On Saturday, I stood proudly at the side of the road in my town, Andover, Hampshire to pay my respects to the men of locally-based 22 Royal Engineer Regiment, who were celebrating their return from Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The Mayor of Test Valley Borough Council accorded her respects on behalf of the Town, dressed in her formal robes, hat and chain, with local County, Borough and Town Councillors beside her on the dais (2 UKIPpers amongst them).
I accorded my respects as an ex-Serviceman myself by dressing in the same formal way I do for Remembrance Day, and applauding them. I also managed to take a few pictures; the one heading this article represents the coming together of young soldiers with community.
Such triumphal occasions are all very well, but how else can the community shows its’ support for our soldiers and their dependants, especially when they are serving on active duty overseas? The Army already has in place effective support structures for the dependants, most of whom are young women, transplanted from their homes across the country into a town or village where their husband’s base is.
They need and deserve what support our communities can offer them, without being patronised. There are already some systems in place, such as discounts for forces personnel and dependants from commercial operations. Rewards for Forces and Defence Discount Service are just two examples. If you run a business, do you sell services or products that servicemen and their families would buy? Then sign up!
What about healthcare? Consider that quite often a wife is left behind in married quarters, pregnant, baby to be born while her husband is away. What more could the community do for her? Locally, there are often community action groups who provide services to people in need such as transport to hospital for outpatient appointments: often used by elderly people, but why not offer it to the local RAF, Navy or Army base? If you’re involved in a service such as this, let your local base know who to contact.
As for schooling, there ought to be a system in place so that head-teachers are formally notified of forces children where Dad is away. They will then know that special handling may be required if the child is upset at school, or plays up.
Local councils can do their bit. Could they provide free bus passes to dependants while the bread winner is serving away? What about free parking passes for the local town’s car parks? If Councillors can get one, them the wives of our brave servicemen should also get one! If you are a councillor, consider putting a motion before your council at your next meeting.
One might also consider helping with outings for groups of families. Perhaps if a community group is organising a large fête or other event, they could consider liaising with the base to invite a busload of dependants to come along.
I hope I have set your grey-matter going on this. If you are in a position to help service families struggling with their bread-winner serving in a war zone, please take action to make it a reality!