On Sunday I attended the annual Remebrance Day service at St Andrew’s Church in Cobham. This is a splendid occasion and a fitting tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service to this country in the two world wars and the many subsequent conflicts with which our armed forces have been involved.
Prior to the service, the local cadet forces, Forces veterans, St John’s Ambulance, Scouts, Guides and other uniformed organisations march along the High Street to the church behind the 1st Hook Scouts band (who are very good indeed). This year our Mayor, Cllr James Vickers led the parade in his full robes and regalia. After the service the parade is repeated in the opposite direction and the Mayor and councillors take the salute outside the former premises of Match Point Sports.
I was particularly delighted this year with the large contingent from Reed’s School CCF who were on parade. They were extremely well drilled, smartly turned out, and a delight to speak to at coffee after the service. They have an affiliation with the Coldstream Guards and this clearly showed in the smartness of their uniform and the seriousness with which the cadets – both boys and girls – took their responsibilities. It took me back to my days in the CCF at my old school. We were, with a few honourable exceptions, an absolute shower – scruffy, argumentative and wholly cynical about the whole business. I have to admit that I was only in it for the shooting – I was in the school team and membership of the CCF was mandatory if you wanted to be in the shooting VIII. Perhaps that’s the difference between the Coldstream Guards and the Anglian Regiment (to which my school’s cadet force was affiliated). More likely it is the welcome fact that young people these days have a far greater appreciation than we did of the role the armed services play, and of the difficulties they are encountering in Afghanistan trying to combat the Taleban with insufficient helicopters and poorly armoured vehicles. Certainly when I was at school we took it for granted that the Forces were properly equipped and I don’t remember any complaints at the time of the Falklands conflict, which happened when I was at school, about inadequate kit costing lives.
At the risk of being branded as “off-message” I have to admit to grave doubts about the present campaign in Afghanistan. I have no quarrel with the original plan to topple the Taleban government. It was a mediaeval, repressive regime that was actively exporting its particular brand of fundamental Islamic terrorism – Islamofascism if you like – to the rest of the world. But since then the mission has gone badly wrong. History should have told us that no attempted occupation of Afghanistan has ever succeeded against the wishes of the populace. The terrain is wholly impossible to conquer and those who know it well and can dart in and out springing surprise attacks have a massive advantage. I wonder if anyone in Whitehall or the Pentagon has ever read about the 1842 campaign? Now we are in a situation where our forces are still trying to clear the Taleban out of the country but have little support from the people because the government which we in the West put in power and supported has proven to be corrupt. That corruption has to be addressed because, whilst few in Afghanistan want the Taleban back, they also do not wish to be run by a Western-backed kleptocracy.
Tomorrow at 11 there will be brief ceremony on Leg o’Mutton field organised by the Royal British Legion, a non-denominational service followed by coffee at Legion HQ. I shall be there, remembering as always my uncle who was killed fighting fascism in 1942, but also this year the brave men and women trying to bring peace and freedom to the Afghan nation.