This week we should all remember with gratitude and sorrow the sacrifice made by the British Army in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland. While the new war on international terrorism may have eclipsed our problems we must never forget the struggle to defend democracy in this part of the United Kingdom. Operation Banner as it was called was the Army's longest continuous campaign in its history with more than 300,000 personnel serving and 763 murdered by terrorists. We today must commemorate the role and sacrifice of so many young men and women who gave of the best years of their lives and in many tragic instances their very lives to protect ours.
Many were local men and woman inspired by the desire to see their country free from the evils of Irish Republican terrorism others were young men from across the United Kingdom who served here. They knew little of the reasons for the conflict but they served selflessly and many were never to return to their native counties. Others still bear the wounds both physical and mental of their time here and as victims and ordinary people we wish to publicly pay tribute to them and to thank them. We wish to acknowledge that they gave their today’s so that we could enjoy a more peaceful tomorrow.
For many their only exposure to the local population was during patrols when they were often forced to endure verbal and physical attack from local Republican sympathizers. Worse still every face they saw could have been the face of a terrorist whose main aim in life was to murder them. Those young soldiers never saw the grateful wife whose husband returned to her because of the army’s ability to do their job. The never saw the children who could play once more in their own street after the army had secured an area. They could never hear the thanks of local often rural communities whose very existence was guaranteed by the security provided by the army. It is from that often silently grateful majority that we write to commend the officers and men who answered their county’s call and protected the values we all hold dear.
We must all pause this week and consider what type of Northern Ireland would exist if it had not been for the service and sacrifice of the British Army. Indeed people on the mainland ought to similarly consider the number of attacks on their towns and cities which were prevented by the army’s actions in Northern Ireland. For over thirty years the army has fought and when given the political freedom has won against terrorism. Together we did win the war sadly as victims we see the recent political appeasement of Republican terrorists as unnecessary and unwelcome many concluding that while the security forces were winning the war, the politicians have lost the peace.
This slow surrender to terrorism is best exemplified in the low key withdrawal of the Army; it is calculated to be done in a way that will not offend the terrorists who now hold position in government. As victims we wish to see the role and achievements of the security forces publicly recognised celebrated and commemorated. Like all victorious armies they should be allowed to march off the field with flags flying and bands playing in public tribute to the role they played in stemming the tide of terrorism. As a group we have decided to mark the end of Operation Banner with a simple service of commemoration in the heart of South Armagh.
It will mark the beginning of a year of events to commemorate the war against terror in Northern Ireland. Many ex-service men and women have been in contact with FAIR asking us to mark their contribution not with ‘days of reflection’ but with real and practical events that will inspire, educate, commemorate and create a lasting memory and legacy. We will be facilitating tours for soldiers who wish to return to pay tribute to fallen comrades, and will be opening up our Living Memorial Centre for such tours with seminars and exhibitions to mark the event. Members of FAIR will also travel to London for the Festival of Remembrance and will visit the National Memorial Arboretum at Lichfield as well as hosting a Special Remembrance Service in South Armagh.
We hope that people across the United Kingdom will support and share with us in our events making it a national commemoration. There must be efforts to include Northern Ireland veterans in all national memorials and support programs. We urge regiments and regimental associations as well and the British Legion to help us help those to whom we all owe such a debt.
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