – a sniper shot at our vehicle, and the bullet came through the window and whistled between our heads. God was definitely on our side that day!”
In 1993, as part of Operation Starlight Express, Mal flew into Sarajevo on a Hercules, dodging more snipers at the airport, before transporting medics to two hospitals which had been shelled during the conflict. Mal said: “I remember meeting a little boy at the hospital called Boris – he turned one whilst we were there – and we taught him how to walk; I often wonder what became of him.
“We were there for a fortnight, and helped out with security and wood chopping, but we always had to ensure we prepared at least one empty grave every day, because we held a funeral for children lost on an almost daily basis. It was tough.”
Mal started out as a driver in the Army but worked his way up to managing a transport troop and then running a training wing, delivering specialist skills in driving armoured vehicles and weaponry. But still not ready to put his feet up having left the regulars, Mal now serves as a Reservist with 381 (Lancaster) Squadron, 156 Regiment RLC.
On March 26, Mothers’ Day, Mal will be taking part in an event arranged by Trail Outlaws, a 14-mile ‘Dark Skies’ Run at Kielder Lake to raise funds for the Royal British Legion.
Mal said: “I’ve long been aware of the Legion’s role in remembrance and when I moved to Appleby last year I wanted to get involved in my local community, so I’m very proud to have been asked to be the Poppy Appeal Organiser in that area, having helped to support the Appeal in 2016.
“Last year I put on my uniform and sold poppies in the town centre, and it was a lovely experience. Since becoming involved, I’ve seen the Legion reaching way beyond remembrance, and I’ve developed a much deeper understanding of their place in society in terms of providing services and support to veterans of all ages. It never stops.”
In 2015 as a Company Sergeant Major, Mal took his company on parade in Stockton-on-Tees just a few weeks after they had been given the Freedom of the town. Mal said: “It was one of the proudest moments of my life. My grandad was in the Army and my mum sells poppies so I’m certainly not ready to cut the ties – I joined the Army in order to serve Queen and Country, it was never ‘just a job’ to me.”
Incredibly, Mal still finds time for the other passions in his life – his family and his football. He has been married to wife Suzanne for 23 years and they have two children Stephanie, 21, and Sam, 19.
Mal said: “Without Suzanne at my side, I doubt I would have been able to make such a significant contribution, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to serve my country for quarter of a century. She really has been my rock and she has always been the love of my life.”
Mal added: “I’m also a referee in my spare time and I’ve reached Level 4, which has allowed me to officiate in FA Vase and FA Cup games, another proud achievement. I coached kids’ teams in Germany and thought about coaching back in the UK, but decided to do the referees’ course instead. You do get a lot of stick when you’re a ref but my life in the military has prepared me for dealing with conflict.
“The values and standards of the army match those expected on a sports field and in the Royal British Legion, and I like that culture.”
In his remaining spare time, Mal enjoys walking, geocaching, keeping fit, photography and spending time with his family.
You can support Mal’s fund raising efforts by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mal-for-the-RBL