Neil Wilson: Honouring the Covenant is part of our national conscience
My Grandmother is 85. When the war broke out in 1939 she filled a series of jobs. Firstly, she filled bombs full of nasty chemicals. They were never used and were buried somewhere near Blackpool, apparently. She then worked as a nurse in Ormskirk, fixing up the wounded, including an uncle of hers who, having been shot on D-Day, woke up to find himself in a hospital in London.
Shortly after the war she married my Grandfather, who had just been released from Changi Jail in Singapore. He was greatly affected by his experiences there and those four years affected his relationships with his family until the day he died.
My Grandmother’s Father, who had fought in the Great War, had trouble sleeping at night, walked a bit funny and was slightly reclusive. It’s unsurprising really – he hid under a pile of bodies whilst the Germans stormed the trench he was in. His father was killed fighting the Boers.
When my Grandmother had a family, her two sons joined up and served in Northern Ireland.
My Grandmother’s life, and the lives of most people her age, has been defined by war. It affected every aspect of their lives, but they got on with it.
I thought that spirit had died until I saw Lance-Corporal Craig Lundberg on my TV screen a few months ago. An RPG hit him in the face in March. Just 21 and now unable to see, Craig was teaching blind children how to play football. Despite his injuries, he is an example to us all.
In July, I visited Thiepval, on the Somme, where members of the other side of my family fought in the only unit to accomplish all of its objectives on the first day of the battle. I visit often and never fail to be moved by the beauty of the place. I know however that I would never have wanted to experience the horror of what went on there.
Most people think like me and that’s why, as a country, we are generally appreciative of our armed forces. We understand the horror well.
Perhaps it’s naivety to assume that Labour ministers over the last ten years have had the same family experience or feel the same way but it seems to me that their neglect of our armed forces flies in the face of the consciousness of our Nation.
The experience of the men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan has not been good. Undersupplied, poorly equipped and hung out to dry, the wounded have had to share a hospital with civilians and put up with abuse from Islamists who walk in off the street.
A friend of mine complained that, during the initial invasion in 2003, his unit crossed the border without sufficient water or rations. He lost two and half stone in six months, just driving a four tonne lorry. In 1914, new soldiers put on weight. My friend’s ribs were showing when he got home.
There has long existed a tradition of disdain towards the armed forces from the intellectual left. From Ben Elton to Tony Benn, they have ridiculed, disparaged and now, neglected our fighting men and women and our veterans. The people at the top have simply carried their ideological prejudices over with them into power.
It’s all quite bizarre. Our military is politically sedate. In Latin America, the Left really would have a reason to fear the military. As Craig Lundberg says, soldiers aren’t political. They are however, the victims of a politically motivated oversight.
The Royal British Legion’s Honour the Covenant campaign aims to re-establish the link between the Nation and the military. That link has faded from my Grandmother’s day, when everyone fought, in one way or another. Today, most young men, including myself, will never see active service. Back in her day, the exact opposite was true.
The people who fought and still fight for our country are its most deserving citizens. By treating them as such we will not only be honouring them, but our national conscience.