Su Paine has pledged to walk no less than 2,500 miles for SSAFA - 6.85 miles a day - in a year after a volunteer from SSAFA’s Somerset branch helped her to uncover the dramatic story of her birth father, a former soldier. For Su, who was adopted as a baby, it has been an emotional journey.
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Su, now 54, said: “I had an awareness that time was ticking and if I wanted a relationship with my father I needed to act.”
Starting with her birth certificate Su was able to track her father, Corporal Nick White, as far as the Royal Sussex Regiment. She said: “I knew roughly when he was born and that he was one of several siblings but I had done a lot of digging around and was struggling to find anything more. In the end I posted on the regiment’s message board and I got a message back from the administrator, who told me that he had some information but didn’t know whether I would want to hear it.”
He told Su that her father had moved to Northern Ireland to marry after leaving the Army (though he remained a reservist) but was shot and killed at the age of 31. She said: “I think he had seen a lot during the Troubles and was disturbed by the environment young people were growing up in. He was running a disco for both Catholic and Protestant teenagers at an Ardoyne community centre which had won a peace award in 1975 for the successful work they were doing but because of that and what he was doing to try and unite young people he was shot by the IRA.”
Su was assisted in her detective work by SSAFA volunteer Simon Yates after meeting him at a SSAFA Somerset event last year. She said: “Simon was so good. It took him a lot of time and perseverance to chase up the information I needed in order to confirm that the person on my birth certificate and the soldier I had been told about were one and the same, but he was eventually able to help me fill in the gaps. He had also served in the Army and was excellent at putting things in context for me. He also later tracked down information from the Belfast Telegraph archives for me, and he was so good at presenting it to me at a pace I could deal with as it has been a lot to take in. He has been fantastic.”
As a result, Su has now met members of her father’s family and gained some insight into what he was like as a person. “I inherited his height and his eye colour – his passion for stock car racing – and as a former social worker, I have tremendous respect for what he was trying to do in Northern Ireland.”
Her daily walks – monitored by a Fitbit - are not only raising money and awareness for SSAFA, but also giving her the time and space to process all the new information she has about her father.
She said: “In order to fit the miles into my working day I park on the outskirts of Taunton and take the most convoluted route I can find to get to work. I often walk round Longrun Meadow and watch the herons, listen to the woodpeckers and if it’s raining I sometimes go and walk up and down the aisles in Morrisons!
“I also work in a library so that often keeps me on my feet during the day. I go out for a walk at lunchtime and then I come home and walk the dog. It’s great. People talk to you when you are out and about. I live in a stunning part of the world and I feel I know it a lot better now. I’m surrounded by beautiful farmland so I can take off in any direction and be out in the fields within minutes. I’m keeping a walking journal with photos and observations of things I have noticed changing day to day. Now I don’t find seven miles a day as much of a physical effort although sometimes I still have to persuade myself to get out if it’s dark and cold!
“My commitment to the memory of my father, a courageous man who I will sadly never have the opportunity to meet, and my desire to raise much-needed funds for SSAFA to enable them to give somebody else the gift they have given me, keeps me walking every day. It has to.”
You can support Su's inspirational fundraising journey by visiting her JustGiving page.