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A Soldier's Lot
by Clint Wayne
2007-10-06 09:43:17
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As reports of our British Troops bravely serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan have now shamefully slipped off the BBC’s radar unless there is another tragic untimely death, in which case it might just make number three on its News Bulletins after Britney Spears' drug problems, I listened with breath-taking cynicism last week as new Premier Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of a thousand soldiers from Basra by Christmas neatly side-stepping the elected Parliament.

Breaking his previous promise and all with typical ‘Labour Spin’, one cannot help thinking that it was done in this manner just to draw the headlines away from the Conservative Party Conference this week. This is ‘Labour Spin’ at its very best as 500 of those included had already previously been announced at the beginning of September, its just ‘grubby’ politics using the soldiers as pawns for political gain at a time when the Media has been grabbed by ‘Election Fever’.

Warm words and handshakes cannot hide the reality that whilst Gordon Brown was Chancellor for 10 years he continually starved the shrinking British Forces of all the necessary funding it so desperately requires. With poor equipment, lack of protective ‘flak jackets’ and front-line movement of troops in un-armoured carriers it has led to too many unnecessary deaths.

Even at home, serving personnel’s accommodation is a scandal and in desperate need of modernisation and the only remaining Military hospital is soon to close. The number of soldiers returning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is estimated at one in eight with half not seeking any help due to the stigmatisation of the condition. The compensation culture that has invaded Britain however has by-passed the Military. Paratrooper Ben Parkinson was blown up by a landmine while serving in Afghanistan. He was awarded £152,000 compensation for the loss of both legs and severe fractures to his skull, spine, arms and pelvis yet a Royal Air Force typist was awarded £484,000 for repetitive strain injury. Families of deceased soldiers have to wait over a year for news of details of how their loved ones died and over two years before they receive any compensation. It’s a disgrace and why? Because looking after our servicemen and women is not a vote catcher and never will be.

Forget for one moment your views on war, soldiers or the controversial invasion of Iraq. Imagine that you are a young British soldier returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq where for months in a hostile environment you have laid your life on the line facing the risk of death or serious injury from a bullet or cowardly bomb. Arriving back home with a mixture of relief, exhaustion and pride you are expected to disappear quietly from view as the government and public at large consider them an embarrassment.

In America their returning troops post Vietnam have an honoured place in society and are treated in a manner befitting heroes. They are treated with the utmost respect, cheered in the streets, given priority in queues and even have their bar and restaurant bills paid for by grateful citizens in recognition of their dedication to their country.

This week I was reminded of the story of reservist Corporal Scott Garthley who was blown up by a Scud missile on the first day of the invasion of Kuwait. On arriving home to British soil he was taken to hospital in the back of a lorry because apparently there were no ambulances available. He was dumped not in the main hospital but in the ‘Accident & Emergency’ department where he was asked to remove his Army uniform as not to cause offence to anyone who was against the war in Iraq. He eventually had about thirteen operations on his stomach, shoulder, knees and spine. With no help from the Ministry of Defence and faced with National Health Service waiting lists he was forced to pay privately for his medical healthcare, denied the normal fast-track care solely because he was not a full-time soldier.

Is this an isolated case? If only it was but sadly Nicholas Gilliver and John Bartley have similar stories of being placed on mixed wards where they were forced to encounter people who wanted to debate with them the rights and wrongs of the war in the first place. This should not happen the nation owes a duty of care to treat soldiers wounded in operations on behalf of their country.

As the respected Military expert Colonel Bob Stewart says, “We just do not have the expert medics in our Armed Forces today and I find it an absolute disgrace. Their injuries do not happen by accident. They are sent into harms way by the Government so the Government should accept its responsibility and give them the best treatment possible at home and abroad.”

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Emanuel Paparella2007-10-06 14:39:03
In the 19th century one of the much quoted reference to the British Empire was this verse from Orace’s Odes:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori [It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country.]

Till that fallacy is finally dispelled, I am afraid that the lot of the soldier will unfortunately continue to be what it is. The 19th century students had a counter toast which may be more on target:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere. Ergo bibemus pro salute patriae [It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s homeland, but it is sweeter to live for it. Therefore let us drink to the health of the homeland.]

Asa2007-10-06 20:39:02
By the sounds of it nothing has changed in 60 years. Just look at how the British soldiers returning from serving in Burma were treated after WW2.

Simon2007-10-06 20:58:29
In any other industry health and safety guidelines are paramount, yet when it comes to war and soldiers frightening lapses can be excused.

Jack2007-10-07 02:37:27
As a former Vietnam Vet, I fought the enemy abroad and was treated like a traitor upon returning to the States. This was tatamount to injury to soul and spirit, wounded deeper that the physical ones that heal with time.

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