A typically satirical military response to over-stretch, apparently predating Afghanistan, Gulf War II and the firemen’s strike, by an anonymous member of the armed forces, evidently in the Army, handed to me today:

Ministry of Defence: Official Voice Mail Message

Thank you for calling the British Army [sic]. I’m sorry, but all of our units are out at the moment, or are otherwise engaged. Please leave a message with your country, name of organisation, the region, specific crisis, and a number at which we can call you as soon as we have sorted out the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Monserrat, Northern Ireland, the South Atlantic, Kurdish havens, the odd no-fly zone, Cypriot neighbours, the Derwent floods and marching up and down bits of tarmac in London, we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Please speak after the tone, or if you want more options, please listen to the following numbers:

If your crisis is small and close to the sea, press 1 for the Royal Marines.

If your concern is distant and can be solved by one or two low-level, low-risk bombing runs, but not at the weekend or after 23:00 hours, please press hash for the Royal Air Force.

If your enquiry concerns financial and industrial investment in some troubled coastal state which could be enhanced by a bit of grey funnel, bunting, flags and a really good marching band, please write on bonded paper, well in advance, to the First Sea Lord, the Admiralty, Whitehall.

(“press 2” slightly defamed the French Foreign Legion, and wisdom prevails!)

If your enquiry is not urgent, please press 3 for the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

If your enquiry is a result of a panic attack that might be dangerous in the next 5-10 years, please press 4 for the European Defence Identity.

If you are in real, hot trouble, please press 5 and your call will be routed to General Krulak of the USMC.

However, if you would like to enlist, be run ragged, shouted at, treated poorly, paid little, reduce the useful life of your joints, put your wife and family in a condemned hut in the country and are prepared to work your guts out daily, occasionally risking your life and the lives of your friends in all weathers, on any terrain, day or night, while watching HM Treasury erode your original terms and conditions of service and convert your pension, please stay on the line and you will be connected to a bitter, passed-over recruiting sergeant in the grotty shop down by the railway station.

Have a very pleasant day, and thank you again for thinking to call the British Army.

Be the best! Just don’t expect any thanks.

Rather sour and self-pitying in places perhaps, but the longevity of this note may say something of the continuing mood of a group of people who are our last defence and contingency, at home and abroad, against any threat, any disaster and any shortfall in emergency services.

We can do better than this.

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