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Who will fight for Britain?


The war in Ukraine, now into it’s third year, and the crisis in the Middle East (taking a seriously threatening and perilous turn as I write) have brought the world closer to all out war than any time since the Cuban missiles crisis of 1962. I remember it well. There have, of course, been various wars around the world since 1962, but none have come close to igniting a global conflict.

Since the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its dissolution on 31st December 1991 the countries of Europe, including Britain, have cashed-in the resultant “peace dividend” by slashing military spending and in so doing seriously compromising their ability to defend themselves.

The requirement by NATO that its members should spend at least 2% of GDP on defence has been largely ignored by the leading European powers. Of the 31 members states in 2023 only 11 spent the minimum. Britain just about squeaked through aided by some creative accounting, but, for example, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy did not.

Love him or loath him Donald Trump was right to complain that the wealthy countries of Europe are not paying their way and rely on the US through Article 5 of the NATO Treaty to defend them. This situation should be a cause of national embarrassment, but the shirkers have thick skins and no sense of shame. By the way, the Republic of Ireland is, as in so many ways, treated as a special case. The Republic isn’t a member of NATO, has almost no military to speak of and relies on its neutrality for its defence – with Britain as a long stop should that not work out.

Whilst both the Conservatives and Labour say they will increase Britain’s defence spending to 2.5% of GDP “when economic conditions allow” we must regard that as a meaningless sound-bite to temporarily cover their respective derrieres in the run-up to a general election. Neither of them have the courage to say that defence spending must be increased immediately and prioritised over the NHS and Welfare to address the real and present threat of war, particularly a war with Russia with their impending victory in the Ukraine and concomitant threats to the Baltic States, which Britain and NATO will find impossible to ignore.

Some experts with considerable experience of military matters and international geo-politics have recently opined that war with Russia is a real possibility within the next 3-10 years, and that Britain must be ready and prepare now for a whole nation response with, for example, arrangements for military conscription and a war economy being distinct necessities. However, “Who Will Fight For Britain?”

In answer to that question I would respond “I will”, but as I’m far to old to fight I would say that, wouldn’t I? Well, no, I wouldn’t say that just as a bit of meaningless virtue signalling. Here’s why. I’m not from a military family and missed out on conscription (thank goodness), but like millions of other ordinary British families mine did their bit in both World Wars. Each of my grandfathers fought in the First World War and my father in the Second. Thankfully they survived.

My maternal, pint-sized grandfather (5′ 5” and 8 stone soaking wet) volunteered at the beginning of the war and served throughout until being demobbed in 1919. Along the way he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (“DCM”) which is ranked second only to the Victoria Cross, the highest bravery award. His citation posted in the London Gazette on 11th March 1920 reads:

“For devotion to duty and gallantry. At Ypres, in August 1916, during one of our night raids, the party was discovered just on arrival at the enemy’s line, and immediately came under very heavy fire, and were all wounded except one. He went out into No Man’s Land and assisted two officers to carry out the wounded.”

The “He” referred to is my grandfather. We don’t know what happened to his medal, but it’s assumed it was sold after the war to help make ends meet.

Later in the war he was wounded by shrapnel, shipped back to Blighty for hospitalisation and treatment, then as soon as he’d recovered enough to hold a rifle was shipped back to the Front to resume the fight.

He was too old and unfit to fight in the Second World War, but with his daughter, my mum, he worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week in a munitions factory until the end of the war. He died a relatively young man of 53, still with shrapnel in his body. The war did for him in the end.

My family’s story is not unique. There were hundreds of thousands of young men and women who responded without hesitation to the call to defend their country and kinsfolk.

Why am I telling you this? Simply because I find it inspirational that a physically small man and, like most of the Tommies in WWI Britain, unfit and undernourished, could find the courage to volunteer to go to war, fight like a terrier when there, get wounded, go back when probably not ready and carry on the fight twenty years later in a different role when freedom and liberty were once again threatened. There was no swinging the lead. No hesitation to do what needed to be done. With such inspiration and with deep gratitude for the life he ultimately gave me and my siblings, I know I would do all I possibly could, in whatever way I could, to help defend our nation, but who will do the fighting if there is a next time? Not old crocks like me, so I can afford to offer up others.

The question I ask myself is this: will the so-called Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2012) be willing to put their lives on the line to defend their country and their families as did the generations who’ve gone before? This is, of course, a terrible and frightening burden to put on them, but if not them, who?

After the obscene carnage of WWI there was an understandable pacifist movement in Britain that the war’s all too recent horrors should “never again” be repeated. Unfortunately, this moralist anti-war stance throughout the twenties and thirties left Britain perilously unprepared for the onslaught of Nazi Germany who took a different world view. People such as Churchill who warned against complacency and argued for rearmament as a means of deterring war were traduced and foolishly branded war-mongers, as some are being similarly branded today.

Whilst so many left-wing academics are busily rewriting British history they seem to ignore history’s lessons; one of which must surely be that appeasement is regarded by our adversaries as a sign of weakness and serves only to postpone, briefly, a day of reckoning. Genuine war mongers will only respect strength, strength of purpose and of military preparedness, not as a provocation of war but as its deterrent.

We should always remember that what we have today, the peace and security to live the lives we do, the lives we choose, has been built on the backs of millions of people from ordinary, unremarkable families like mine. Will Generation Z be as patriotic and selfless as their forebears in defending Britain or has the 21st century unreality and decadence of the world of Tik Tok and social media influencers irredeemably weakened and corrupted them? The time might be fast approaching when we have to find out.