Friday, 16 November 2007


Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has said: "It is inevitable when people come back from intense conflict that they have a sense that people don't really understand what they have been through."
This was brought home to me when I watched the recent Channel 4 programme "Forgotten Heroes: The Not Dead". The programme was about three veterans traumatised by horrific events witnessed in different wars: in Malaya, Bosnia and Iraq. The three soldiers experienced similar problems in re-adjusting to life back home - especially lack of adequate care for dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.

A significant difference between the past and today is that in the 1920's and 1930's a large proportion of the male population, and in the 1940's and 1950's a large proportion of the whole population, had experienced war at first hand. Soldiers returning home from the wars of the first half of the twentieth century were able to meet up with many people who shared their experiences and with whom they could communicate, find mutual support and thereby in some way propitiate their demons.

For soldiers returning from The Falklands, from Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan that common understanding is not available; only professional servicemen have been directly involved in the conflict and these were/are relatively very few in number. The mass of the population can only watch the fighting on TV, YouTube and LiveLeak; they are remote from the events geographically, physically and emotionally.

This lack of shared experience, coupled with opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is causing a rift between the Armed Forces and the general public; the public is growing indifferent and, from what I read, the returning troops are feeling isolated and alienated.

It is the job of the Government to bridge this gap of "non-understanding" by ......
  • publicly and enthusiastically recognising the work the troops have done by holding high-profile welcome home parades and civic receptions;
  • by providing improved health care and fair compensation payments to troops and veterans so that they do not seem to be being simply discarded and also so that the public can see that they are being treated as important;
  • by letting the troops know that they are valued by ensuring that their accommodation is up to standard, that their equipment is the best available and that their pay is commensurate with similar professions, e.g. the Police;
  • by raising public awareness and understanding by improving the information available, by bringing soldiers into schools to talk to the kids and by communicating in an open and honest way.

Next spring the MoD is to publish a White Paper on service personnel that will take stock of policies affecting the Armed Forces and set out plans to improve conditions. A parallel study will also be conducted into encouraging greater public engagement in supporting the Armed Forces.

If the British Government does not treat the Armed Forces with honour, appreciation and respect, how can the British public be expected to?