Willie Banks, 70, and Robert Wilkie, 67, met 50 years ago when they joined the Black Watch regiment. They tell us their story of the “family” bond they formed in the Army and how they’ve kept in touch over the years.
Willie explains: “I was diagnosed with vascular dementia back in 2013 when I was 67. To be honest, my dementia diagnosis was just the last in a series of misfortunes that year.
“At the time I was employed by the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association as a Quartermaster in the Army Cadet Force and I wasn’t far from off my retirement date when I had a stroke that landed me in the hospital. I was at home recovering from the stroke when I fell in the shower and broke my back which landed me back in the hospital again.
“My wife, Nina, was great at supporting me through all this, but I didn’t have any friends come to see me. I’m originally from Fife and I didn’t have many good friends in Dunbartonshire.
“After I was discharged from the hospital again I was getting some checks with my GP and he picked up that I was having some problems with my memory, which he thought were probably related to the stroke I’d had, so he made an appointment for me with the psychiatrist at Dumbarton Joint Hospital. I went to that appointment with my wife and we were told then that I had vascular dementia. I really had no idea what that meant; dementia wasn’t something I knew anything about. Thankfully I got really good support from the hospital with Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists working with me at home and at the hospital to help me with everything from the impact of the stroke, my broken back and my dementia.
“It was one of the Occupational Therapists who suggested I get in touch with the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Resource Centre at Clydebank. That’s when I joined Dementia Awareness West Dunbartonshire Learning and Engagement Group (DAWDLE). It’s a peer support group that raises awareness of dementia and it is facilitated by Fiona Kane, our local Dementia Advisor. There are about 12 of us at the group and it is a great group to go to because we can share all our worries – we’re all the same and we know what each other is going through.
“With encouragement and guidance from Fiona, I am working with some other people from DAWDLE to set up a walking group for people living with dementia and their carers. Fiona arranged for me and two other volunteers to attend a session with the charity Paths for All which encourages walking for health. They help tell us how we could organise our group. To date we have completed one walk with the DAWDLE group and another planned in Dumbarton later this month, with others on the cards for walks in Balloch park and Dumbarton areas. The walking group is good because it gets you out in the fresh air. We don’t go any long distances, but it is good to get out in the fresh air and have some company. I’ve also got involved the choir too. We sing quite a mix of things. I enjoy singing ‘Skye Boat Song’ and we’ve just started learning The Beatles ‘Ticket to Ride’.
“I’m originally from Cowdenbeath in Fife and I am a true and proud Fifer at heart. I only left my home town, which was predominately a mining area, because neither my father and grand father who both worked in the pits would let me follow suit, so I enlisted in the Black Watch after my mother reluctantly signed the letter of consent. I was in the Black Watch for 22 years; I signed up in June 1967 and left in 1989. After leaving the Army I tried my hand at various jobs in “civvy street” but couldn’t settle into the new way of life and found my way back to the armed forces. In 1990 I secured a new job as a Quartermaster with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Army Cadet Force and this brought me to live in Renton. Being in the Army, a lot of my friends from when I was in service are spread all over the country. It’s difficult to meet up, but we keep in touch by email and on the phone.”
Rab Wilkie is one of the friends that Willie has kept in touch with by email and by phone. They haven’t met up in over 40 years. Rab is also 67 and lives in Buckhaven and is a driver for Arden House, a specialist dementia day care provider in Fife.
“Willie and I were soldiers together in the Signals Platoon in the Black Watch. It was about 5 years ago that Willie and I got back in touch but after his stroke I lost touch again for a while because I only had his work email. We managed to track each other down on Facebook and make contact and since then we’ve been emailing and speaking on the phone about our time together in the army. Willie and I haven’t seen each other in person in over 40 years.
“It’s been good keeping in touch though and sharing old stories of our adventures. We were in Germany in the late 60s, then we were in Malaya, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong so we’ve seen a fair bit of the world together and have lots of stories to remember – like the time we went AWOL together in Singapore.
“Being in the army and moving about a lot can mean that you lose your roots a bit, but keeping in touch on email and phone is a good way of staying connected even when you can’t meet up.
“We’ve been planning to meet up for a while. There’s a Black Watch Reunion coming up this summer and it would be great to see Willie there with everyone else.”
Keeping in touch with your friends with dementia can take lots of different forms. It doesn’t have to be weekly trips to the café or bowling club. A phone call or an email can be just as valuable, particularly if you live far away.
“I received an email from Rab yesterday with the photos of two recent reunions which had been attended by so many well-kent faces from a different life and eras of by gone years. It was great to see ex Regular and TA soldiers who I had served with in various ranks and theatres worldwide and at home, great memories which I will always cherish. In July I’m planning to go to the Black Watch reunion with Rab to catch up with old muckers and no doubt chew the fat about our days in various countries and circumstances throughout the world.
“In a funny way I’ve actually got more of a social life now than I did before 2013. I think having all that happen to me, one thing after the other, changed my outlook on life a bit. I’m glad that I have friends around me who understand dementia.”