St Paul’s is a special place at best of times: austere yet stunningly visual and on a grand, national scale. On Friday it was even more special as 2,000 troops gathered to remember the achievements of the Armed Forces in Iraq. I have never attended a service in St Paul’s before, and I felt very humble to have done so, especially in such circumstances.
The hymns were broadly in tune with the mood; reflective and thoughtful. The Royal family were dignified; the Duke of Edinburgh, an underestimated figure, looking with care and kind respect at the soldiers, sailors and airmen and women as he walked down the aisle.
Sadly the Archbishop of Canterbury was woolly, his sermon unclear. He should have focused on the themes of integrity and service, and put politics to one side. Instead he equivocated, flirting with the sort of hand-wringing and vague finger-pointing, the kind of which achieves little and which was very out of place. As the reading from Ecclesiastes told us: there is a time for war and a time for peace. This was a time for remembering. By contrast, Gen Sir David Richards speech at the Guildhall afterwards was spot on. He talked about things that mattered to his audience. He put politics to one side, and spoke of the commitment of the 100,000+ soldiers that served in Iraq. He was both moral and practical.
Talking to senior service personnel, it’s clear there is going to be significant change for the better in the Armed Forces in the next 18 months.