Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thanking Our Troops

"One Day's Service, A Lifetime's Support"

Last night on my LBC show we discussed the issue of how we treat our armed services, and in particular war veterans. It is never good when a presenter breaks down in tears on air, but last night it nearly happened to me twice. Once when reading out a heartfelt text and another time when an elderly lady phoned up to tell me that her husband had been held by the Germans in the Hartenstein Hotel I had visited with my Dad in Arnhem last week. There were several other callers who were outraged at how we treat our veterans, a subject I discussed with retired army officer Dick Bland.

I spoke to Colonel Richard Kemp who wants the government to introduce and equivalent of America's Purple Heart medal, to recognise the valour of those who are injured in combat.

But that's not the reason for this post. During the hour I told of how, when I was in Arnhem last week, we visited the museum at the Hartenstein Hotel, which housed the German command centre during WW2 for that part of Holland. While we were there, about 100 British Army soldiers were visiting too, along with several dozen cyclists who had been taking part in a sponsored bike ride from the UK to Holland in aid of Help for Heroes. Two of them had lost both legs while fighting in Afghanistan. Another was blind in one eye. I so wanted to go up to them and shake their hands and thank them for what they had done. But I didn't. I wanted to talk to the guys in their uniforms and let them know people like me appreciated what they were doing for our country. But I didn't. And I was ashamed of myself. Part of it was a slight embarrassment, part of it was the fact that I knew I would well up like a wuss and part of it was ... well, it's not the sort of thing we do in this country is it? In America it's different. There's no reservation at all. There's an outgoing nature among Americans which we just don't have. That's why you see videos on Youtube of troops being clapped through airports. But it's more than that, they treat their soldiers and veterans with a respect we don't. Soldiers are invited onto aircraft to take their seats first. They're honoured at sports games. In their hometowns their treated like minor celebrities. In Britain our troops are told not to wear uniforms outside barracks in case they are attacked. What kind of country does that makes us? Charities like SSAFA and Help For Heroes have to step in and do the things for veterans which in America would be done by the Department of Veteran Affairs. They do a great job but too much is put on them.

Later in my programme I talked to Colonel Richard Kemp, who told me he had been following my Arnhem trip on Twitter. He reckoned that he and I should start a campaign to encourage people to thank our troops. To go up to individual soldiers and shake their hands, to do anything to let them know how appreciated they are. Something as simple as if you're passing a lorry carrying troops, give it a toot and a wave. It's simple things like that which make a difference. Richard has started a Twitter hashtage #thanktroops.

It was amazing to hear the calls which followed this suggestion. People described their own experiences in America at airports and sports games. One man rang in and was almost in tears describing how he, like me, was ashamed that he had never had the courage to make his feelings known to individual soldiers he had met.

So come on people. Next time you see someone in uniform, do it. Tell them how grateful you are. Shake their hand. Wave at them. Smile. But let them know. And when you do, come back here and tell us what the reaction was.


Note: The top video was real. The one at the bottom was for a Budweiser commercial.


Unknown said...

Remember, it's "it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'
But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll."

JMB said...

We need to be careful not to debase medals as the Americans have. There was a discussion on a military forum earlier in the year and someone said American soldiers get a medal for passing basic training. Someone else had been at an event attended by some American Sea Cadets, they had more medals than the British war veterans.

Peter Botting said...

This is your best post ever Iain.

Brian said...

Iain, please use your ministerial contacts to get those scum who protest at homecoming parades and call returning servicemen and women murderers etc deported permanently, instantly with no right of appeal or return.
Ten years of peace, re-equipping and re-training at home bases under the slogan "Britain First" is vital to save our defence capability. Let the casualty-shy fair weather members of NATO do their bit instead of us for a change.

Roger said...

Iain, I have often felt and behaved exactly as you describe - wanted to go up and shake their hand or at least say thanks, but chickened out. Never will I hesitate again! I am also ashamed that our troops feel they shouldn't wear their uniforms in public with pride. Let's change this and spread the word at every opportunity.

Michael Heaver said...

Correct, correct, correct. Our brave troops deserve much better.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

When I was growing up in the late fifties and early sixties, trains would be full of armed services. It was a rather colourful and re-assuring part of life. Nowadays I rarely see a uniform.

I think this must be a generational thing. Those of us whose parents experienced the war, or its aftermath, know full well why we live in relative freedom.

It is unlikely that if you were born after 1970 you have any concept of what earlier generations went through. All you may remember is old aunts and uncles muttering about butter rationing.

As always with these things, it requires education and assimilation. Soldiers must visit schools, in uniform. The BBC has a blind spot about this, preferring to consign military issues firmly to the past or simply stand on an anti-war platform. This confuses the public, who equate anti-war with anti military.

I am vehemently anti-war, but also very supportive of our military. There is nothing much I can do to support them but I did ring up that hotel in Luton that refused a room to a serving soldier and asked to speak to the cnut who did it.

It is unfortunate that we have to resort to artificial ways to bump up wortjy causes, but if the BBC is insistant on placing obviously token characters in soaps, perhaps it might be time to introduce a token squaddie?

Unsworth said...

Well I always make a point of acknowledging them. I see armed forces personnel quite regularly at service stations in my travels, and am very much heartened by their presence. These young people are honourable.

The real pity is that they were told not to wear uniforms when travelling - in the light of the IRA attacks - for their own safety. Those who are quartered in the community are also instructed to exercise considerable care in their (and their families') personal security.

There's nothing to suggest that has changed very much - indeed only recently it was announced that there's an escalating threat from some loony branch of the IRA. I'd like to know what people like Sinn Fein are doing to assist the police and the security services. McGuinness and Adams must know who these threats are coming from. Maybe Ken Livingstone will ask his pals whether they can help. I won't hold my breath.

And why do the Muslim 'protesters' in Luton not get treated in the same way as the Youtube Koran burners? Have any of them been charged yet?

Unknown said...

Oddly enough, American civilians sometimes turn out to welcome British soldiers passing through US airports, most notably Dallas-Fort Worth.

There are quite a few videos of this up on youtube if you search under "British troops DFW".

Ian M said...

wouldn't happen at Heathrow.Its too cosmopolitan

Tony_E said...

I think there may have been a cultural shift in the USA which we were not exposed to as result of the Vietnam war.

The VA was lambasted after the Vietnam war for failing to look after the returning soldiers, especially the conscripts. Some of the shortcomings did not really come to light until the US public had come to terms with the social upheaval of those times. I think there is an underlying feeling amongst Americans that they treated their young men appallingly and that it is a collective stain on their conscience, and that they will never let that happen again.

Americans are also more openly patriotic : 'My Country right or wrong' as a good friend of mine used to tell me.

haddock said...

Americans use the term veteran, English usage is 'ex-serviceman'.... perhaps modified by 'veteran of WWII'.
Americans do many things better than the English, but their use of the English language isn't one of them.

PS nice to see a post again, it was looking more and more like the Radio Times here.

Richard said...

As others have said, Iain, you best post ever. Your 'thank a soldier' suggestion needs to be promoted everywhere and I have been moved to add my own encouragement here.

My wife's uncle is buried at Oosterbeek and I visit there whenever I am in the country. I know exactly how you felt.

Thank you for an outstanding post.

ulric allsebrook said...

from a french facebook friend
(quick translation) "a soldier is away from is family while he is watching over yours"

"Un militaire
est loin de sa famille pendant qu'il veille sur la votre. Durant la
minute qu'il vous faut pour lire ce petit texte, des soldats quelque
part dans le monde sont en train de sauver des vies ou y perdre la vie.
C'est la semaine de l'appr├ęciation des militaires."

Meifodboy said...

Excellent post Iain. We as a Nation do little to recognise the sacrifices; physical, mental, family and the ultimate, made on our behalf.

As a recently retired soldier I stand in awe at the bravery and determination of today's young men and women who are just as good as previous generations.

Yesterday proved the point for me as my eldest Son was awarded the MBE in the Afghanistan Honours List.

A proud Dad indeed.

Sean said...

I was fortunate to be invited to a Battle of Britain memorial evening at our local base a few weeks ago.

The officers were entertaining the guests and I had a chance to speak to a young Flight Lieutenant who had recently returned from Afghanistan. I asked about how much of the Chinook helicopter was armoured and he described, with a laugh, how he flew into a firefight to collect some wounded and he was pressing himself into the armoured seat to minimise the chance of being shot. With a laugh.

Yes, we are very, very lucky to have them.

Unknown said...

If you want to show your support to the chaps while they are still out there, there are a good number of people fundraising to send small parcels of goodies to the troop. Simple thing like wet wipes, boiled sweets and pot noodles are very well received. One of these boxes can make a huge difference to someone who has had a hard time out there.

Sean said...

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Man with the Melted Face.

Yes, shake their hands and thank them when you meet servicemen. But remember, you can do more.

Colin said...

I second the comments in the post by Peter Botting @ 11:53 AM.

I'm genuinely proud of you, Iain.

My son will deploy to Helmand in late October, as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade. He serves in a front line combat unit; and based on previous experience, it won't be a picnic. For the first time in my life, I'm properly scared. But knowing that most reasonable people in this country, whether they choose to show it or not, support him and his mates, gives me comfort.

Richard said...

@ Colin 8:48

The vast majority support the troops, make no mistake about that. I think Iain is right in that we don't like to show it too obviously, but then in previous decades we didn't need to - it was a given that people thought that way. It has take 13 years of Labour's criminal neglect of the forces to make people realise that if we, the people, don't show our support the troops will think we really don't care. And we do - look at Wootton Bassett. I wish your son well, and strength to you for the waiting; in some ways the hardest thing.

Boy on a bike said...

A group of US troops recently got a surprise at who was there to greet them:

Unknown said...

I served 12 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps. I left in 1975. The service I left boasted Military Hospitals world-wide treating British Servicemen and Women, their families and many civilians as well.
The Conservative Party thought it would save a lot of money if those Military Hospitals were closed and the NHS took care of Service folk. They would not listen to those who said "You are wrong. You do not understand the Service ethos, neither does the NHS which is, by comparison, shoddy."
New Labour under Bliar & Broon concurred. Bliar condemned our Forces to Iraq/Afghanistan when the medical facilities were utterly unsuitable within the Services and care for them in the NHS non-existent.
Fox is now threatening what little is left proving he knows nothing and has learnt nothing.
What is needed is not medals but proper medical facilities run for and by Service people. Proper aftercare for those who suffer debilitating injuries such as limb loss. Proper psychiatric care for those with PTSD. Proper pensions for those unable to work either totally or partially.
What is not needed is the insulting, ignorant behaviour of a load of politicos who've only ever seen a tank in a museum (maybe), never served their country in any capacity (only themselves) and give every appearance of not giving a fig if there is not a vote in it.

St Crispin said...

When you land at Brize Norton from Afghanistan or elsewhere, you are reminded that, if your onward journey includes a civilian flight, that you are not to travel in uniform as the airport authorities do not like it! Enough said!?!

thespecialone said...

The attitude towards service personnel needs to start in schools. Unfortunately when you have left-wing teachers who detest the armed forces, it is not a good start for kids. Remember a few years ago a teacher in a school said at a teacher's union conference that he would hate any of his pupils joining the armed forces.
As an-ex serviceman. I agree with the campaign. When I was serving and visited US ports, I couldnt believe at first the difference in attitude towards their service personnel and ours. It was very positive. That was in 1979 when Vietnam was still fresh in the memory. We have a long way to go. In my town last year, a well known shop opposite the war memorial starting blasting out music whilst the service was still on. That is what we are up against.

Carl Eve said...

Something like this, for instance Iain... and (for pictures)

Whereas the current government are thanking our troops a different way...

Unknown said...

As an American, I don't think Tony_E is entirely right in saying American respect for servicemen and women stems only from the post-Vietnam experience, though it was a travesty - it's far more deep-seated than that, particularly in the South. In my limited experience, Americans are more unapologetic about outward displays of patriotism than the British or Europeans in general. Possibly patriotism has been permanently associated with the more destructive strains of nationalism of the 20th century.

Also: perhaps you do not give enough credit to the British ways of honoring the military. The quieter dignity of Wootton Bassett comes to mind. It's a less noisy but no less heartfelt expression of gratitude.