Mark Fenn

Mark Fenn

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Believe it or not, I will be running a marathon here in Singapore at the end of May.

It's obviously a big challenge, and some of you may have guessed from my shape that I am perhaps not a natural athlete! But I have been training hard, and have run four half-marathons in the past five months or so. This seems like a natural next step.

Being able to say afterwards that I have run a marathon will be a great feeling, but I'm not doing it solely for myself. I'm hoping to raise as much as possible for an organisation called Help 4 Forgotten Allies, which I've become involved with in the past couple of years. It provides financial assistance to a dwindling band of elderly World War II veterans from the Karen people of eastern Burma, many of whom now live in refugee camps in Thailand.

During the war the Karen remained fiercely loyal to Britain, and the troops were reknowned for their bravery. In return, British officers were told to promise them an independent homeland after the war. But when the war finished and the British empire was dismantled, the Karen were abandoned by their former colonial masters. They have been fighting a bloody war for greater autonomy ever since, and their struggle is now one of the world's longest-lasting armed conflicts.

I've visited some of the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border several times, and met a number of these veterans who fought so proudly for the British yet receive no pension and scant recognition. They are now in their 80s and 90s and most are very frail, but they are uncomplaining and mostly in good humour.

I'm certainly not one of those Brits who hanker after the days of the British Empire, and neither do I think that being old, or having been a soldier, makes you inherently worthy of respect. But the loyalty these old men still show to Britain is deeply touching, even though (if I'm honest) I don't really understand it. 'Hero' is a much-overused word, but in a very real sense I think these frail old men are heroes because they have sacrificed so much in the hope that their children and grandchildren would inherit a better world.

Help 4 Forgotten Allies aims to give these elderly veterans and their widows a little more comfort and dignity in their twilight years. The money you donate will be distributed to them so they can buy neccessities like food and medicine, as well as 'luxuries' such as soap and coffee.

In addition, on a recent trip to Rangoon I met several elderly veterans who are aiming to raise enough money to buy a taxi, which can then be rented out to provide a regular source of income. Some of the money I raise will go to this project, and the rest to the veterans in the refugee camps.

So please sponsor me, even if it's just a few pounds/dollars/baht. This really is a good cause, and anything we can raise will be gratefully received. You'd be surprised at how little can make a real difference.

Help 4 Forgotten Allies comes under the British charity Projects to Support Refugees from Burma - Registered charity No. 1139273. The patron is Dame Vera Lynn, and it is supported by Joanna Lumley, among others.

For more information, you can see an article I wrote a couple of years ago here:

For more information on Help 4 Forgotten Allies, visit

For more information on the Karen people, visit

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