A Soldiers Tale


By Ken McNeil
Our papers have been full of military stories of late.  More soldiers dying in Afghanistan, Trooping the Colour and the 30th anniversary commemorations in the Falklands.
I was struck with the contrasting stories carried by one of those newspapers about two soldiers.

The first is a young officer from a privileged background who joined the army and later transferred to the RAF.  He trained as a helicopter pilot and serves as a search and rescue pilot.

This week he was pictured at the Trooping of the Colour.  On his chest were two medals, the golden jubilee medal and the diamond jubilee medal.  But what took the newspapers interest was that he also wore the insignia of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s premier order of chivalry.

I’m talking of course of HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.  The newspaper informed us that the Queen awarded said thistle to Prince William in a move ‘to strengthen the Union’.  Her Majesty has always struck me as a sensible, level headed woman who has steered the monarchy through many a difficulty in the last 60 years so I reckon she bestowed this honour on her grandson to mark his 30th birthday rather than as a cunning ploy to defeat the ends of nationalism.

However we’ll go with the newspaper’s cunning ploy interpretation.  The idea that this award would have the slightest effect on the outcome of the referendum is of course laughable but incredibly the newspaper made this their main story and front page headline.

The other story concerns a 19yr old Royal Marine who found himself sailing with the task force to the Falkland Islands 30 years ago.  He marched with the Marines in their epic and now legendary ‘yomp’ across East Falkland.  He took part in the battle to capture Two Sisters and lost comrades in that battle.

This week he revisited the battleground to pay homage to his fallen comrades and lay a wreath.  He was later pictured at a commemoration service standing with other veterans.  The other veterans stood in their berets, medals on their chests as snow and sleet battered them.  Our soldier stood bareheaded and if he was wearing his campaign medals they were unseen below his parka.

You will probably have guessed that the Marine is Keith Brown MSP, Veterans Minister and Scottish National MSP.  He described the visit as “unexpectedly intense, the whole experience really affecting”.

Here is how the newspaper described it.  One paragraph in their comments column on page 24,  ‘Veterans Minister Keith Brown not only enjoyed the Falklands trip but took his MSP partner Christine McKelvie away from her Lanarkshire constituency to share the 5 DAY JOLLY’. (My capitals).

It is always dangerous to assume the moral high ground but this week I had no problem looking down from a great height, into the gutter and spitting on The Mail on Sunday.