As a former RAF pilot Phil Jones knows all about the stresses and strains of military life.
Considering himself lucky to emerge relatively unscathed after three decades of flying nine different aircraft, the 57-year-old and his wife Paulette, 56, now help fellow servicemen who are recovering from physical injuries or combat stress.
Through their project Joie de Vie, the couple give servicemen and women short breaks at their self-catering studio in France for a very small charge.
Phil said: “I was in the RAF for 33 years and saw how it affected many families. The Armed Forces have had a hard time for the past few years. We just wanted to do our bit to help those who are often at breaking point and desperately need a break but cannot afford one.”
Phil and Paulette’s road to their Damascus moment was a visit to the Somme battlefields.
Paulette, who suffered chronic pain for many years after a large nerve tumour was removed from her chest, said: “During our visit to the Somme in 2004 we knew God was calling us to work in France.
“But my illness made that impossible, until I received a miracle of healing in Bourne in 2008 and realised his call involved helping those who had suffered while serving in the military.”
The couple lived in Elsea Park, in Bourne and were members of St Firmin’s Church in Thurlby, at the time.
Phil said: “The trauma of war, so evident in 1914-1918 battlefields, is still with those who served in Afghanistan.
“We realised that this was the tip of an iceberg as we imagined that those who had been detached in operations in Iraq, the Falklands and Northern Ireland might also be suffering from physical injuries and combat stress.”
Phil retired from the Air Force in 2007 and in 2009 the couple moved to south-west France to live at St Fort sur le Ne, a village nestled among the vineyards near Cognac and their project Joie de Vie was born.
Since then they have been providing short breaks for people who currently serve in the military, veterans or those who work closely alongside the Armed Forces.
Paulette said: “Joie de Vie was designed with two objectives in mind: a commitment to provide a comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable holiday at minimum cost and not to exclude a guest where mobility is a problem.”
The self-catering accommodation is suitable for a couple or a single person and evening meals can also be provided. Guests are asked for a very small donation to help cover costs.
Phil said: “Joie de Vie has flourished beyond our imagination. We have now entertained 37 guests from all three services and from medical support services.”
Their experiences has also led Paulette to write book recounting their voyage of discovery of their Christian faith, the founding of Joie de Vie, French culture and customs and their deep sense of belonging in France.
Another Promised Land: How Passion for France Involved Jesus is available through electronic download or Amazon in paperback or hardback.
Next week the couple will be returning to Bourne to say thank you to the people who supported them in their quest to help servicemen.
Paulette said: “Our friends in the Ness group churches of Thurlby, Langtoft and Baston, in Northorpe and in Bourne have been fantastic in their encouragement and prayer support, as well as arranging fundraising coffee mornings in Thurlby.
“These generous funds have assisted a number of guests with their travel costs, without which they would not have been able to enjoy rest and recuperation in Joie de Vie. How indebted we are to them.”
Phil and Paulette can be e-mailed on firstname.lastname@example.org