Humbling reunion for generous Welsh Veterans Awards winner

Welsh Veterans Awards winner Arwyn Watkins, OBE, had a “humbling experience” at the awards ceremony in Cardiff last week during a reunion with a fellow finalist.

Ex-Royal Marine Commando Lee West from Swansea was one of two ‘homeless’ ex-servicemen who were begging on the streets of Cardiff as Arwyn made his way to the Millennium Stadium for Wales’ last Six Nations match of the season against Italy in 2016.

Arwyn, from Llanfair Caereinion, near Welshpool, found himself with two spare tickets, so he decided to gift them to the two men who duly went to the match. That was the last time they met until Lee introduced himself to Arwyn at the Welsh Veterans Awards ceremony.

“I didn’t think any more about it until Lee introduced himself and gave me a book he had written about his experience of living homeless undercover for a week,” said Arwyn.

“He had gone to the trouble to research who I was and had obviously got my name from the people he was sat next to at the match who are friends of mine. It was a really humbling experience for me.

“Lee now owns COPR Bar, a craft beer bar and Café in Swansea and we have exchanged contact details as Cambrian Training Company, of which I am group executive chairman, may be able to deliver all age apprenticeships for his business.”

Arwyn discovered that Lee and his late friend, Paul O’Dwyer, were living homeless undercover whilst trying to hitchhike around the country in a week, begging for money and food along the way.

Lee was still serving at the time and took a week’s leave to undertake the mission, which was designed to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, and increase awareness of homelessness.

His adventures are chronicled in the third of his trilogy of books, Trampface Hitchhike: Thumb & Thumber. Lee mentions Arwyn in the book under Hitchhike Day 2: “A free game, train and shelter from the rain’.

“Arwyn thought we were homeless when he met us in Cardiff and we were totally blown away when he gave us the tickets to the match. He told us that we would be sat next to some of his friends who later revealed to us his name. I researched his name on the Internet when I was writing the book.

“When I was nominated for a Welsh Veterans Award, I saw the list of other finalists and came across Arwyn’s name. I decided to take a signed copy to the awards and gave it to Arwyn who was sat on the next table. It was brilliant as I had always wanted to meet him again.”

On a serious note, he said when he wrote the first of his Trampface books, 30% of the UK’s homeless were ex-servicemen. “They spend all their time in a system that looks after them and when they leave the services, they find there are certain things they haven’t been trained to do,” explained Lee.

“Often, these men are too headstrong and independent to seek help. The services need to recognise this issue.”

Now a trustee and chairman of Sa1ute – The Armed Forces and Local Charity, Lee was runner-up in the Role Model of the Year category, sponsored by Forces Employment Charity, at the Welsh Veterans Awards.

Arwyn won the Leader of the Year award in recognition of his role as Culinary Association of Wales (CAW) president in leading the successful Team Wales bid to bring the Worldchefs Congress and Expo to the International Convention Centre Wales (ICC Wales), Newport in 2026. He was also runner in the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, sponsored by Pinnacle Document Solutions Group.

In addition to the voluntary role with the CAW, Arwyn is also group executive chairman of Cambrian Training Company, Trailhead Fine Foods and Mid Wales Fayres, all based in Welshpool and Chartists 1770 at The Trewythen in Llanidloes.

He joined the Army as an apprentice chef in 1978 and has maintained his commitment to apprenticeship programmes ever since. On leaving the Army in 1992, he joined the Merchant Navy, working for Stena Line and became a catering college lecturer in Kent before returning to Mid Wales to join Cambrian Training Company in 1998 and leading a management buy-out I 2002.

In the New Year’s Honours List in 2018, he received an OBE for his services to education and training in Wales.