I’ve got a weekend of fun and festivities ahead - on Saturday from 7 AM until Midnight, and in Trowbridge on Sunday - taking part in Armed Forces Day. It’s a huge honour that Wiltshire has been chosen (in the aftermath of the Russian Novichock attack) to host the National Armed Forces Day, and that HRH the Princess Royal is coming down to take the salute and lead the events. Wiltshire is home to more than half of the army, with strong links to the RAF and Royal Navy too, so it is quite right and proper that we lead the nation in these celebrations.
Just spare a thought in the heatwave forecast for Saturday at least, for the men and women in boiling hot army uniforms doing their best not to pass out in the heat. “Have a good breakfast, son, wiggle your toes inside your boots and curl up your tongue; and above all don’t go on a boozy blinder the night before,” was the advice I was given before any such parade during my seven years in the Reserve Army.
What a great opportunity this is for the Armed Services to remind us of all of their capabilities, all they do for us in keeping our country safe and well managed; and for us to return the compliment by thanking and honouring them for it. You’re cold and wet; you haven’t eaten for 24 hours, you’ve lost two of your mates in a roadside bomb and you come under fire from the enemy. What do you do? Well most of us would curl up, try to keep out of sight, grab a few winks and snack on a bar of chocolate in the hope that it would all go away. Not our armed forces. No matter what the circumstances, they get up and face the enemy, carry out their orders without flinching, and often risk life and limb in doing so.
Hence the Military Covenant - under which we civvies acknowledge that they do things which we could not possibly contemplate; in return for which we give them the respect, and the material benefits which they and their families need. On my many visits to our armed forces on operations, I have noticed that when you ask soldiers ‘What I can do to help’, their answer is very rarely about their own circumstances or equipment. It’s always about what’s happening at home - housing, education, health provision for their families. Making sure that we look after them properly is the least we can do. And the Military Covenant, to which Wiltshire are signatories, is the promise that we will do so.
So I’m looking forward to a weekend ‘off’ celebrating and thanking our armed services; and I am very conscious that a ‘weekend off’ is something you just don’t get when you are deployed on operations. These people are bigger than us, braver, more committed to Queen and Country. Their service to our nation is beyond words superb. And it is only right that we honour them for it.