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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Armed Forces deserve praise every day

There wasn’t an Armed Forces Day when I was at school. And for the life in me, I can’t imagine why.

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Honoured sacrifice: Armed Forces Day in Carlisle city centre

We went to church for Remembrance, wore poppies for servicemen and women who had died, stood silently at local war memorials with widows and mothers who cried.

But we were never encouraged to think deeply about men and women who had chosen to serve their country in the armed forces – as peacekeepers, defenders, protectors and riskers of lives far away from home.

Of course, in one sense, that goes without saying. What we know as Armed Forces Day now has only been in existence for four years.

During the weekend just passed, young people – along with their elders – have joined servicemen and women and veterans of all military forces in considered thought of the purpose of duty and the gratitude owed to those who selflessly embrace it.

That didn’t used to happen. Oddly enough, in those apparently halcyon grammar school days, so fondly favoured by education secretary Michael Gove, you might have expected pride in our armed forces to have been high on any young person’s learning agenda.

In the name of patriotism, old fashioned values, Great British standards of democracy and decency.

It wasn’t as though we weren’t aware of what was happening in Northern Ireland and even farther afield, where men and women of service and duty were risking life and limb to safeguard our freedoms.

It wasn’t as though we didn’t know how our fathers and grandfathers had served various campaigns in two world wars and – in my own father’s case – in the Middle East.

But open discussion of war and the work of UK armed forces around the world, promoting peace, delivering aid, tackling drug smugglers, providing security and fighting terrorism were shied away from.

It was as if all that existed in a different world, a parallel universe. A world unlikely to touch our own – God willing. Even though it did. Constantly.

Perhaps accusations of glorification of war were feared. Maybe it was felt pretty little heads should be kept free of thoughts of fighting.

More likely, the real detail of duty’s awesome burden; full understanding of service people’s enormous gift to country and population, was deliberately hidden from young people in what was erroneously referred to as peacetime. Thank God that has changed.

Now, with media concentration so closely focused on the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, there is no avoiding consideration of those who choose to offer their all to their country.

That’s precisely as it should always have been. There never was a peacetime – not for those who volunteered to give us one; who fought and died to offer hope of one.

To them all we owe not one annual Armed Forces Day of thought and thanks, not one weekend a year of parading and prayer.

We owe continuous and heartfelt gratitude for their sacrifice and service, in our name and for our benefit.

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