Image: Brijesh Patel
November 10 2012
I can’t help but think that Obama was missing the point when he said that the US army was not using as many horses and bayonets as was once the case. Had I been a voter in the recent election, such a comment would have had me wondering whether the armed services really are in safe hands.
In Britain, an important part of the army’s role is ceremonial and involves, yes, horses and bladed weapons. It might be a specious point, but the military is about more than just being a fighting force. I am old enough to remember firemen’s strikes as part of the general climate of industrial unrest that we in this country endured. At that time soldiers were used to provide cover and were expected to become firefighters. Fast forward to 2012, and, as well as risking death in Afghanistan, the modern solider is still expected to fulfil the roles in civilian life that we seem strangely unable to manage – viz securing the Olympics. And then, of course, there is the splendid pageantry of guards being changed and colours being trooped.
I am not a bellicose man; I am probably too much of a coward and have too little respect for authority to make much of a soldier. But I do appreciate the history and also the sense that the life of a serviceman is not a job, it is a vocation. If one keeps cutting away at the army until all that is left is a thinly stretched fighting force, with none of the things that build the esprit de corps and make the life choice of becoming a soldier attractive, then one is ultimately threatening the future safety of the realm.
Happily, it is something that the luxury-goods market realises, and my friend Emma Willis, the seductive chemisière of Jermyn Street, has been busy making shirts and rather fancy walking sticks for the limbless and otherwise injured soldiers returning from active service. I have just received an invitation to her pre-Christmas event.
Earlier this year, I met some of the injured servicemen at one of her functions, and I came to realise all the things that one is supposed to: the heroism, dedication and good humour of men whose lives have been so terribly damaged. Just because these qualities are often remarked upon does not make them any less laudable or extraordinary.
While I was chatting to one of them about his injuries and how he found his new limbs, he was kind enough to compliment me on my tie, a knitted silk thing that, so he told me, was executed in his regimental colours. Of course, I immediately removed it from my neck and gave it to him, feeling slightly embarrassed at the paucity of the gesture. I do hope that he kept this action of mine to himself: you see the awkward thing is that it was not an Emma Willis tie that I was wearing, but a Rubinacci one.