On Monday afternoon our local battalion marched through the town for a Homecoming Parade having completed their latest tour in
Helmand. For a few minutes the sound of bagpipes and
crashing boots filled the street outside First Base. The street in the picture
isn’t our street. It is the next along, a few hundred yards from the Agency.
However the picture above paints a similar scene to the one that played outside
our front window.
I wonder if your impressions are the same as mine?
How many of a thousand words does this picture paint?
First up, check out the weather. No rain. Fair enough, it wasn’t an afternoon of blazing sunshine, but the clouds were high and the air was warm. More to the point, that was exactly what the forecast promised the day before. So what? So where are all the people, that’s what. Just look at how empty the streets are. This isn’t seven in the morning by the way. It is 12.30 pm and it isn’t a Bank Holiday.
Was this a surprise event? No. It had been advertised for weeks. And yet a mere handful turned out to acknowledge what these lads had been through in all of our names. Things on our street were slightly different as a gaggle of kids from a nearby Primary School had been mobilised to cheer and wave little plastic Scottish flags.
Surely these lads deserve something better than a march through an empty town where nobody seems to give a damn.
To be honest, the lack of cheering crowds on the streets of
Dumfries is the least of the problems for the guys in the
photo. Whilst they were in Helmand they received letters from the MOD informing
them that their home base was to be moved from Edinburgh
Many have bought houses in Northern Ireland
to ensure their families are close by. Wives have jobs. Kids have schools.
Grandparents are at hand for baby sitting duty. A move across the water to Edinburgh
represents a huge upheaval. Unbelievably they were given 24 hours to say ‘yes’
or ‘no’ to the move. They were expected to make the decision whilst in a war
zone thousands of miles from home on the back of a snatched chat on the sat
phone with their families. The move is a hassle for the younger lads and the
Fijians. It is a much bigger blow for the older guys with houses and families.
For them the options on the table were pretty stark. You either go live on your
own and get leave time with the family. Or you sell up in the teeth of the
recession and move away from home. Or of course there was a third option. Ulster
Resign. Jack it in. Do not make it to 12 years and a decent pension. Do not qualify for a redundancy payment. Just resign and save a few bob for the MOD. Make sure that none of the civil servants in the department have to fall on their swords.
The next day those same civil servants announced another 4500 redundancies. A major appeared on the news to explain how the MOD had got shut of him a mere 87 days before his half pension turned into a full pension. Our politicians never tire of bigging themselves up on trips to
Helmand and waxing lyrical about the courage and professionalism
of the lads in the Green Machine. Behind the sound bites is a nasty miserable
campaign to get rid of career soldiers on the cheap. It is shoddy and
quite frankly it beggars belief.
As I stood at the window and watched the row after row of young faces pass by, I found it hard to feel any great sense of celebration. At First Base we don’t see these guys march in full of confidence and taking their pick of multiple career opportunities. When they come to see us after a few months on
they have confused and hollowed eyes and they seem somehow shrunken. The
nightmares are eating them alive and they cannot understand why they are flying
off the handle all the time. The Job Centre is treating them like they are scum
and the Army doesn’t want to know any more. They have realised that the
recruitment adverts that once captured their imagination so completely were
nothing but an elaborate con. They expected training and new skills which would
guarantee them a career and a bright future. Instead all they have received is
first rate training in how to deploy maximum violence. Instead they have been
granted an endless legacy of sleepless nights and flashbacks of the reality of
what it looks like when red hot metal meets human flesh. Instead they are
intimately acquainted with how it feels to be on the scrap heap.
How many of the young faces from the parade will end up coming through our doors in the months and years to come? Too many. Way too many.
I wonder if you have maybe clocked another thing about the picture. Look how close the march is to the shops. When they passed First Base they were a mere ten yards or so from our front window.
Here are a few basic facts.
The parade was advertised weeks in advance. I knew exactly when the lads would march by to within five minutes.
Our front window is completely obscured by blinds.
I was in there on my own and had been so since I had opened up just after half past eight to unload our weekly donation of 50 loaves of bread from Greggs. Just like every Monday.
Well, what if an Al Queda intelligence officer had taken a note of the time and date of the parade and sensed an opportunity for a ‘Spectacular’? It wouldn’t have been hard. Check out the route. What shops are there? What about that First Base place? What is their routine on a Monday? One middle aged guy goes in at half past eight. On his own. OK. Where does he enter the building? A back door in a quiet street. How strong is the lock? Not strong at all.
So. The bones of a plan. Break in quietly in the wee small hours and plant a huge bomb behind the blinds of the front window. Any cameras at the back door? No. No cameras. Then wait for the guy to turn up and bash him on the head and tie him up in the basement. Or cut his throat. Whatever. Then you have total control of the building. All you need to do is patiently wait for 12.30pm and press the trigger.
The worst disaster for the British Army since
So did anyone from the Security Services call into First Base that morning for a quick look around? No. Not a soul. Imagine if such an opportunity had been presented to the IRA in the late seventies? They would have grabbed it with both hands. But there never was such an opportunity because the powers that be knew only too well that the Boyos would have absolutely grabbed it with both hands. Imagine it. 1 Scots have a homecoming parade having completed a tour of duty in
South Armargh and nobody bothers to check out
the shops lining the route.
It would have been boom, boom and more boom.
But there was no boom and it seems that the Security Services were more than confident that there would be no boom. Was this mere complacency and the result of spending cuts? Or was it a realisation that Al Queda are in fact no great threat at all; nothing even approaching the threat that the
once represented? I tend to favour the second scenario. Provos
And them a final thought came to me. Imagine if the Taliban who the lads in the parade have been fighting for so many hot, dusty months had decided to have a parade of their own. Picture it. About 400 fully armed Taliban fighters advertise weeks in advance that they will be parading through a small town in their home province having served down south in
Helmand for a few months. In fact they even give an
exact time for their march.
Would there be a boom?
I think we all know the answer to that one. There would be one almighty boom. The boys in the RAF and the USAF would surely lick their lips in anticipation. And the parade would indeed be rained on by a deluge of Hellfire missiles care of roving Apache helicopters and F16’s. And when the dust at last settled, there would have been several hundred very dead Taliban guys and the kids from the local school would have been reduced to tiny bite sized pieces for the crows.
And within minutes our gallant politicians would have be all over our TV screens to crow about a huge and vital victory in the War on Terror. And of course they would go completely overboard about the magnificent professionalism of our heroic airman who had rained death from the skies.
I don’t suppose there would have been any talk of magnificent professionalism and heroism had a squad of Al Queda fighters tied me up on Monday morning and used our front window to launch the greatest attack on the British Army in years and years. Instead they would have used words like ‘despicable’ and ‘cowardly attack’.
If you kill a whole bunch of enemy soldiers by using millions of pounds worth of high tech aviation equipment and ordinance, it is heroic and magnificently professionl.
If you kill a whole bunch of enemy soldiers by blowing up a bomb from behind a shop window, it is despicable and cowardly.
Maybe there are just a few double standards here?
I once heard an excellent of what a terrorist is.
A terrorist is someone who throws a stone at a tank.
That sounds about right to me!