Sir Richard Dannat has complained of a perceived growing gulf between the Army and the Nation and how little we seem to honour our service personnel when they return to this country.

Any decline in the affection and respect which we have as a nation for the Army and the other Armed Services is greatly to be deprecated. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Army which has, with the odd heart-in-mouth wobble from time to time, helped keep a variety of German, French, Austrian, Italian and other assorted Wolves from our door and protect the interests of our nation for nigh on three hundred and fifty years (I date it conventionally, from the emergence of the modern army at the restoration) and I yield to none in my admiration of the Armed Forces.

That said, I wonder if Sir Richard has given a moment to think of any reasons why such a gulf might have opened up.

One reason, for which neither he nor his brother officers can be blamed, is Blair’s War. I supported taking action against Saddam Hussein much on the same basis as did many within and without Parliament, that of the intelligence picture presented by Blair and Campbell to garner sufficient support in Parliament and the Nation. In particular I did so on the basis:

  1. That there existed a competent military plan to defeat the Iraqi military in as quick a time as possible with as little loss of life on our side;
  2. That there existed a comprehensive and competent plan for the rebuilding of Iraq which looked ahead several years to a time where after a successful occupation our forces could leave in good order and with the respect, friendship and goodwill of the Iraqi people;
  3. That the war had clearly defined achievable aims which were clear to all those in command of our forces and those whose task it was to reconstruct Iraq after the event.

That the war itself was well executed no one should be in doubt. It was parts 2 and 3 upon which no one seemed to have troubled themselves over much. Thus, for example, one expected that a clear plan existed (and the means to execute it had been provided and was ready and waiting to go) for the immediate reinstatement of the basic infrastructure of electricity and water. It soon became all too obvious that such a plan, if it existed, was not exactly being executed timeously. Onto the fertile ground thus ploughed and harrowed the so-called ‘insurgents’ strew the seeds of resistance.

Those matters I do not lay at the door of the military, but at the door of Blair, Bush and in particular, Rumsfeld. Their failure properly to plan the peace, however, has rubbed off some of the shine of the Army’s Crown and the continuing casualty lists from Basra and Afghanistan together with considerable disquiet at the apparent failure of the Ministry of Defence to provide equipment appropriate to the nature of the fighting (for which see a plethora of posts of EU Referendum and latterly Defence of the Realm) have proved corrosive of the public’s support for the war. But one suspects that the public is understanding of the Military’s position on these issues, realising that the real culprits are the men who took us into the war on a shady prospectus and who had not properly planned the second phase of the operation and appreciating that the Army must, ultimately, do as it is told with the equipment it has.

Two other matters, however, seem to me to have some bearing.

Firstly, and this is a matter to which I adverted recently (HERE), there was the manner in which the amalgamations of the Infantry was organized and executed (bits of which are still taking place). In the case of the Royal Regiment of Scotland considerable popular and political resistance arose to the whole concept as a result of which Senior Officers made a whole series of promises concerning the nature of the new Regiment, its dress, customs, traditions and local connections which were intended to defuse that resistance and indeed went some considerable way towards achieving that end. But in the manner of politicians rather than Officers and Gentlemen (and I acknowledge that some may think me naïve for considering them so, but then I am old-fashioned about such things) those promises have been swiftly and thoroughly broken without a hint of remorse or shame. It should, therefore, have come as no surprise to the good General that people might look askance at himself and his subordinates when they behave like dishonourable politicians rather than honourable holders of the Queen’s Commission. We are used to politicians breaking their word without a moment’s hesitation (If bid ‘Good Morning; by Gordon Brown, my first impulse would be to look at my watch to confirm his greeting), but to find those in command of the Army doing so is a shocking and painful breach of trust.

The second observation I have is that it is all very well for the good General to expect us to turn out for a parade. I love a good parade and would willingly go to one. But let us think about that for a moment and ponder on where I might go for such, in the light of the manner in which the amalgamations of Infantry Regiments broke most of the long-standing links of the line infantry with individual counties or small groups of counties.

For example I live in what was until about a thousand years ago the Kingdom of Mercia but which has long since disappeared as an entity. Yet there is now a Mercian Regiment of which I have no sense as a local regiment as it is actually the home of Regiments that had their county ties in Cheshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Northamptonshire is in what was Mercia but the former Northamptonshire Regiment belongs not to The Mercian Regiment but was long ago subsumed into the Royal Anglian Regiment, the Regiment for all of East Anglia, from the Thames to the Wash and from the Broads to nearly the Cotswolds.

Regiments which recruit in a particular district may have some sort of depot in the area, but the Battalions themselves seem rarely to be stationed anywhere nearby, so a parade in their home district is going to be a logistic nightmare and subject to severe economic restraints. I don’t see Gordon falling over himself to spend money on parades, somehow.

My family connections are wholly with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in Territorial Battalions of which two of my Great-Uncles served from 1908-1918 and in a regular battalion of which my father served from 1943 to 1947. The KOYLI was gobbled up in 1968 by the Light Infantry and this in turn become part of the Rifles. Yet if my son was now to join a Territorial Army unit of the Rifles, he could no longer do so if he lived in West or South Yorkshire as his nearest unit would appear to be 7th. Rifles at Milton Keynes. Scions of veterans of the Durham Light Infantry and the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry would be similarly challenged. Instead he would have to join a company of 5th. Royal Fusiliers, a regiment which may well be of ancient lineage but which has no authentic Yorkshire connections and which does not march at a proper Light Infantryman’s speed!

And so, where would I go for a parade? To London on the train at £50 a throw? The Army is long since vanished from round here, though I do recall the Royal Pioneer Corps exercising the Freedom of Northampton many years ago. Now I could not begin to tell you where my nearest Regular Infantry Depot was.

The amalgamations of the infantry may (or may not) have been a wonderful idea administratively and militarily but I wonder if they are one of the reasons why the sense of a link being broken is so strong. This loss of the link was something of which wise heads cautioned at the time. As usual Nanny knew best and took not a blind bit of notice, almost certainly because The Town Rat Catcher when he was Town Cashier would not countenance anything which did not save a bit of cash which might otherwise be spent on some Gender Awareness Officers.

Sometimes there are things in the fabric of our nation upon which a price cannot be put and sometimes it pays to listen when people that some part of that fabric is worth preserving, even if the management consultants say it is a bad idea..

But then this government has learnt nothing and forgotten everything it ever knew about how our great nation functions, what makes it tick. Nor, frankly, does it care one jot.

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