By Si Brodie
“Armed Forces Day is a chance to show your support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families, veterans and cadets. There are many ways for people, communities and organisations across the country to show their support and get involved, from attending an event or joining us online to throwing a party or local event.”
It’s 9am and I’m sitting in Eats ‘n’ Treats cafe in Kirkwall, on the last Saturday of the month, with other members of the Orkney Veteran’s Breakfast Club; it just so happens that today is also Armed Forces Day (AFD). Other than a table full of military veterans and their partners, I’m not seeing much of an AFD, despite Orkney’s significant military past. Online I can see mention of a Kirkwall Pipe Band march and I know the Royal British Legion in Stromness is raising money for veteran’s charities with a ‘Tea and cake’ sale today, but that’s all I’m aware of. But as Orcadian veterans, we seem (and in some cases feel) left out of things.
Now I understand that life is more hectic now than ever; people are busier and more distracted. However, sitting around me I see men and women from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force who have provided service to our nation from National Service in the Far East in 1956, through to Northern Ireland, The Falklands Conflict, Gulf War I, Bosnian War, Gulf War II, Afghanistan war (4th time around for us), Iraq War, Libyan civil war and The War against ISIL. Men and women who have written the government, and thus the British people, a blank cheque up to and including their own life. I don’t say that to sound melodramatic, but it is a truth of what we committed to, as part of our jobs. As GK Chesterton said:
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
I am not a huge fan of the often over-the-top way (in my opinion) in which the USA celebrates and honours its veterans, but I do think we could, and should, do more in the UK to recognise these brave men and women for the work they have done and the sacrifices they have made (physically, mentally, and in terms of the impact on their families). As I look round the table now strewn with empty breakfast plates and refilled brews, there is a thrum of conversation as we talk about our weeks and the occasional ‘war story’ from someone’s service. I know, from the stories I have been told by these men and women, and from my own experiences, that the price that UK military veterans have paid is often SO much more than anyone should ever be expected to pay. So I guess that part of me feels that an occasional ‘thank you’ would at least make it feel like our sacrifices were appreciated – which is pretty much the very reason that Armed Forces Day was set up.
But you only have to look at the Armed Forces Day events running around the UK to see they are generally organised with significant involvement FROM local military units, many of whom will be on duty during the event. That’s not thanking these men and women; that’s forcing most of them to work a weekend apart from their loved ones, as a free recruitment tool for the military and not, as Armed Forces Day intends, a way of supporting and thanking the local military community.
So, to OIC’s new Veteran’s Champion, I throw down my gauntlet and challenge you to champion an Armed Forces Day, 2018 which properly celebrates, supports, and thanks Orkney’s military community; those that serve, those that have served, and all of their families.