Here’s wishing the new Chief of the General Staff the very best luck as he assumes responsibility for the British Army in these uncertain times. With both the Prime Minister and the Head of NATO telling us to expect a long war in Ukraine/Europe, the challenges facing Britain’s land forces could not be greater because devastating financial cuts have left the army unable to deploy and sustain an armoured division as we did in the Gulf War.
I worked alongside Patrick Sanders after he returned from his outstanding operational command in Basra in 2008 and he grappled with the strategic dilemma facing the Army – the call to focus solely on Afghanistan. His rallying cry to troops this week – telling them to prepare for war with Russia – echoes his writing then, but cancelled training exercises and failed equipment programmes in the past few years have left the British Army in a more parlous state than it has ever been before.
However, the biggest challenge facing the professional head of the army is not physical, but moral – how to incorporate recent changes within society while retaining the “will to fight”?As we approach the annual RUSI Land Warfare Conference on 28 June, there has never been a greater need for a major re-evaluation of current dogma and a return to the basics of a credible and capable army – combined arms manoeuvre.
This week has brought the devastating news for the families of the two British prisoners-of-war who were sentenced to death after they were captured in Mariupol. With the death of Jordan Gatley, who left The Rifles in March to fight in Ukraine, announced yesterday, this is an important moment as the extent of British involvement in Putin’s war comes into focus.
The British prisoners-of-war who were captured in 1920 were never sentenced to death because Lenin wished to use them as hostages. They did have to endure lice-infested prison cells and starvation rations, but they were visited by the French Red Cross, who provided them with a few supplements such as potatoes and the occasional egg. Some of the soldiers were interrogated by the Secret Police, who tried to persuade them to kill their officers and to act as spies, but their loyalty to the group was never compromised.
Here’s hoping that there is similar Red Cross support for Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and that if there is to be a prisoner exchange it occurs soon.
It was wonderful to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II today and sing the National Anthem at our local celebration. For seventy years, Her Majesty has been a serene symbol of peace and security in Britain, despite the world being in conflict for most of that time.
After her coronation, The Queen and Prince Philip undertook a global tour ending up in the newly independent Libya, which had just signed a friendship and co-operation treaty with Britain. During this visit, the Royal Couple met the King and Queen of Libya, paid their respects at the Commonwealth War Cemetery and inspected the British troops stationed in Cyrenaica, including the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Royal Tank Regiment and the Sherwood Foresters.
The photograph below invokes the exploits of another intrepid woman who had completed two journeys across Libya in a Land Rover Series One named Pollyanna. Barbara Toy did not publish her books about her time in Libya until after The Queen’s visit, by when the British interest in this fascinating Mediterranean / North African country was at its height. See Liberating Libya for more forgotten stories about the long-standing Anglo-Libyan friendship.