Britain will spend almost £12m funding two meals a day for thousands of Commonwealth veterans who served in the British military but are now in need.

Penny Mordant, the international development secretary, announced the move today, which will help some 4,500 former service personnel as well as some 2,500 widows or widowers of veterans from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean.

The programme will be delivered through a charity called the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League."We owe a tremendous amount to these Commonwealth Veterans," Ms Mordant said.

"The British public would be shocked to know that those who have served alongside our armed forces would be living in such poverty.

"It is absolutely right to make this commitment. I think the British public would approve of us pledging this support because of the sacrifices the Commonwealth veterans have made and because of the debt of gratitude we owe to them."Among those eligible for support are Luc Pierre Achille, 90, from Mauritius, who served in Egypt and Libya with the Pioneer Corps as a firefighter and Sepoy Penhungo Egung, 95, from India. Mr Sepoy fought in Kohima and Burma during the Second World War.

An estimated 4.5 million Commonwealth soldiers fought in the British Army in the Second World War. Many more Commonwealth soldiers fought in further conflicts.