Welcome to this day, particularly the families and friends. We in uniform know only too well the silent burden that you carry for those of us who serve this country. Tomorrow Operational Awards List 32 is made public. Today is about those from all three Services who have been recognised for their bravery. It is their stories that are on display here: respect that.
It is said that “true riches cannot be bought – one cannot buy the experience of brave deeds or the friendship of companions to whom one is bound forever by ordeals suffered in common – true friendship itself is an emerald simply beyond price.” Those in uniform understand that bond, those here and those they fought alongside recognise simple courage and we the nation recognise that these young men and women acted above and beyond the call of duty. ‘Duty’ a word considered rather old-fashioned, seldom heard today along with integrity, honesty, service, sacrifice but terms these soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines recognise, live and die by. These quiet and unsung heroes understand only too well what Colonel Paddy Maine alluded to when he talked of ordeals suffered in common and what held them together.
These men and women know only too well the burden that is duty. They are no braver nor less courageous than the likes of Col Maine and his forefathers, no less committed, no less human and they are in every way the match of those who went before them.
These young people, ladies and gentlemen, are the British Armed Forces.
I have read ill-judged remarks from casual observers, from armchair critics, that we are an Army that is overwhelmed, humiliated and downtrodden; that we are an Army that struggles to punch above its weight. Challenge those here who spend time – again at worlds end – with that claim. They are not consumed by trivial self-interest, barging others aside in order to gain some material advantage for ambition.
These warriors are the stuff of legend. They know the meaning of life and death, of standing by your friends, of standing up for something which they and we recognise as a mighty force; and being counted. They know only too well just how fragile is the gift of life and they know only too well the human cost and will remember those, every bit their equal, who did not make it home. Those who gave their full measure in some foreign field: gone, never forgotten.
The likes of Sergeant Major O’Donnell, bigger than life, braver than a lion, saviour of others’ lives, holder of the George Medal – posthumously awarded to him today a bar to that award. A most gallant gentleman; I only wish I had had the privilege to have met him.
To those who returned: these young people are splendid company. Tough as nails, they do get knocked on their backsides every so often but they do not lie there and whine that life is unfair, they get up, dust themselves off and get on with it.
They are the British Armed Forces; they defend this realm and our way of life, they are made of sterner stuff and when asked will call out whomever, whenever onto whatever field of battle they choose and gladly. Look no further for your 21st Century role models; these are your real heroes: they live amongst you, they defend you and your right to freedom and the freedom of those less fortunate than you. There are none better and I would wish to work with none other.
They are drawn from across this nation and from regiments steeped in history from Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. Colour or creed matters not, but mark this, they are of the right stuff. If you want to see all that is good, all that is great in this nation of ours and its Armed Forces look no further than on the pages of the operational awards you are about to print and be humbled. But remember also that what is listed here are those individuals who were seen on the field of battle and their actions recorded – there are quite literally hundreds who were not.
They make up our ranks, they are no less brave, they have done and continue to do their duty. As Field Marshal Montgomery recalled “every one an emperor.” I salute them and those here, their courage and their sacrifice. I have a soldier’s deep respect for the awards they have received and know only too well that they have been won by iron hearts in wooden ships.