THE British armed forces have a long and distinguished tradition of soldiering in many theatres of conflict across the world and nowhere is their contribution more appreciated and valued than in Northern Ireland.
The Army, in support of the RUC, gallantly held the line for peace and normality in Northern Ireland over the more than three decades of the Troubles with many soldiers (regular and part-time) losing their lives in helping to defeat a murderous IRA campaign.
This human sacrifice must never be forgotten by the law-abiding populace in this part of the UK, nor should the dedicated service for ‘Queen and Country’ of brave men and women in conflict situations in the Middle East.
The war in Afghanistan, with the grim recurring catalogue of casualties, brings a constant reminder of the enormous dangers that our armed forces face and the very worthy ‘Help Our Heroes’ charity is benefitting considerably from this increased public awareness and empathy.
Soldiering in the British army is a noble tradition on the island of Ireland, not just in the Ulster counties, but in parts of the South where militant republicanism has sought to blank out any sympathetic sentiments towards the United Kingdom.
Indeed, it is said there are more members of the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment from Cork than there are from Co Tyrone and the extent of the recruitment to the British Army during the two world wars last century is only now being fully accessed and recognised by governments in both London and Dublin.
Today, the historic borough of Carrickfergus (where King William 111 landed in June 1690) will host an Armed Forces Day, when the public will be given the opportunity to salute not just our military forces, but naval and air force operations which have protected British interests at sea and in the air.
In the United States, American servicemen and women enjoy a very special public status. This should also be the case for the armed forces in every corner of our nation.