Strength from strangers


There are moments in life that you realise you have a strength you never imagined. Strength you never thought possible. These moments don’t happen often, but when they do, you feel proud beyond words. These are also the moments that you need to ‘bank’, that you need to remember – how did it feel? / how did I feel? – and to draw on that memory the next time you need to find an inner strength. If I did it then, I can do it now…


For me, there was a specific example of this that I will never forget. I will always look back on it with pride, remembering the kindness, compassion, and support of strangers.

First, some context. In 2019, my husband, Rob, was Captain of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship – RFA Mounts Bay – when Hurricane Dorian struck the Caribbean. He and his ships’ company worked tirelessly to rescue communities, provide fresh water and basic provisions, rebuild infrastructure and offer compassion to many, many people in their lowest moment.

On his return to the UK, he was asked to put a small team together to represent RFA Mounts Bay at the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance in November 2019 at the Royal Albert Hall. They were the Torch Bearers at the very start of the event with Rob having the honour of reading the Citation to open the performance. I was in the audience with my daughter, my son watching at home, and we were beaming with pride.

It was only just over a year later that Rob lost his life to a brain tumour – 22 December 2020.

In November 2022, I was asked to return to the Royal Albert Hall to take part in the Festival of Remembrance, this time as part of the Bereaved Families group, representing Rob and the many sailors, soldiers and airmen who have lost their lives in service or in combat. About halfway through the performance (in front of an audience of 5,000, the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and millions of viewers on the BBC), the Bereaved Families have to walk through the centre of the Royal Albert Hall, along a corridor of light that has been created. An orchestra and choir accompany the walk (Elgar’s Nimrod in our case – Rob’s favourite piece of music) and there is a standing ovation. A totally overwhelming experience.

Phillipa and Rob at the Festival of Remembrance in 2019 and Phillipa and her daughter Nell at the same festival in 2022.

So, I am the kind of person that cries very easily. Especially in those moment where people come together or show love for one another – the John Lewis Christmas advert usually has me in pieces, the feel-good news items crumple me, the two minutes silence on Remembrance Sunday has always broken me. Human kindness and compassion is such a beautiful thing – I find it emotionally overwhelming.

Yet, there I am, less than two years after Rob has died, thinking I can somehow cope with walking alongside 19 other bereaved families (all with totally heart-breaking stories) in a moment of national importance. A very visible moment too.

But, I did it. And I did it in no small part due to the kindness and compassion of strangers: staff from the Royal British Legion, the BBC, the Royal Albert Hall, the hundreds of service men and women who nodded, applauded, acknowledged what we were doing. But most of all, because of a group of 19 strangers. Strangers that had all faced a devastating loss and were there because it was important – impossibly painful and difficult – but so very important to remember those that have lost their lives. These 19 people are part a ‘club’ that so many of us find ourselves in, but that no one wants to join. The ‘club’ for those that have lost a loved one.

We got through it because we were all together: a group of strangers that only met for the first time the day before, but all giving the most amazing support to each other. The kind of support that comes from those that have experienced loss. The understanding. The willingness to ask about and talk about those that have died. To share stories. To talk openly. Laugh together. Cry together. Celebrate together. The kindness, compassion and care that I felt was so powerful – it carried us all through in a way we couldn’t ever have imagined.

So, my advice?
• Do the things that scare you
• Lean on the people around you
• Be there for others

We need more compassion in the world – there was oodles of it at the Royal Albert Hall on that night in November 2022.

Let’s keep it going.
We’d be unstoppable if we did.

This story was submitted by GCC member Phillipa Anders. To submit your own story, click here.


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