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?
We should not forget the old soldiers, either:
(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:
(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:
(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:
(Photograph of Staff Sergeant Kevin Vaughan with his two boys by the PA.)
I think of the women:
(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:
(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:
Anyway, it is a day to remember the troops.
(Patrol in Afghanistan from Helmand Blog; Armed Forces Day Parade by the PA.)