#tommies

Tommy trouble

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It seems the UK Armed Forces are finding it difficult to recruit their own. So much so that they have lifted a 5-yr waiting period for Commonwealth citizens to join up. The National Audit Office states the armed forces are suffering the worst shortage of new recruits since 2010, being short 8,200 from desired levels. Therefore Aussies, Canadians, Indians and other Commonwealth citizens can sign up.

According to official Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the year leading to November 2017 1,759 of the 15,325 regular troops quit  because their time was up. Nearly half (7,439 ) quit early because of worsening conditions and falling morale. 3,325 were kicked out on disciplinary grounds and another 2,337 were medically discharged.

The MOD’s UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2015 revealed,

-The number of personnel stating that they are dissatisfied with Service life has risen to 32%, up from 27% in 2014. Not a good start.

-There has been a fall in the number of personnel reporting that they are proud to be in their Service, from 81% in 2014 to 77% in 2015.

-25% “state that they plan to leave as soon as they can, or have put in notice to leave” (+9% on 2011).

-Satisfaction with pension benefits has dropped 18% since 2011

– Less than a third (27%) of Service personnel agree that the level of compensation is enough

-In 2015, job security was the top retention factor, followed by dental and healthcare provision, pension and opportunities for sport.

  • Individual morale 40% (-6% on 2011)
  • Unit morale 21% (-6% on 2011)
  • Service morale 14% (-4% on 2011)
  • Service life satisfaction 47% (-10% on 2011)
  • Job satisfaction 56% (-8% on 2011)

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Apart from the appalling trajectory of morale, it is clear that care once out of the military doesn’t fare much better.

While the MoD total budget will increase from GBP23bn to GBP50bn by 2020, data about how it is spent is highly opaque. More is learnt by some of the history surrounding the treatment of Tommies.

Support of  veterans has been so lacking that charities such as Help for Heroes has been active picking up the shortfall. It raises over GBP30 million per annum to support the 2,500 British veterans discharged for medical reasons every year to cope with civilian life.

Despite the American Psychiatric Association acknowledging PTSD in 1980, it took the UK another five years to officially recognize PTSD after the sharp increase in veterans suffering from mental health issues post the Falklands War of 1982. Of the 30,000 troops that were sent to fight, the UK armed forces allocated only one psychiatrist to the far away battlefield.

The problem was compounded in the 1990s with widespread closures of UK military hospitals as a cost cutting measure. Seven of the eight military hospitals had been shut or transferred to the NHS by 1999.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote in its recent report on those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan about how low suicide rates were. It stated, “While rates of mental disorder are lower in the military (3.1%) than the general population (4.5%), the MOD routinely carries out research into those who have served on large scale combat operations, in order to more accurately assess the effects of deployment.” Note there is no data on veteran suicide in the UK.

The UK MOD’s ‘Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy’ is supposedly in place to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues, to ensure that all who serve, and have served, can enjoy a state of positive physical and mental health. The MOD has committed £22 million a year on mental health with the establishment of two 24/7 helplines for serving personnel and veterans. How is it a charity funds 1.5x what the government does?

To put that in context, Australia spends 20x this amount every year just on veterans counseling services. America, albeit a larger veteran base, spends $9bn on mental health for its soldiers.

One wonders why the MOD doesn’t listen to the surveys and act. Then it wouldn’t have to go down the mercenary route.

Unseen WW2 battlefield letters from North Africa

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This is an excerpt from a letter written by my grandfather S/Sgt Norman Peterson on 11th Jan 1941.

Dear Auntie Marie, (he always wrote to her the truth and sent happy versions to his wife)

“…I travelled by truck to a place called Ikingi Maryut where I caught a train at 2 in the morning to Marsa Matruh…but I couldn’t get a seat for drunks and others asleep on the floor all coming back from Cairo from leave. So I thought “bugger this” I’m not going to sleep in the cold on an observation platform so I walked the length of the train & eventually gate crashed the postal van, occupied by a real lime house cockney who told me, “Ee laad, ye carnt room in ‘ere.” I said “Like _______ I can’t!” So I unrolled my swag, took off my boots and slept on the mail bags…I soon made good friends with the Tommies who were a good crowd but were mystified by the way I rolled my own cigarettes. Apparently only the poorest classes roll their own!…

…Matruh is a very pretty place with wide tree lined avenues….but I wouldn’t give 2 bob for it now as it has been bashed and bombed into an unrecognizable rubble…while I was here I saw a gallant piece of action by two Tommies. A train was at the station full of stores and ammunition when two Italian bombers came over and commenced to lay their eggs around the place. The Tommies jumped into the cab and it was a thrill to see puffs of smoke from the engine as it slowly drew away from the station out of danger…

…I was here for two days when the word came through that our forces were pushing westward and I was sent to a post between Sidi Barrani and Matruh and did the wounded roll in. I worked on the wounded prisoners and saw some ghastly sights, One Libyan had a shrapnel wound under the left shoulder blade that had ricocheted on the bone and come out near the collarbone. The whole wound was crawling with maggots (which really isn’t so bad as they eat the putrified tissues)…

…We were here for 3 days…I was sent to the 3/3rd English 7th Ambulance. I went through the battlefield of Sidi Barrani and the quantity of material would truly astound you. Tanks, motorcycles, lorries and cars just for the taking. I had a motorbike and when she ran out of juice dropped it and picked up another….I picked up my first souvenir – an Iti tin hat – once owned by a field ambulance man. These lids are very rare…

…anyway to cut my own story short…I saw a grisly sight, a Savoia 79, a tri motored bomber had been shot down and the pilot had tried to pancake down but when he hit the petrol tank exploded thus incinerating the occupants. The pilot was a charred skeleton, both legs snapped like dry twigs, The foregunner was in two pieces, sheared in halves from the waist, the top part in an attitude of prayer though both hands were missing. The heat must have been terrific as the motors were fused together in a solid mass. The rear gunner was sprawled in his compartment, not so badly charred, his fingers stiffened in rigor mortis on the keys of the bomb rack and bullet holes in his Adam’s apple and temple. I took the builder’s nameplate as a souvenir…If I only had my camera I’d make a fortune but of course it is stowed away in Alex….

…Along the roads were truckload after truckload of prisoners who didn’t seem very dejected…however some who were told to dig slit trenches broke down and cried…the position was rather embarrassing until an interpreter told them they weren’t digging their own graves…they broke out in huge smiles and dug like hell…

…I was in a quandary as to where my own unit was…I attached myself to a section of Royal Tank Corps who had told me they saw an Australian Field Ambulance near Sollium. I spent three days with this crowd and spent a night at an Air Force refueling dump with beers and cheers and told them some bullshit about Australia…I at last found my unit to be greeted with the news A company was in Libya. Incidentally up to this time I had had neither a wash or shave and looked a fright from 9 Dec to 22nd Dec…”