Saturday, June 27, 2009

Armed Forces Day

It was only this morning that I realised we've had an official Veterans Day in this country till now. I've obviously missed it in news broadcasts etc for the past umpteen years. Perhaps it's because I don't live in a town with a military base very near?
Although my own personal inclinations are towards pacifism I recognise that there are situations when this country is involved in war and I believe that the women and men who risk life and limb and mind to fight those wars deserve our support. Democracy means to me that however much I might disagree with the politicians who make the decision once it's made the personnel sent to do the job need the very best support we can give, both practical and emotional. That's why I'm pleased that Stockton's nice new flagpoles are flying the Armed Forces flag this week and why I'm glad that one soldier was to be presented with his Afghanistan medal today by the Lord Lieutenant of Durham in the dignified surroundings of the Town Hall.
I was told about Stockton Council's plans for today a couple of weeks ago and was disappointed that I was committed to being elsewhere so wouldn't be able to take part. As it was, at the last minute plans changed and I was in Stockton after all. So I took the chance to go to the Library to see the "exhibition of wartime memorabilia" which had been advertised as happening all week in the Library foyer. What a disappointment - the foyer was full of a very interesting exhibition about eye problems and Louis Braille, mounted by Blind Voice UK. Not a bit of military memorabilia to be seen. Eventually we tracked it down - a handful of photographs mounted on a couple of display boards in one aisle of the library with no sign to direct people towards them.
Denis had provided a digital copy of the photograph owned by the Museums service of the 225th Company Royal Engineers. He and one of the museum staff are trying to put names to faces on the photo - over 100 Stockton men who signed up to fight in the First World War. They were rapidly followed by two other companies which aren't as well documented. Denis' grandfather and two of his closest friends signed up and are there in the photo. Denis is in touch with descendents of 2 others, but that leaves a lot to be identified. Sadly, the book which had been put with the photo for people to write in if they thought they could help identify anyone has been stolen. So much for respect for the armed forces.
On a more positive note I heard some rare serious discussion of what the army is doing in Afghanistan now and why on BBC Radio 4. It's a pity that such discussion doesn't happen more often - we all need to try to understand what's going on there and why.
I also caught on radio a brief bit of Any Answers when a british muslim woman talked about why she wears a burkha when she leaves her house and the circumstances under which she removes her face veil. I wished I could have met her and had a much longer discussion with her. She answered questions clearly and her passionate commitment to Islam shone through. It was one of those radio gems which crop up occasionally and leave me wishing for lots more. I'd love a BBC producer to go and make a programme with her to explore some of the prejudices that exist on both sides of the divide over the wearing of such distinctive clothing. But I don't suppose I'll be that lucky.

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