As chairman of the All Party Group for the Armed Forces, I was glad to welcome 120 soldiers from 7th Armoured Brigade who marched into Parliament on Monday, led by The Band of The Brigade of Gurkhas.
They halted at the great North Door of Westminster Hall through which, as I reminded them, the Great Duke of Wellington had passed on his return from Waterloo.
We followed in his footsteps to a reception on the terrace. It’s been a great season for pageantry – the Queen’s Birthday Parade and Beating the Retreat magnificent as always; ceremonies associated with the First World War Centenary and the D-Day landings poignant.
We Brits are brilliantly good at state and military pageantry – all tending to be understated. For example, did you know that we are the only nation which has no specifically military music?
Our military bands simply adapt civilian tunes of all kinds to a tempo suitable for marching. Every bit of the ceremony and pageantry has a symbolism and importance for modern-day warfare. That is what makes it so special – it’s not just theatre for theatre’s sake.
Events in Iraq are chaotic and catastrophic. Syria is terminal; Afghanistan quite likely to go down the same route when we pull out at the end of this year.
With the Defence Select committee I visited Latvia and Estonia last week.
It was eerie to be within 100 miles or so of two Russian divisions on ‘exercise’, knowing that there was a (hopefully not immediate) possibility of an invasion. They are under similar threat to the Ukraine and Crimea; but they have one crucial difference.
The Baltic States are members of the EU and of NATO. So any aggressive military action by Russia would demand a collective reaction from all of us. Events in Iraq and Syria as well as Ukraine make that ever more likely, signalling the possibility of war with Russia.
Yet at a time like this we are cutting our armed forces to the bone, with the National Audit Office this week heavily criticising the Government for doing so – a view I hope to repeat in a debate on defence spending in the House of Commons this afternoon. An army of 82,000 is the smallest since Waterloo.
So we salute our armed forces who do such a professional job. But governments must realise what a very dangerous world we now live in and fund our military appropriately.