Soldiers risk it all for something priceless...a life less ordinary
By Liz Jones on 15th November 2009

I observed the two minutes of silence on November 11.

I bought a poppy and thought of my Dad, someone I always miss at this time of year.
He wasn’t killed in action, but he served in the Second World War – he was a captain in a tank regiment – and lost many friends.
Up until he died, in his early 80s, his time in the Armed Forces remained the best days of his life.
G.P.M.G. still going well then.... but please refrain from the word 'heroes' - it's a job....
British soldiers in Afghanistan earlier this year: 'they are heroes,
without question, but they died doing a job they loved'
He never once showed off about his bravery – his medals were stuffed in a drawer and he never wore them, even on Remembrance Sunday – but he also never complained about what he had been through.
He absolutely loved Army life and after the war he became so disillusioned with the austerity of Fifties Britain, and the monotony of a job with British Gas, he
He had a wife and five children, but accepted a dangerous posting overseas in Kenya, where he was up against a far less tangible adversary than the Nazis.
This time, the enemy were members of the Mau Mau, the Islamic fundamentalists of their day, who were in a bitter fight for independence.
Each morning, my Dad left his family – and another sister had yet to be born – in their tin-roofed house (my Mum would lie awake each night listening to the claws of leopards click-clacking above her head) to go on duty.
He made a great show of taking his gun with him, so it was clear there was no point breaking in.
I don’t know whether Dad agreed with the politics behind the British presence in Africa – he simply did not question that he was there to do his duty, even though he was placing his own family in danger.
My Mum’s only protector during the day was Josephine – the aya, or nurse-cum-housekeeper – a lovely young woman who can be seen smiling in family photos from that time.
But in the middle of one night she was arrested without warning for being a Mau Mau. My family could all have been slain in their beds.
Of course, my Dad wanted to serve his country but he readily admitted he had joined up again because he missed the camaraderie, the uniform, the respect.
In Kenya, he and my Mum loved the G&Ts, the cocktail parties on Mombasa beach, the glamour.
And my Dad never lost that soldier’s swagger – Mum always knew he was on his way home because she could hear him marching on the pavement outside.
He was always dapper: polished shoes, ironed shirt, Brylcreemed hair. Everything pressed and tickety-boo.
The Army made him brave, and that bravery stood him in good stead when it came to facing loss, illness, mediocrity. Even on his death bed he insisted he be given a daily wet shave.
His memories, good and bad, kept him alive, alert, proud. He knew he had really lived, seen the world and made a difference.
I feel for those who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I feel for Christina Schmid, the widow of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid – a bomb disposal expert killed in Afghanistan while trying to defuse his 65th roadside bomb just days before he was due home on leave.
Of course, every death in combat is a tragedy, but the level of hand-wringing by the Press and politicians belittles these incredible men and women.
Just because we might disagree with the role of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan doesn’t render these deaths meaningless. These young men and women were still doing their job.
Let’s not muddy the memories of those who have lost their lives in these complicated conflicts by debating the rights and wrongs of their presence overseas.
Soldiers are not politicians, they do not choose where they are sent, they do not question their orders. They knew the risks when they signed up. They are heroes, without question, but they died doing a job they loved.
They did not buy into the culture that means most of us feel the need to be protected at all times, and when anything bad befalls us we immediately look for someone to blame.
It is shameful that lack of equipment has meant unnecessary loss of life, but war is a messy business.
I hope and guess these men and women joined the Armed Forces not just to police the world, but for the glamour, too – for a life less ordinary.
And they had that. Let’s not take that away from them.
A fitting tribute, and it sticks.... and someone has to be in a 'tank regiment' I suppose....
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