Wounded Royal Marines veterans rule the waves thanks to charity

Charitable funding from the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund enabled three wounded in service Royal Marines to start new careers in the maritime industry through Turn to Starboard, a charity using RYA courses to support Armed Forces personnel affected by military operations and the unique nature of Service life.

Dan Fielding

Following medical discharge from the Royal Marines, Steve, Dan and Rich, gained internationally recognised qualifications (up to RYA Yachtmaster Cruising Instructor) to increase their employability and potential for a choice of careers in the maritime industry.


Rich Birchall, 32, served in the Royal Marines for 14 years until he was medically discharged with a back injury in 2013. He thought his recovery would take a couple of months, yet after two years of physiotherapy he’s now awaiting surgery. On top of his life-changing injury, Rich had to consider his future career and what that meant for him and his family.


“I only jumped from a height of around six foot, but I landed with straight legs and had around 40 pound of kit on my back. It didn’t end well. After the accident, I was at my lowest and having some pretty sinister thoughts about how to get out of this situation. I initially tried an IT job, but sat in a windowless office typing on a computer after a lifetime outdoors simply didn’t suit me.”


Rich was soon introduced to Turn to Starboard and is now working towards his Yachtmaster Offshore qualification as well as being employed in a full time position as the Bosun of tall ship ‘Spirit’. His military experience in mechanical engineering proved invaluable on his journey to Offshore Yachtmaster.


Another former Royal Marine who understands the pressures of returning to civilian life after a neck injury is Steve Brady. With an engineering background, Steve initially found a job that suited his skill set – industrial refrigeration – but after six months he found the work aggravated his condition. After applying for various jobs, such as an electronics engineer in the British Virgin Isles, Steve found that unless he held a Yachtmaster qualification, all doors were closed.


“After searching the Internet, I came across the Turn to Starboard website and saw that they helped people in my position gain RYA qualifications, so I got in touch.”


After an intensive training schedule, he went on to obtain his Yachtmaster qualification and was offered paid employment as a skipper.


“Being skipper means I prepare and sail the boat with a crew on the sailing trips we provide, plus many other day-to-day tasks. When you leave the Marines, you often leave your friends, so the charity also provides a great place to spend time with like-minded people.”


Dan Fielding was medically discharged from the Royal Marines in 2008 and has now become a full-time member of the Turn to Starboard team, having also completed his Yachtmaster programme and taken on the role of Bosun of Turn to Starboard’s training yacht.


‘I was medically discharged from the Marines eight years ago.  I wasn’t sure what to do with my life and I just drifted.   Five years ago I started having real problems mentally and I ended up in treatment.  I was in and out of mental health services for some time.


I started to think about how I could change my life. The people at C group (now the Royal Marines Charitable Foundation) put me on to Turn to Starboard.  I came down to Cornwall three months ago to sign up for the Zero to Hero Programme and I stayed down here to volunteer for the charity.


Things have got better for me ever since. I feel like I am me again.


What I like about being with Turn to Starboard is that we have all got the same passion.  In sailing you have a clear goal – you are all trying to get somewhere by working as a team.  So it fits the ideals of the military.  I feel like I fit in again.  It has allowed me to start living again.  When I was a Marine I was at the top of the slope, I knew what I was doing and that I was valued.  Then when I left it was like I was told – you’re no use to anyone any more … and I believed it.   Now I am right up to the top again. ‘


None of the above would have been possible without the generous funding of the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, a part of The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, the Poppy Factory and Turn to Starboard; each of whom contributed £18,000 each to see Dan, Steve and Rich through their Yachtmaster programme and employed in their new careers.

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