While our need for a well-funded, sensibly resourced military will only increase as the world gets ever more chaotic and unpredictable, support for our armed forces is especially low among the younger generation. A survey, commissioned by armed forces charity SSAFA for Armed Forces Day, reveals over a third of Brits (36%) do not actively support the Armed Forces and that figure rises to 48% for people aged between 16 and 34.
Forty-three per cent of people surveyed said they would only support an Armed Forces charity during times of conflict and nearly one in five (22%) admit they would never support a military charity. The shocking news comes on the same day as reports of a petition to replace a statue of Brtain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill with a funny robot.
While we might feel we need our military only during times of conflict, the huge infrastructure that supports a modern military needs to be constantly maintained – and the personnel within it need support both while they’re serving, and when they are readjusting to civvy street. Half of those surveyed are unaware of where our forces are based in the world right now, with 16% mistakenly believing the majority to still be in Afghanistan.
Another issue that modern armed forces face is that 59% of us know more about historical military events, such as D-Day, than they do about our current military. Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth James talks about what it’s like to be the main medic on a modern warship, and the varied and sometimes very strange problems she finds herself dealing with: “With such a varied set of circumstances on a daily basis, it’s really not possible to say that I have a ‘standard’ day ever. “A memory that has stayed with me was doing an emergency medical evacuation onto a helicopter when a fisherman was incredibly unwell – putting your training into practice in the air certainly adds another level to the complexity!”
Lieutenant Commander James spends long months at sea away from her husband, who has to be understanding given that he himself is a Royal Navy chaplain: “We find ourselves often spending long periods of time apart,” she told us, “but our relationship has grown around this and we are used to it. “We look forward to being reunited and everyone posted overseas relies on each other, as we are bonded by this shared experience.” As a Navy chaplain Liz’s husband Thomas is often too busy mentoring new recruits to worry about his own problems: “You can join the Royal Navy from age 16…some of our newer recruits are experiencing their first time away from home, so it’s reassuring to be able to talk to someone if they need a little support. “Most new recruits are quickly swept into making new friends and colleagues, but they know that I am always there if they need a chat and a cuppa.”
Sir Andrew Gregory, the CEO of SSAFA, has ample experience of the culture shock of home from a conflict zone. As well as serving in the Balkans and Northern Ireland he was Deputy Commander of 1st (United Kingdom) Armoured Division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003
He was asked if returning to civilian life might be easier for high-ranking officers: “No matter what your role is within the Forces, returning to Civvy Street is a real step change. “For many, time spent in the military is filled with camaraderie, a sense of purpose and community – and leaving this behind requires a real adjustment.
“Many people make the transition smoothly, but it is our role at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity to ensure that anyone needing support during this time is guided in the best way.”
One in four members of the armed forces community (AFC) feels lonely or socially isolated “always” and “often”, according to research conducted by the Royal British Legion. The 2018 study, which looked at the views of serving personnel, veterans and their families, also found that 50% of respondents confirmed leaving the armed forces gave them feelings of isolation or loneliness, and overall 70% of those asked agreed that social isolation and loneliness are a problem in the AFC.
Loneliness is not a trivial problem and can affect us all. This month, joint research from Sainsbury’s, the National Centre for Social Research, and Oxford Economics has revealed that half of Britons socialise with friends or family just once per month, with nearly one in 10 never meeting socially at all. More broadly, the responses of the 8,000 people surveyed generate an average “wellbeing score” of 60.4 out of 100 in this year’s index – down 0.38 on the previous year.
For many of our citizens, the UK is increasingly a socially atomised, isolating place to live. That has an impact on health. Not only does social isolation adversely affect mental health outcomes, it manifests itself physically too. A meta-analysis of medical research, for example, shows that loneliness has twice the impact on early death as obesity. One study, defining social isolation as those unmarried, with six or fewer friends and no organisation memberships, found that – staggeringly – socially isolated men have a 90% increased risk of cardiovascular death, and more than double the risk of death from accident or suicide.
On this evidence, the growing loneliness crisis must be at the forefront of the minds of elected officials and public servants. The challenge is stark, especially given the uneven distribution of loneliness across different demographics. And one such demographic which is frequently overlooked is the AFC. That social isolation and loneliness will affect the AFC more than the wider population should not be surprising, given that so many general risk factors are inherent in armed forces life. Serving members of the armed forces are more likely to spend extended periods of time away from family and friends, more likely to move to a new area, and more likely to suffer bereavement than their civilian counterparts. In addition, the transition from serving to Civvy Street is renowned for being a difficult life event.
Added to that, data given to me by the Department for Work and Pensions indicates that individuals with long-term sickness or disability are significantly more likely to suffer from low wellbeing; something which is sure to disproportionately affect the AFC. In response to a parliamentary question I tabled to the MoD, I was pleased to hear that the ministry has worked with the Royal British Legion on the recommendations in their report which, in part, will shape the government’s new strategy for veterans. I am likewise reassured by the concrete changes which have already been instigated, including the development of a new transition policy to prepare service leavers, the work on developing resilience, and on identifying those who may need additional assistance.
While developments like this, along with the establishment of a minister for loneliness, are welcome, it is imperative that we do not fall into the trap of responding to loneliness reactively. A minister for human flourishing at the head of a wide-ranging, cross-governmental approach would redefine the issue. Instead of stamping out fires when they arise, the state should be empowered to work to improve the wellbeing of its people in a proactive manner. Other countries are showing us the way in this regard. New Zealand’s first wellbeing budget shows a move away from growth as the prime indicator of the country’s economy. Closer to home, the Welsh Assembly’s Well-being of Future Generations Act is attracting worldwide interest for its commitment to placing people and communities at the heart of government decision-making.
Since 2011, the Office for National Statistics has been measuring our national wellbeing in a systematic, comprehensive manner. Now is the time for our political system to put this wealth of data to practical use and radically rethink the way policies are formulated, by placing the wellbeing of all – citizens and those serving in our armed forces – at the heart of public policy.
Chris Ruane is Labour MP for Vale of Clwyd and co-chair of the APPG on Mindfulness, and the APPG on Wellbeing Economics
The Forces Help to Buy Scheme (FHTB) was launched on 1 April 2014 as a three-year pilot scheme and has now been extended to the end of December 2019. This means that if you are thinking of benefiting then you had better be quick.
FHTB enables service personnel to borrow by way of an advance, the equivalent of half their annual salary – before tax – up to a maximum of £25,000 interest-free. The loan can be and is intended to assist towards the balance of the purchase price of the home (taking into account, for example, deposit, legal, surveyors, land registration and estate agent fees). Most major mortgage lenders accept the FHTB loan to be used as the deposit for your intended new home.
Who is FHTB designed for?
The FHTB scheme is primarily designed for first-time buyers or those needing to move to another property, either because they are assigned elsewhere or as a result of certain extenuating family or medical circumstances. Property for which FHTB has been claimed must be intended for the service person’s own immediate occupation or that of their immediate family. An exception to this applies to those in overseas postings at the time of application and purchase. It is not intended for the purchase of ‘buy-to-let’ properties or any other second property, but under certain circumstances can be used to extend or modify an existing property.
To be eligible personnel must fulfil the following criteria:
- Be in Regular service.
- Those serving in the Royal Navy must have been accepted onto trained strength.
- Army and RAF personnel must have completed two years service from the date of enlistment and be on trained strength i.e. completed Phase two training.
- Have at least six months left to serve at the time of application.
You Do Not have to be married or have children to apply, single service personnel can also apply.
How to apply for Forces Help to Buy?
Service personnel are to apply for Forces Help to Buy (FHTB) on JPA through the Self-Service Application for FHTB. Full instructions can be found online under the tab JPA Self Service User Guide – ‘Applying for Pre-Approval for FHTB.’
Common questions about FHTB
How much do I have to pay back?
It will all depend on how much you borrow. But your loan amount is divided over ten years and you pay back that amount monthly (you can choose to make overpayments). You can opt to start making the loan repayments straight away, six months after receiving it, or in your final ten years of service.
Can I leave the forces after receiving FHTB?
Put simply, yes. However, if you are due any terminal benefits (resettlement grant) any outstanding FHTB loan balance will be taken automatically from it.
The young members of the Royal Family have quietly funded a modern-day version of the famous Guinea Pig Club, continuing their legacy to “a new generation of wounded warriors” from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Royal Foundation, the charity of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex, gave a £15,000 seed fund for the launch of a new club for seriously injured members of the Armed Forces which now has 130 members.
While the CASEVAC Club has been running under the radar for more than a year, its royal links can now be fully reported after they were included in the charity’s annual financial review. “The CASEVAC Club is inspired by The Guinea Pig Club, a social club that began in 1941 as a support network for British aircrew and allies that had been severely injured in World War 2,” the report states. “The members had all undergone experimental reconstructive plastic surgery after receiving life-changing burns and other injuries, which gave the club its name.
“The men and women in The CASEVAC Club will follow in their forebears’ example by maintaining a close-knit community through a lifetime of cohesion, during which they will assist in the advancement of medical science and help others experiencing traumatic injury.”
The club is receiving ongoing operational support from the Royal Foundation, with its report quoting the Duke of Sussex as saying: “Today’s CASEVAC Club will help us to once again recognise the success and most importantly, the pertinence of the Guinea Pig Club – far beyond the lives of its original members – and continue to build on a vital legacy that continues to benefit many generations to come.” Financial aid assigned under the category “those who serve”, previously known as the “military”, grew by 15 per cent to £1.3m this year, the report said.
The annual financial review, the first complete version since the Duchess of Sussex joined the Foundation, also details the money spent and earned on the Grenfell Together cookbook and the Al Manaar kitchen. The royal charity spent £204,031 on refurbishing the kitchen on Al Manaar, the Muslim Cultural Heritage Trust, and a further £28,520 on training and development schemes. Sales of the Together cookbook, which now total 130,000 copies worldwide, have made £557,638 – held by the Royal Foundation to reinvest – with the women who worked on it gaining 23 qualifications. This year’s income also includes £145,168 for “the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s engagement gift fund”, understood to have come via one or several American donors ahead of the couple’s chosen wedding charities being announced.
The report also confirmed imminent changes to the shared charity, after the Cambridges and Sussexes went their separate ways into two households. “In light of recent changes in the lives of Their Royal Highnesses, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex setting up their own household, a review is currently underway to assess the implications these changes may have for the Royal Foundation,” it said. “It is likely there will be changes to the current structure of the Royal Foundation.”
The Letter of Last Resort is a handwritten letter from the Prime Minister to the commanding officer of each of Trident’s submarines. It contains instructions on what action the vessel’s commander should take in the event that Britain is obliterated by nuclear attack and all those in authority deceased.
As far as we know the letter can only say one of four things: retaliate, don’t retaliate, for the submarine commander to use their own judgement, or for the vessel to put itself under US or Australian command (if possible).
Each new British prime minister must write the letter upon taking office. The process by which a Trident submarine commander would determine if the British government continues to function includes, amongst other checks, establishing whether BBC Radio 4 continues broadcasting. Submarines on patrol were reported to have briefly gone on nuclear alert in 2004 when Radio 4 went off the air for 15 minutes due to a power cut.
Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, recalls briefing the newly-elected Tony Blair on Britain’s nuclear capability when he first entered Downing Street in 1997. “I think quite honestly, like most prime ministers, he hadn’t given a huge amount of thought to what this really meant. And it is actually an awesome responsibility. It really comes home to you that he could, if the circumstances demanded it, create devastation on a huge scale.” How did Blair react? “Well”, says Guthrie, “he went quite quiet”.
In an interview with the BBC, ex-Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major stated that their instructions all were that in no circumstances should nuclear weapons be deployed against civilian targets – on the basis that to do so after an attack would be a futile act of vengeance that would wreak unacceptable levels of harm on a civilian population. In addition, any government that would launch such an attack on the UK would most likely be a dictatorship and it would be immoral to make their people suffer for the acts of unaccountable leadership. Jim Callaghan, the former Labour Prime Minister was the only other former leader to share their decision on what order they would have given: “If we had got to that point where I felt it was necessary to do it, then I would have done it.”
The early May Bank holiday in 2020 could be moved to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, according to The Times. Ministers hope to cancel the traditional May Day bank holiday on 4 May and instead allow workers a day off on the slightly later date of 8 May. A number of countries across Europe, such as France and Russia, celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany with a public holiday every year.
Traditionally in the UK, the early May bank holiday is used to celebrate workers’ rights. An exception was made in 1995 when the Government moved the May bank holiday to 8 May to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Then a quarter of a million people gathered on the Mall in London to wave Union Flags, listen to Dame Vera Lynn sing and see the Queen, Queen Mother and Princess Margaret appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony. The proposed move could encounter resistance from the trade union movement.
Frances O’Grady, the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress, told The Times: “May Day and the 75th VE Day anniversary are both special days and celebrating them should not come at the expense of each other. The government should give people time off for both.” According to The Times, writing to Chancellor Philip Hammond, the Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “I believe that the country should be allowed to take time to commemorate this great occasion and to recall those who sacrificed their lives in the Second World War on behalf of us all. “Although the date of Armistice Day is well known across the country because of the events on Remembrance Sunday, I believe the day of VE Day may be less well known. “It would be a tragedy if this date slipped from the minds of the general public.”
Mr Clark added that the change would also allow the nation to pay tribute to members of the Armed Forces:
“As well as marking the Allies’ great victory in 1945, the bank holiday would also be an occasion to pay tribute to members of the UK Armed Forces who have served and continue to serve our country since then.”
In 2020 VE Day is due to fall on a Friday, meaning the commemorations will likely continue through the weekend.
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith made the comments during commemoration events in Normandy. The lessons learned from D-Day are the “essential foundations” to the British Army, according to the head of the Army. General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith made the comments in Normandy, where world leaders and veterans gathered to mark 75 years since the landings.
The mission, which involved thousands of Allied troops, represented the start of the campaign to liberate north-west Europe from Nazi occupation. D-Day was the largest single-day amphibious invasion in history, involving nearly 7,000 vessels and 4,000 landing craft. Commemoration events in both the UK and France were held over two days, with some British veterans retracing the journey they made on D-Day from Portsmouth to Normandy. Prime Minister Theresa May said those who had fought had “laid down their lives” to allow for a better future.
- 44% of Brits who no longer have grandparents ‘regret’ not spending more time with them when they were alive
- Kids spending more time on social media is now the biggest negative influence on relationships with grandparents, according to 63%
- Almost a quarter (21%) of those whose grandparents lived during the war but are not alive today, admitted to never asking their grandparents about the war
- Only 18% think enough is taught about D-Day in schools
New research released today by forces.net, reveals that 54% of parents whose own grandparents were alive during the war feel they don’t have enough information about their grandparents time in the war to share with their children.
While 46% of Brits are concerned that D-Day is at risk of being forgotten when the last veterans pass away. The study of 2,000 adults found the top questions Brits with grandparents who lived during the war but are no longer alive wish they’d asked their older relatives are ‘What was it like living through the war?’ (31%), ‘What did you do in the war?’ (27%) and ‘What was the scariest thing about the war?’ (27%).
Additional questions they wish they’d asked include, ‘Did any of your friends or family die in the war?’ (22%), ‘What was an average meal during the war?’ (22%), ‘What did your parents do in the war?’ (21%) and ‘How do you think the war changed your future?’ (17%).
Nearly half (49%) of Brits whose grandparents were alive during the war either don’t remember stories they were told or simply were not told any wartime stories by their grandparents – and 71% don’t have any wartime memorabilia passed down to them from their grandparents.
44% of the those polled admitted they regret not spending more time with their grandparents when they were alive, citing the lure of friends over family (38%) and living in a different city (32%) as the main reasons why they didn’t spend more time with them.
55% recalled seeing their grandparents face-to-face less than three times a month. And their children have followed suit, with half (50%) of parents admitting that their offspring speak to their grandparents less than three times a month.
Of respondents who think children today spend less time with their grandparents than in the past, 63% think that the interest in social media is the biggest reason for children spending less time with their grandparents today, followed by the fact that people live further apart (61%).
Despite this, 61% of parents hope that when they are a grandparent their grandchildren will spend lots of time with them.
Adam Waters, Director of Digital, BFBS said: “The research demonstrates how important grandparent and grandchild relationships are to maintaining memories of historical military events. That’s why, as part of the D-Day 75 commemorations, we’re promoting relationships between generations as pivotal to ensuring that the public continues to be reminded about poignant days in our history.”
Three sculptures of soldiers will stand overlooking Gold Beach in Normandy as commemorations take place for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Titled simply: ‘D-Day Sculpture’ the bronze tributes will be unveiled on June 6 by the British Prime Minister and the French President.
The sculptor, David William-Ellis, says to work on a project like this was “exciting”. “This sculpture is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “What was so exciting when I was asked to do this sculpture was that my father wasn’t actually at D-Day but he supported the D-Day landings. “He was the second commander of a torpedo boat and they were landing food and support on D-Day plus one.”
In total, the bronzed memorials would have taken him two years to make and it’s something that he’s been preparing for, for the last five years. In reflection, once the sculptures are up on display, Mr William-Ellis says he’ll look up at them and say “did I really make that?”
For more on D-Day 75, click here.
1. D-Day was supposed to happen a day earlier
The original date for D-Day was set to be 5 June 1944.
The landings had been planned with very specific weather and tides conditions in mind, but as the day approached, the weather got worse and unpredictable. High winds and torrential rain meant the operation had to be delayed.
Even if on 6 June 1944 the weather was far from perfect, it was still good enough for the troops to invade the shores of Normandy. A further postponement would have meant waiting at least two more weeks as the phase of the moon and tides would have changed.
2. ‘H-Hour’ is when the operation was set to begin
‘H-Hour’ was the term used to indicate the time on 6 June when the military operation was set to begin. For D-Day, it was set to 6:30 in the morning – the time when the attacks on the beaches began. At that time, US troops landed at Utah and Omaha, the British arrived at Gold and Sword beaches and the Canadians landed at Juno.
3. Normandy was seen as an unlikely point for an attack
An attack from the sea was not foreseen by the Germans. In order to succeed in a military invasion of Normandy, the attacking forces needed to not only make it successfully onto the beaches with their military equipment, but they would need to either carry their military and food supplies with them or have them shipped over. This is why Calais was the location Germans believed an attack could take place: the distance from England was shorter than that between the UK and Normandy, and there was a large, active port.
4. Germans expected an attack on Norway
A game of deception code-named ‘Bodyguard’ was put into action by the Allies. Operation Fortitude built up to the 1944 Normandy landings. Divided into the North and South sub-plans of deception, it aimed at misleading the German high commands as to where an invasion would take place. Phantom field armies, made up of inflatable vehicles and submarines, were placed in strategic locations to simulate threats on Norway (Fortitude North) and Pas de Calais (Fortitude South). Thanks to Operation Fortitude, German reinforcements were delayed to reach Normandy when the attack finally took place.
5. D-Day was the largest single-day amphibious invasion in history
Planning for Operation Neptune took months and it began in 1943. It involved 6,939 vessels and 4,126 landing crafts which assembled on 5 June 1944 off the Isle of Wight. The landings on the shores of Normandy were preceded by an airborne assault to the German troops stationed in France and naval bombardments. The 80 km stretch of coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
6. Spies helped with the success of D-Day operations
Despite the German occupation of France, resistance groups were still active and spies and saboteurs of the Nazi regime kept close contacts with the Allies. The Special Operations Executive was set up in 1940 to help resistance movements in Germany-occupied territories thrive despite the occupation. Informants in France provided the Allies with intelligence on German defences and carried out acts of sabotage to disrupt the German war effort. Many of the resistance activities revolved around the rail network in France ahead of D-Day. Saboteurs took care of deliberately damaging railways around Normandy and slowing down transport services as well as industrial military factory production. Those acts were non-violent but helped greatly.
7. Brits could not travel to Ireland in the lead up to D-Day
All travel to Ireland was barred from 12 March 1944. Ireland was one of the neutral countries during the Second World War. Even though Ireland never blocked Allied forces aircraft from using the Donegal Corridor, and even though Irish and Allied intelligence tacitly cooperated during the war, it was decided to stop all travel to Ireland ahead of D-Day. This decision was taken to prevent information concerning the date of D-Day to be leaked.
The German Air Force, known as the Luftwaffe, was outnumbered 30:1 on D-Day. Because of the highly strategic nature of the D-Day operations, the German Navy and the German Air Force had little means to resist the invasion. The Luftwaffe had withdrawn nearly all its fighters to counter American daylight bombing operations over Germany so there were very few aircraft left in France.
9. D-Day came at a price
While D-Day marked the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during the Second World War, it came at an enormous price in terms of lives lost in the battle. There are currently 27 war cemeteries in Normandy and they contain the remains of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives on and after D-Day. From the records of the war cemeteries in Normandy, it is estimated that in a very short span of time over 110,000 people lost their lives. They are:
- 77,866 German
- 17,769 British
- 9,386 American
- 5,002 Canadian
- 650 Poles
10. Anne Frank learnt about D-Day from the BBC
Anne Frank’s diary is probably one of the most compelling, heartbreaking personal records of Jewish people who were hiding during the Second World War and hoping for the conflict to end. She kept a diary from 12 June 1942 until the day she and her family were captured on 1 August 1944. An entry dated 6 June 1944 reveals that Anne recorded hearing the news of D-Day from the BBC at 12pm. “Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation?” she wrote in her diary.
“We don’t know yet. But where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”