ONE CHRISTMAS IN BOSNIA
Dedicated to the memory of Mike Gillman
who worked tirelessly and selflessly for war orphans
OVER CHRISTMAS 2004, six UK civilians set off into the war torn former Yugoslavia to deliver Christmas cheer to war orphaned youngsters. They were not compelled to go, did not go on behalf of any army or political persuasion. Each freely made the decision to make the potentially perilous trip.
A Christmas In Bosnia is the story of those six people and what they did, and who helped them achieve their goal, taking with them over £275,000 of donated items.
The initiator of the event, taxi-driver and 1993 Guinness Book of Records holder Mike Gillman of Eastleigh, Hants, once a former personal chauffeur to Lord Cadbury, succumbed to cancer at the age of 84, less than two years after going into central Bosnia to organise several Christmas parties for war-orphans.
It was Mike's swan song, something he let me know that he knew, and the trip closed a period of over 20 years during which he flew to troubled locations, including Vietnam and Cambodia, to act out the role of Santa, working through the year at his job as a local taxi driver in Eastleigh to purchase the gifts he took with him, assisted by the local press and public and business donations. He helped establish many play schools in Cambodia.
In 1994 he contacted his local newspaper, the Winchester & Eastleigh Extra, where I was working as chief reporter. We had been supportive of his efforts throughout, and in 1994 he announced his intention of going to Bosnia for the first time. To accomplish his goal, he had already driven himself overland into Bosnia from Britain during the height of the war and met with Aid workers and UN military Aid coordinators to pave the way for the trip. It was sanctioned from the highest level, including contact with General Rose.
"There are no heroes and heroines in life - there is only today." - comment to Mike by one of the French Air Force pilots flying aid daily into Sarajevo during the height of the city's besiegement and bombardment and who were billeted in a hotel near Trogir, which was used by the UN and our own party.
This story is one of hope in a country devastated by one of the most vicious and unforgiving sectarian-related civil wars of the 20th century.
A 2¾ hour film made during the trip, the making of which is told in the story and which Mike went on to show at the many talks he later gave at schools and associations, has proved difficult for the author to locate, though efforts to locate it continue. Anyone with information is asked to contact the writer.
Mike was a powerhouse of energy who at 82 years of age worked seemingly indefatigably to accomplish his project. This tale is dedicated to his memory.
To go to chapter one click here.