Saturday, 26 June 2010

Armed Forces Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am officially having a day off, but I could not let Armed Forces Day pass without a word.

When I was young and stupid I thought that the army was composed of raw squaddies, hollering sergeant-majors, and honking hoorahs.  I read a lot of Bertrand Russell, and inclined towards being a bit of a peacenik.  I think I vaguely disapproved of the very idea of the forces.

It was only during the long horror of the Balkan wars that I started to see how idiotically wrong I was. Now, I am slightly obsessed by the army and its extraordinary gallantry. It is in the ninth year of a shooting war, and it shows vast reserves of determination and courage in the face of a very nasty enemy. Every day I read the brilliant Helmand Blog, and all too often I see the profoundly moving obituaries that are posted there. What is so striking about them is not just that they always mention the bravery of the fallen soldier, but that they so often talk of laughter and zest for life. The commanding officers use the word love without embarrassment: love for the job, love for the unit, love for fellow fighting men. (This and this are typical.)

The other thing that impresses me so is the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the officers in charge. It goes along with a charming modesty and understatement. My current number one in the bravery and brains stakes is Lt-Col Roly Walker of the Grenadier Guards, who raced to the top of my hit parade when he featured in an excellent BBC documentary on the Trooping of The Colour. (You can read an interesting interview with him here.)

It's a fat and hoary cliché to talk of 'our brave boys', but they really are brave boys, and girls too. So, on Armed Forces Day, I send out a cheer to all the fighting men and women. And the brilliant fighting dogs, as well.

Talking of which, how could I ever forget this fellow?

Treo the dog

We should not forget the old soldiers, either:

Chelsea pensioners by Roy Costello

(Wonderful picture by Roy Costello.I love the Chelsea pensioners. When I was a teenager, I used to watch them sitting on the benches at the front of Markham Square, sharing their sandwiches with punks sporting foot-high green Mohicans. It was one of the great sights of my young life.)

I also think of the incredibly young, going out to fight at the age of eighteen or nineteen:

Kingsman Jason Dunn-Bridgeman by the MOD

(Photograph of Kingsman Jason Dunn-Bridgeman, who died in Helmand Province at the age of twenty, from the Ministry of Defence.)

I think of the appalling conditions in Afghanistan:


(Photograph from The Telegraph.)

I think how amazing it is that the troops are able to face all that, and still keep their sense of humour, even when having to go through the agonies of watching an England World Cup match:

Graeme Simmonds and Ryan Hall from Camp Bastion Fire Section from Helmand blog

(SAC Graeme Simmonds and SAC Ryan Hall from Camp Bastion Fire Section in their England wigs; photograph from Helmand Blog.)

I think of the families, waiting for news:

Staff Sergeant Kevin Vaughan with his sons photograph PA

(Photograph of Staff Sergeant Kevin Vaughan with his two boys by the PA.)

I think of the women:

Infantrywoman with horse

(Photographer and subject sadly unknown. I wish I knew who this very smart soldier is, but I am glad she has got such a lovely horse, and even gladder that soldiers still do have horses, and it's not all tanks and armoured trucks.)

In my more whimsical moments, I think of the splendid uniforms:

Welsh Guards trooping the colour from Welsh Guards online

(Photograph from The Welsh Guards Online. I have a particular soft spot for The Welsh Guards, because my dear godfather fought with them during the Second World War.)

I don't know what will happen in this war. I hope, desperately, often against my better judgement, that the politicians and strategists may be proved right. In my darker moments, I can see no good end in sight. Then I see a picture like this, and hope that the campaign may make a difference:

British soldier with Afghan Children photograph by EPA

Anyway, it is a day to remember the troops.

Christmas Eve reassurance patrol

Based near Musa Qala in the north of Helmand, a small team of 2 YORKS soldiers live and work alongside Afghan National Army warriors.

Their patrol base is only two kilometres from what is called the FLET or Forward Line Enemy Troops. It is somewhere you need to be vigilant at all times.

Each day they patrol the surrounding area talking to the locals, meeting with the Afghan National Police and reassuring their rural community with a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign.

On Christmas Eve they set out on a typical patrol. The Taliban do not take Christmas off, so neither do the soldiers. 

Picture credit: Major Paul Smyth, RIFLES

Armed Forces Day Parade by PA

(Patrol in Afghanistan from Helmand Blog; Armed Forces Day Parade by the PA.)


  1. In my day job I work with the armed forces although what I do means I see a lot of the sadder side of being involved in a conflict. Like you when younger I was rather dismissive of the whole concept and now I am very very impressed with nearly every service man and woman I meet. I hope that days like today will make people realise that whatever we might think of the legality or aims of the current conflicts the men and women who serve deserve respect for and support for what they do on our behalf.

  2. I agree, soldiers should be much more respected than they are - part of the problem is that Afghanistan is so far away, in comparison with the Second World War when a lot of the struggle was near to and in the UK. And the Afghan war is so difficult to understand - if Europeans and USA retreated, would the Taliban move en masse again from Pakistan to Afghanistan and get more power? How much of a threat would terrorism then become to Europe? I've no idea. But I do feel we should fight fundamentalist religion.

    Some rather comfortable safe high-minded people think that soldiers nowadays are victims of current unemployment and only go into the army to get a job. But it's very different from conscription. There have always been people who are drawn towards military life, just as some people are interested in art, writing, sport, maths, philosophy etc. And it's lucky these people are there to defend us when necessary. Life is still the jungle in a way - the jungle still throbs on, the need to defend territory and not be demolished, in spite of the great artistic, philosophical and spiritual achievements of humans.

    Ah well, homily over! Will totter off to bed now with... a Donna Leon novel (American, has lived in Venice for a long time): she writes detective stories set in Venice (why dunnits, not who dunnits), set in Venice - very good descriptions of the place and of character. Best wishes.

  3. This is a wonderful post. I'm not sure what else I can say. LLGxx

    ps Wee blog award for you over at LLG.

  4. A fine and lovely tribute, Tania. It saddens me to think of the lives upended by war, but I'm grateful for those who serve. God (by whatever name you know Him) bless them all.

  5. Yes very well said- I thought it was lovely that they had armed forces day at Wimbledon too and that they gave all the armed forces who help there a standing ovation.

  6. Thank you for this Tanya it's absolutely lovely. We often take the children to play at the Royal Hospital Gardens - I don't think there is a time I have been there that we haven't had the most lively chat with one of the Chelsea pensioners, always incredibly gracious and fun.More and more as I ruminate I can't help but think about what makes us truly happy in life. For me it is freedom - freedom to make choices, freedom to live freely. Many people don't have that luxury and British troops continue to fight for it. xx

  7. Personally, I think we should declare victoy and leave. We have lost too many of our beautiful heros already and it hasn't changed one thing in these countries. Until there is education nothing will change.


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