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Veterans of modern wars

In a mid-September interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Baron Richards of Herstmonceux (GCB, CBE, DSO, DL – better known as General David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff) made a comment to the effect that “a part-time soldier cannot be as effective as someone who’s devoted his life to it and puts on a uniform every day.”

This would have been news to the 60 or so Reservist men and women who gathered last Thursday evening for a dinner to recognise the contributions of members of the Honourable Artillery Company who served on operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Organised by Lt Gearoid O’Connor and LCpls Ben McAndrew and Hamish Dickie – the Commanding Officer having squared the hire of the illustrious venue – this social event was unusual in being attended exclusively by soldiers (including guests and regular army training staff) with an operational service medal for Ops TELIC (Iraq), HERRICK (Afghanistan) and precursors such as Operation GRANBY.

It is estimated that approximately 250 Honourable Artillery Company soldiers were involved in the (most recent) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a good handful of them deploying on more than one occasion. Two deaths – those of Tpr Jack Sadler and Lt Ed Drummond-Baxter – are recorded on the regimental Roll of Honour.

At least one reservist from another regiment was killed during my own tour of Afghanistan; and I overlapped with regular officers from other units who had started their careers alongside or immediately after me on the HAC recruits course, as well as fellow reservists who have subsequently embarked on full-time military careers.

The Guest Speaker for the dinner was Brigadier James Roddis (DSO, MBE – Commander Specialised Infantry Group), who, beneath a portrait of the HAC’s erstwhile CO Ted Heath, spoke of the unmatchable experience of war, and the bonds formed between those who’ve been on operational duty.

Though some attendees* raised an eyebrow re the strength and nature of those bonds [see – ahem – my forthcoming piece in this publication], Brig. Roddis went on, importantly, to ruminate on future wars, and to predict another brigade-level British expeditionary deployment rather sooner than one might imagine.

The deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were both brigade-level. And, in the case of Afghanistan, at least, reservists made up approximately 10% of each deployment.

* Alas, this call-sign was unable to attend the dinner, confined to barracks on account of newborn. But – on a lighter note – he looks forward to the next dining opportunity, as hosted by the Corps of Drums, at which Bruce Dickinson will be the Guest of Honour. (That is Bruce Dickinson, NB, of Iron Maiden – and not, as one young officer had understood it, David Dickinson.)

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