Army Welfare In The Spotlight

The tragic case of Officer Cadet Olivia Perks’ suicide on her training course at Sandhurst four years ago has highlighted the challenges facing the Army in the modern world.

The was not a case of bullying, or harassment, like it was at Deepcut 25 years ago. Nevertheless, it was a clear failure of safeguarding in the area of social relationships between soldiers and officers.

It has always been tricky for young officers and soldiers to find the right balance between respect and popularity. All the good work in the class-room, drill-square, playing-field, or training-area can be undone on a drunken night, which shatters a reputation and will be remembered forever. My deep sympathy lies with Olivia’s family, but it is staggering how many suicides in the Army stem from the consequences of a breakdown in relationships. I remember one particular Guards company in Cyprus in 1989 suffered more than any other and it became obvious when one looked into the care and welfare support why this was happening.

It is time the Army re-introduced the Investors in People principles and processes to avoid similar cases re-occurring in the future.

Eighty Years Ago In North Africa…

The Ambassador to Egypt and High Commissioner for Sudan, Miles Lampson, was raised to the Peerage as Baron Killearn. He was the longest serving British Representative in Egypt since Sir Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer).

Lampson is the diplomatic link between my books, Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners and Liberating Libya. He was the final British Consul in Siberia, who was in Irkutsk in January 1920, just before Admiral Kolchak was executed by the Bolshevik government. One of his last telegrams to London suggested that there was no point continuing to support the White Government as they had lost their authority with the population. He was then posted to Shanghai, before moving to Cairo in 1933.

In Cairo during World War II, his wife, Jacqui, was renowned for going out on the town with young army officers, such as General Alexander’s ADC and was suspected of spying for the Italian government because her father was a former Italian diplomat. However, the Lampsons were extremely kind to Hermione Ranfurley (To War With Whitaker) and the other military wives whose husbands had been captured in the Western Desert and they looked after Winston Churchill magnificently when he had the difficult task of replacing General Auchinleck in summer 1942. The fact that he did not panic when Rommel reached El Alamein and that he built a strong diplomatic relationship with the Egyptian Government meant that he was rewarded when the Allies were victorious in North Africa.

Storm Shadow Reliability

The news that Britain is donating Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine is a significant escalation in arms supplies. In the past twelve years, these weapons have been used by the Royal Air Force against targets in Iraq, Libya and Syria. The pre-programmed “fire and forget” missiles are highly effective at destroying ammunition bunkers and concrete infrastructure at long range as can be seen by the photographs in Chapter 6 of Belfast to Benghazi, which were taken in Libya in 2012.

I do hope they have improved the reliability since then. One of my teams in Libya found a blind missile in the desert south of Jebel Nafusa and reported it to the project team in Bristol. They told us that there had been no misses and were embarrassed when we read out the serial number to prove they were mistaken. In the end, we had to blow up the 450 kilogram warhead, while recovering the electronics to England, so the technical experts could investigate what had gone wrong.

Emblem of Honour

The “Three Cheers” for Their Majesties by 4,000 troops on parade was a highly significant intervention in the Coronation yesterday. Up to that moment, the armed forces had played their part as escorts, guards and stewards, supporting their monarch in a subdued way (if marching soldiers and horses can be described as muted). Having completed their task of accompanying the King and Queen to Buckingham Palace, the troops assembled in their regimental groups and delivered a resounding statement of their allegiance to the Head of the Armed Forces.

The relationship between Britain’s military and the House of Windsor, which dates to the First World War, should not be underestimated. The Royal Family has always played an important role not only in their personal involvement in regiments, but also in their embodiment of civil-military co-operation and I am sure this will continue after yesterday’s magnificent procession. There are questions for the future in terms of how this military role will sit alongside a pacifist sentiment in the country, but for now the crescendo of loud voices has drowned out any illogical republican protest. And we can add three cheers for that as well.