Weekly Column

Armed Forces or Armed Services?

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Was it not a charming tribute to her late husband that Her Majesty had arranged Prince Philip’s memorial service in Westminster Abbey on 29th March - 81 years to the day after he was Mentioned in Despatches for his bravery in the Battle of Matapan. How good it was to see The Queen slipping into the Abbey with a minimum of fuss for that characteristically simple service. Pomp and circumstance was kept to a minimum; and how appropriate that the main speaker should be a young black woman who had benefitted so much from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. The Duke would have been very pleased with it all. He may have been a Field Marshall, a Royal Prince, Knight of the Garter and countless other awards and distinctions. But this lovely little event celebrated the keynote of his life - service.That evening I was with Mr Speaker welcoming the Gibraltar Regiment who are doing a month of ‘public duties’ (guarding Buckingham Palace, Tower of London and St James’s). All ranks went to lengths to say how proud they were to be ‘serving’ Her Majesty. Next Tuesday I have been asked to go to St Paul’s to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the sailing of the Task Force to liberate the Falkland Islands, 255 of whose members were never to return; and I look forward to hosting my own little parade in Parliament on 7th June to celebrate our victory in the South Atlantic. On Thursday, I am visiting the Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, and then on Friday it’s off to MoD Lyneham to hear from REME how they serve the whole of the British Army.So it’s a bit of a military week for me- significant not least because of the terrible conflict in Ukraine. We are doing all we can to help the brave Ukrainians in every possible way, and we must not waiver in our resolve. They are not seeking ‘victory’. Like the people of the Falklands, they seek ’freedom’. The magnificent President Zelensky is an inspirational leader and truly a servant of all of the people of Ukraine, who have been having some remarkable military successes against all the odds as a result. The demoralised Russians may be beginning to realise what a mistake they have made- and the brave determination of the Ukrainians, the arrogant ill-preparedness of the Russians and the unanimous support of the free world are the three key elements in that success.The armed forces of all free and democratic states truly seek to ‘serve’ their Nation rather than to ‘rule’ it. Their only role is to carry out the will of their democratically elected leaders. That’s why I prefer to call them ‘armed services’ rather than ‘armed forces.’ It was after the 167 Wootton Bassett Repatriations of the bodies of 345 service men and women who had given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan that the town was honoured with ‘Royal’ status. Less well known may be that they were also granted a brand-new Coat of Arms and the very fitting motto “We honour those who serve.”In a couple of weeks’ time, we will be marking Maundy Thursday which commemorates Jesus debasing himself by washing his disciples’ feet. The Queen (or perhaps another senior Royal) will hand out little bags of Maundy Money to the elderly or impoverished as a symbol of Royal service to the people. As the Queen said in the famous broadcast on her 21st birthday: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service…” She continues amply to fulfil that pledge, as do her loyal armed services.

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James Gray
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March 31, 2022