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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Not all Tory MPs are useless idiots.

Ex Captain Johnny Mercer's maiden speech in the House of Commons brought tears to the eyes of this ex-forces blogger.

"The past decade and a half has defined a whole generation of us in often unseen wars against enemies that only seem to grow darker.

"We have no complaints about the duty that we have chosen. It formed many of us; indeed, it made many of us who we are today. We were proud to defend this great nation in the same traditions of the immense sacrifices of our forefathers.

"However, last week the Prime Minister spoke of the gravity of the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. For many families, that marks the end of the sleepless nights by the phone and the ever-dreaded knock at the door.

"But there remains a great stain on this nation when it comes to conflict. In 2012, we reached a very unwelcome threshold when, tragically, more soldiers and veterans killed themselves than were killed on operational service in defence of the realm.

Johnny Mercer in centre

"It goes without saying that there are some genuine heroes in our communities and charities up and down this land who work tirelessly night and day to look after and assist those who have found returning to a peaceful life the biggest challenge of all. Many of these veterans are not only from Afghanistan.

"But there has been a fundamental misunderstanding by governments of all colours over the years that veterans’ care is a third-sector responsibility and that the great British public, in all their wonderful generosity, support our troops well enough. Any new initiative is met with the response: ‘Well, there must be a charity for that.’

"That is unequivocally wrong, and I make no apologies for pointing it out to anyone of any rank or position who may be offended by my candour.

"I am not a charity and neither were my men. We gave the best years of our lives in defending the privileges, traditions and freedoms that this House and all Members enjoy.

"It is therefore Parliament’s duty to look after them and, crucially, their families when they return. I would like to bring just two of them to MPs’ attention.

"Lance Sergeant Dan Collins, of the Welsh Guards, was typical of the soldiers I was privileged to command in my tours of Afghanistan. His story had a profound effect on me.

"I implore fellow MPs to look him up tonight before they go to bed and to read his story.

"He endured events that were typical of a fighting man’s deployment in that theatre. He returned to Britain’s arms a deeply scarred man and entered a dark, dark place that too many are familiar with.

"Dan worked hard to try to find treatment that worked for him, but repeated changes of staff and six-hour round trips for appointments did very little indeed.

"He fought his demons with the same spirit and courage that he had demonstrated on a daily basis against enemies of the state in foreign fields. When he returned home, however, unlike when he was in his battalion, we did not ‘have his back.’

"Dan took on his demons alone in the mountains, where perhaps the outside arena made him feel more empowered.

"However, in 2012, during the New Year’s celebrations – when all the world is celebrating – Dan recorded a video message for his mum on his mobile phone. He said: ‘Hey, Mum. Just a video, just to say I’m sorry. Ever since I came back from Hell I’ve turned into a horrible person and I don’t like who I am any more.’

"He went on to say: ‘I’ve tried everything, and there’s nothing that seems to be working. I love you, and I’ll see you, okay? I love you.’

"With that, our nation failed one of her bravest sons once more, as yet another victim of the Afghanistan war lost his life, not bleeding out in some dusty foreign field in combat, but in his homeland, which he had fought so hard to defend.

"On June 8 it will be five years to the day since I conducted a particular dawn patrol in southern Afghanistan with my troops. We were enduring one of the most contested fighting seasons of that campaign in 2010, and fear was rife. I was blessed to have with me in my small team a man of colossal courage called Lance Bombardier Mark Chandler, whose job was to protect me in close-quarter combat.

"While most people in this country were still in a morning slumber, we closed in on an enemy position, and in an intense close-quarter gunfight Mark was shot in the face right next to me and died in my arms.

"In the five years since, I have become intimately familiar with another quiet yet very stoical group of casualties of this country’s war. Mike and Ann Chandler, Mark’s parents, who, like parents, wives, sisters and brothers up and down this land, now endure a daily sacrifice. It is very difficult for those of us who have not experienced it to truly grasp the bottomless well of grief that comes from losing a child, husband, brother or sister in war as a result of a grave decision made in this House.

"Theirs is the greatest sacrifice on the altar of this nation’s continuing freedom, and it is a price that is paid daily. For many families up and down this land, it is indeed at every going down of the sun and every morning that we remember them.

"I come here unapologetically to improve the plight of veterans and their families. The last Government under this Prime Minister did more than any before it in this cause, but there is still some way to go.

"My other main mission in this Parliament is to improve this country’s poor mental-health provision. Often, those who struggle with mental-health problems cannot shout for themselves and suffer in silence because of the ridiculous stigma placed on mental health. That stigma should end in this Parliament. It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right.

"It is a deep privilege to come here with the hopes of tens of thousands of my constituents in Plymouth, and I do not underestimate the duty that is incumbent upon me in the years ahead. I cannot promise anything but noble endeavour, relentless positivity and an abounding sense of duty to look after those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on the fringes of society, and who find life an interminable struggle. I look forward to the challenge.

His speech is in Hansard, follow this link 1st June, column 373

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