Remembrance Day brings a range of emotions for me. I look back at my military service with a great deal of pride and remember with fondness the bonds of friendship that were forged in adversity during my operational tours of Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
I also feel sadness when I think of good friends who have been cut down in the prime of their lives. I think of their wives that have to endure life without a husband and of course the children growing up without their father.
I recently had a major disagreement with my MP over a tweet he had posted regarding the Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament which would take place under a Labour Government.
How would nuclear annihilation and the indiscriminate killing of millions of people solve any of the world’s problems?
His argument is made more ridiculous by his insistence that the Nuclear Weapons we have are a deterrent to Russia. Really? Our entire British Force currently stands at 150K. Now compare that to Russia’s 3.5 million! We have 160 nuclear warheads compared to Russia’s 1,500. How is bringing a pea shooter to a machine gun fight a deterrent?
What he should be doing is giving a firm commitment to reverse the cuts that his Conservative Government have imposed on our National defence. In 2010 we had 103,000 Army Soldiers, 35,500 Navy Sailors and 40,000 RAF Aircrew. That figure now stands at 82,000 soldiers, 30,000 sailors and 35,000 RAF Aircrew. When these figures are combined with the callous change of Pensionable age of our force’s personnel do the actions of this Conservative Government really live up to its Red, White, and Blue rhetoric?? I think not!
Perhaps the money spent on nuclear weapons would be better served housing the many Ex Service Men who sleep rough on our streets today?
This leads me onto my next point. At the time of writing, 64 army veterans have committed suicide this year alone as a direct result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD sometimes known as shell shock or combat stress occurs when the nervous system is unable to return to its normal state after the fight or flight experienced during severe trauma or a life-threatening situation. The recovery entails the journey back from a mental war zone to a healthier state of mind. By the Governments own figures (quoted in the House of Commons Defence Committee Report) it is estimated that one in ten of our Forces personnel could have mental health problems. I wonder; are we failing our combat veterans?
I had the opportunity to discuss with an old friend of mine, his experiences of serving in Afghanistan. It was with tears in my eyes that I listened to his story unfold. The responsibility that he felt towards his men, the immediate realisation that his preparation was wholly inadequate and ultimately the despair he felt when he was injured. I could not be prouder of how that man has battled through such a traumatic experience aided by his truly amazing wife. I was truly humbled in their presence.
This story and many more like them have ultimately strengthened my resolve that the Blair led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was a truly awful error.
Nothing unites soldiers more than their resolute courage in the face of conflict and danger. I remember vividly the fear I felt on foot patrol on the streets of Belfast during the early 90’s. I was well aware that my life could have been taken from me at any moment, like so many others before me. I remember too, the scenes of utter devastation in Bosnia. The revulsion that I felt at crimes that mankind had committed. Villages and Towns destroyed, atrocities carried out by one neighbour to another, entire generations of families utterly erased from existence.
The memories I have convince me to conclude that war is far from glorious. Harry Patch who fought in the Great War and was actually the last remaining soldier alive, described the conflict as nothing more than organised murder. US President Franklin Roosevelt simply said, “I have seen war, I hate war. Yet war it seems is inevitable”. Albert Einstein said “as long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable”. President Trumps decision to withdraw from a Nuclear Weapon disarmament programme seems to be consistent with this! This is precisely why I can follow a man who is a pacifist and makes conflict a last resort. After all it is easy to send others to war.
What is beyond any doubt is that the freedom that we enjoy today came at a price. Indeed, the famous words of John Maxwell Edmunds ring true which state “when you go Home, tell them of us and say, for your Tomorrow we gave our Today”. Therefore, I shall have no hesitation in raising a glass on Remembrance Day and toasting those that gave everything, and the memory of my friends in their prime!