"Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved".
Do we really think so?
True, Kent's Festival of Remembrance held at the Winter Gardens in Margate a week ago was supported by some eighty standard-bearers, attracted a good turnout of the Old and Bold, their widows and their families, and was graced, in this the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Falklands War, by the performance of the band of The Parachute Regiment and the presence of the President of the Royal British Legion.
The "Military Covenant", though, is in tatters is it not?
The covenant dictates that men and women of the armed services will don the uniform of the Crown, train, be despatched to wherever in the World their Country deems them to be needed and do what every is necessary, up and including the sacrifice of their lives, in the interests of those of us who sleep soundly at home. While doing this they will surrender very many of the rights and privileges that we, as private citizens, enjoy.
Our part of the covenant is that, in return for this service we will provide fair pay and conditions for our serving men and women and we will equip them properly to carry out, as safely and efficiently as possible, the tasks that we demand of them. We will deploy them only of necessity and in the cause of truth and freedom and justice. We will house them, and their wives or husbands and children, adequately. When they are wounded we will treat them on the battlefield and, when repatriated, to the highest standards that we can provide. When they suffer permanent injury, disability of body or mind and disfigurement we will do our best to make provision for them and their loved ones for the rest of their natural lives. When fallen on active service we will bury them with honour and dignity and, again, we will offer every reasonable facility to their families.
Do we do all or even a large part of that? I think not. There will be too many bereaved families attending war memorials and services this Sunday, including a large and growing number representing those who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan, for whom the concept of dignity and honour and respect will have a hollow ring about it.
Forces accommodation is sub-standard, frontline troops are working at overstretch, the "just in time" supply of kit and weapons and spares is, not infrequently, "just too late". (we now know that the equipment that might have saved the life of Rose Gentle`s 19-year old son was lying, not fitted to his vehicle, in stores).
The families of the wounded have to fight for financial support. Even with the recent doubling of some awards we are making available far less than may be granted to, say, the victim of a road or industrial accident. Medical provision, in the very short term, is, following the closure of our dedicated military hospitals, barely adequate and ill-designed to fit with the forces` ethos. In the longer term we can only speculate. Servicemen are returning home having suffered grotesque injuries from which, in the past, they would most certainly have died. Modern medicine and battlefield evacuation techniques have kept them alive but are we ready, willing and able to take up the challenge and to see them nursed and cared for throughout the rest of their potentially long and often agonising days?
Notwithstanding an undertaking given to me personally by Blair many months ago the bereaved families of our dead soldiers and sailors and airmen still receive no funded legal representation at inquests. If, as Ministers claim, this is not necessary then why does the Ministry of Defence spend huge sums of taxpayers money to represent itself?
I hope that I am wrong but I do not think so. I do not think that a nation that is going about the business of running up personal debt thousands of miles from action that it believes, at least in part, we should not be engaged in gives more than a passing daily thought to those who are doing our dirty work for us. Parades and celebrations of safe return, and honour, and public recognition are probably beyond the reach of a society now bathed in "political correctness".
It has possibly always been the case that soldiers coming home from war have been swiftly relegated to the ranks of inconvenient and uncomfortable memory.
"Don't mess about with cook-room slops but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the Soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this an` Tommy that and "Chuck him out, the brute"
But it's "saviour of `is Country" when the guns begin to shoot"!
It's getting on for a hundred years since Rudyard Kipling wrote those lines and the sad thing is that they are as true today as they were when the ink was still wet on the paper. Which is why, with so many casualties in mind and body coming home, the very least that we can do is to support the Royal British Legion, not just for one weekend but around the year, in the work that they do to bear some of what ought to be our burden for us