So I was walking to work across Westminster Bridge this morning, when I slowly overtook three blokes in camouflage shorts and carrying little donation kitties and one of whom had a backpack with a Union flag on a little pole flying out the back. This last grabbed my attention.
When I caught them up, it turned out they were collecting for the very excellent charity, Help for Heroes who provide fantastic support to members of the British Armed Forces who have been wounded in service in current conflicts. They build recovery centres for personnel, provide housing and meals for relatives visiting hospitalised personnel, support PTSD counselling, and much more. They are awesome and no less than is deserved by the awesome service people they help.
Help for Heroes is strictly non-political. I should probably follow their lead, but I'm not going to. Because after chatting with the three blokes on the bridge who I'm pretty sure, but didn't get to verify, are either serving or perhaps recent military personnel, and who were walking all the way to Crawley, which is past Gatwick, collecting donations, and who admitted they were so spry and sprightly because they'd started at the Houses of Parliament, about 200m behind us after chatting with these guys, and emptying my purse into their collection bucket, my first reaction was one of overwhelming warmth and good feeling. But then I also got this little counter-wave of negative feeling, like, Why do these guys have to walk to Gatwick so that wounded British soldiers get the care they need?
I'm not a real domain expert here, and there are probably factors I don't know about. But my reading, in the past year or two, of vast tracts of British military memoir and modern military history, has left me in little doubt that the British military has been seriously let down by the current government.
I don't intend an exhaustive catalogue of errors and horrors, but suffice it to say (and this is just off the top of my head):
- British soldiers in Afghanistan are only about half as likely as their American counterparts to have night vision kit. (And, believe me, NVDs are one of the make-or-break advantages coalition soldiers have over al Qaeda and Taleban.)
- British personnel are still driving around in WMIK Land Rovers, Mastiffs, and other vehicles that have design flaws which cause the passengers in the front seat typically the vehicle commander, an officer or NCO to be at enormously higher risk for being killed or maimed in an IED attack or mine strike.
- British personnel have, at least in the past, had serious shortages of body armour. (Body armour.)
- Britain's senior military chiefs threatened to resign in protest for their forces being under-funded and under-equipped for their missions.
- The British forces in Afghanistan are woefully, and tragically, short on helicopters. The highest-ranking British Army officer to be killed in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thornloe, was killed by an IED while travelling in a Viking armoured vehicle. Less than a month earlier, he had sent a memo to the Ministry of Defence, apologising for griping, but reporting that the lack of helicopters meant soldiers had constantly to move around by road massively increasing their risk and exposure to IEDs. He basically predicted his own death. And the revealing of this memo also demonstrated that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was lying through his teeth when he claimed that he had not denied any requests for helicopters. Brown lied and heroes died.
I could say some things about what Brown has chosen to spend our money on instead (such as tens of millions on advertising public sector services, which are monopoly services, and which is backdoor political campaigning, but with public money), but I've probably already said too much.
Suffice it to say, it seems increasingly clear that the British military, and its brilliant men and women, who are working so hard and sacrificing so much, are far, far better than this government deserves. I hope, though do not quite trust, that this will change in May.