Alex Robertson jokes that his Whitesome home is known as ‘The Seldom Inn’. And with the amount of time he and his wife spend out and about, fulfilling their role as Borders organisers for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA), it’s hardly surprising.
Having dedicated 22 years to SSAFA between them, ex serviceman Alex and his wife Nessie have certainly contributed a lot to the national charity. But they’ve got a lot out of it too, meeting people from Prince Michael of Kent to the Chelsea pensioners, and they say that the cards and thank you letters they have received over the years make it all worth while.
“Our children think we should stop now, take it easy, but we can’t,” Nessie told The Berwickshire News.
Originally from Chirnside, Alex served with the Air Force for 24 years, taking Nessie with him. Their four children grew up on military camps. “It was a way of life for them,” Alex said.
He tells of a time when there was a bomb alert while his son, Trevor, was getting his hair cut. Everyone was kicked off camp and Trevor had to leave with half a head of hair.
“They accepted service life,” Alex said. “They used to go to school and they’d come home and say so and so’s daddy has been killed in Ireland. We asked how they knew and they said because they’d seen them taken out of class - we have seen the hardships in service.”
“My dad was in the army and I travelled with Alex all the time,” Nessie added. “We always said we wanted to do something to help afterwards.”
The couple struggled to settle when they came out of the service, but they eventually found their way back to Berwickshire. As Borders organisers for SSAFA. their main priority now is to raise awareness of the charity; to let the general public know that help is out there.
SSAFA helps and supports those who serve/have served in the Armed Forces and their families.
“SSAFA is the only charity that has case workers so we work with the Legion, Help for Heroes, Poppy Scotland, - we all work together,” explained Alex, who also chairs the Duns branch of the British Legion.
Last year Alex and Nessie were invited to a reception at St James Palace to celebrate SSAFA’s 125th anniversary. But it wasn’t until they arrived there on a wet day in November, that they found our they were going to be introduced to Prince Michael of Kent.
“We walked in and went through security and everything,” Nessie said. “We saw that nobody else had badges - we thought that was a bit strange. Then they told us we were being presented to Prince Michael!”
The couple were taken to the ceremonial throne room in St James’s Palace; the room where the new King or Queen is traditionally announced, and were first in line to meet the Prince.
“He was very pleasant to talk to,” Alex said. “It was a really good experience, and great to be representing the Borders.”
There was more excitement for Alex and Nessie the previous year, when James Cracknell and Ben Fogle came through Berwickshire in a Rickshaw as part of their mammoth 450 mile pedal from Edinburgh to London in aid of SSAFA.
“There had been a mix up so we only knew two days before that they were coming,” Nessie remembered. “It was a frantic two days!
“We were due to meet them at Lamberton at two o’clock, but they had a tail wind coming from Edinburgh and at 12 we got a phone call saying they were going to be there in half an hour.”
Luckily they made it in time to meet the adventurous pair.
“They’re fantastic guys,” Alex said. “They were really good to talk to, the whole thing was their idea, they approached SSAFA and said they’d like to do it.”
Needless to say the traditional rickshaw didn’t run to on-board toilet facilities.
“We lost James at Lamberton, he just disappeared,” Nessie said. “I said ‘where’s he gone?’ and someone said - don’t turn around!”
As Borders representatives for SSAFA, Alex and Nessie will be out from February with their stand at least twice a month. They cover the whole of the Borders, a feat that proves tricky on the charity’s national collection day when they visit every collection point from Eyemouth to Hawick and Peebles, and everywhere in between.
“We must have raised thousands over the years, it all goes into the pot,” Alex said. “We have always got to think of new ideas.
“We have a race day at Kelso once a year with the SSAFA plate and last year we were the official charity of the Jim Clark Rally which was excellent. We also had a rugby match for the 125th anniversary against Jed Forrest, who were also celebrating their 125th anniversary. That took a lot of organising but it was good.”
“We have met some wonderful people,” Nessie insisted. “People from all walks of life.”
Three years ago Alex and Nessie were at the Cenotaph for the remembrance service, a day that will stay with them both.
“It really hit me when the war widows marched up, girls 20 or 30 years of age. That was an experience,” Alex said.
“The Cenotaph was something else,” Nessie agreed. “I cried all the way round. Experiences like that make it all worth it.”