Shaftesbury’s Royal British Legion is urging local businesses to treat serving and retired military personnel with respect. Last night their members presented a copy of the Armed Forces Covenant to Shaftesbury Town Council.
This agreement forms part a national campaign to help shops, employers and authorities understand the unique challenges faced by service personnel and their families, who sometimes move around the country at short notice. That can make securing school places or getting onto council housing lists difficult. The covenant asks for consideration of these issues.
Commodore Richard Bridges says he’s pleased that the Town Council has joined around 3,000 organisations across the UK in adopting these principles. “This is an Armed Forces Covenant and has been ratified by Parliament. Number 10 is right behind this and it is country wide,” he said.
Now, Richard wants local traders to consider the special circumstances of the armed forces, whether serving or retired. “We want to ensure that those who are being protected and covered by the Armed Forces repay the debt as people get old, and shopkeepers and businesses and everybody will do their best to ensure that they get a fair deal.”
Shaftesbury’s Royal British Legion branch Chairman Robin Miller says this isn’t about queue jumping or cutting corners. “I think the notion of being in the front of the queue on all occasions is probably too generalistic. Because armed service personnel, both male and female, are more prone to injury and disease later in their lives because of the extremes of physical labour they’ve taken part in performing their duty, they are more likely to require things like NHS services. So we should be aware that they may require a certain higher priority than the person who has not been through such trials,” he said.
In the US, military personnel are highly regarded by the general population and are regularly offered business discounts and even their own special airport lounges. Richard says Britain’s approach is different and it has been shaped by our history. “The armed services, particularly the Army, have always been held slightly at arm’s length by the public because of the experience running right back to Cromwell. This country does tend to expect ‘Tommy Atkins’ to turn up. And when he has done his bit it’s ‘Goodbye. Thanks very much. It was nice knowing you and we’ll carry on our lives as before’,” Richard said.
Robin says the covenant is about the community offering due recognition to the armed services. “They should do their utmost to ensure that the government and the population as a whole regard the armed forces with the esteem that they require, because they’re putting their lives on the line for the defence of the country. It should be the top of all the priorities of the government of the day.”
Richard shared a poignant recollection from last year’s Remembrance Sunday, which he said highlights the relevance of this covenant. “I did my duty bit, first of all in Shaftesbury, then in Blandford and then finally in Wimborne,” he said. “Wimborne is a cemetery and it where a bonfire was lit. There were 1,300 fires all around the country to commemorate the end of the First World War. Various people got up to speak to the large crowd. One lady spoke about her son who had been killed last year in Afghanistan. This brings it right up to date and reminds us all what we’re all here for and why this covenant has been presented to the Council tonight,” said Richard.
Mayor Piers Brown gave thanks as he accepted the framed covenant during Tuesday’s full council meeting. It will be displayed inside the Town Hall. “The town should be aware of it and hopefully this presentation today will bring it into sharp focus as people come in and use the Town Hall. You’ll see it on the wall and be reminded that there is a duty to be paid,” Richard said.
If your business or organisation wants to sign the covenant, you can learn more at ArmedForcesCovenant.gov.uk.