Thursday, 8 March 2007
Patrick Mercer- an ex soldier's view
I was quite shocked when I read the copy of the full Patrick Mercer interview- shocked and very disappointed. Not because a Tory frontbencher had made the remarks but because a former senior officer in the Army had made such a statement.
To be honest I would expect many Tory MP's agreed with his view but it is, his position as an ex Regular Army Officer that concerns me.
I spend quite a considerable time defending the Armed Forces, for many people - since the end of national service - they do not have first hand experience of the Armed Forces or have had family who are or have served in the forces.
Mercer was right on a few points, the Army is no place for those with soft shells, the banter does fly but no sometimes it can go too far in most cases, commanders and instructors know where the limits are. True- ginger people do take the brunt of many jokes- but in the same way as the recent Catherine Tate sketch. what is not acceptable and I believe where Mercer gets it wrong is that the terms - "ginger bastard", "black bastard" and "fat bastard" are not common terms used by soldiers.
I served for 25 years in an Infantry Regiment like Mercer, and the army over that time became very aware that it was seen by many both inside and outside the black community as a predominately white organisation. the army set up a number of measures to counter this. To be fair to the Army, when I joined in 1978 there were a large number of black people in the Army, my regiment recruited from urban areas like East London and two of my first Sergeants were black. I never saw any overt racism but later in my career, serving black friends did say they had suffered at times. But the young black population did see us as racist- maybe due to the lack of black faces outside Buckingham Palace and that did keep recruiting figures low.
Mercer was speaking after the announcement of a black soldiers union- this is actually driven by those from the Commonwealth wishing to be represented- they have different problems with leave, culture, bringing wives and family to the UK and the subject of being granted British Nationality.
I totally refuse to accept Mercer's view of the Army- it certainly was not part of the regiment I was in, and certainly not the view of the Army that is currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I actually was in my Regiment in Bosnia in 1998 when we handed over to Mercer's Regiment. To be honest then myself and other senior soldiers were shocked by the attitude of some his Regiment- not racist but it just seemed to they had views and acted like a unit that was stuck in days of National Service- stuck in some sort of time warp- I am almost certain that attitude has changed dramatically since Mercer left.
Maybe Mercer left because he was not suited to the modern Army- lucky for him he found a place where his 1960's type of views were welcomed with open arms- the Conservative party.
I fear that he will actually gain some support- from those that like to quote political correctness as the route of all evil. I just hope a few Senior Officers will speak up for the Army and put Mercer in his place.
ex Sergeant Major in the Royal Green Jackets- and proud of it.