On Friday, I went to the funeral of Rifleman Daniel “Danny” Holkham (1990-2010) at All Saints’ Parish Church, Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey. Danny had died a few days before he was due home on leave. Unusually, he was one of three brothers serving his country in Afghanistan. As you can imagine, his death has had a profound impact in our community. I attended out of respect to the family and their close friends who had asked me to be there. It was my last “duty” as such as a soon to be retired MP.
We had an outpouring of grief and love the likes of which I hadn’t really experienced before. I think the villagers of Wootton Bassett who have stoically lined their streets to say goodbye to each and every armed service man or women killed in Afghanistan have set a wonderful example to our nation. This spilled over in Eastchurch where a thousand or so people stood quietly outside the church for over an hour. It was very, very moving and several times I had to wipe away the tears.
My sense is that our people may or may not support the war; they probably struggle as I do to understand why we are there and whether we can win the peace. But they recognise the bravery and sheer guts of our servicemen and women. And I think deep down they blame the Government for not supporting them in the first place with the appropriate equipment and intelligence. Blair blindly and foolishly hitched himself to America’s foreign policy in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Saturday, I went to Twickenham to watch Wasps play my old side Bath (I played for them for four seasons). It was a bright sunny day and Twickenham was at its very best. Billed as a “St George’s Day” fixture it also featured members of the armed services as guests of the Wasps and as they assembled on the pitch before the game, they were given a ten minute ovation. This was astonishing and reflects the deep-seated feeling the nation has for its soldiers exemplified by the “Help for Heroes” crusade which has been going now for three years and has touched every single nerve of our people up and down the country.
At lunch, I met Derek Derenalgi. Until he pulled himself away from the table we were sitting at, I wasn’t aware that he had no legs; he lost those in Afghanistan. He was blown thirty feet up in the air as his land-rover slipped over a mine and when he landed he could see his detached leg in his boot….he made it home, was in a coma for nine days and was pronounced dead three times but here he was sitting there as though it was just par for the course.
We will never win the war in Afghanistan. No foreign country ever has. Our troops need to come home.
The Middle East will only ever be secure when Palestine and Palestinians are given a permanent home.