Riflemen, I am enormously proud to be here at Bulford today to present you with your Iraq Service Medals medals hard-earned in some of the fiercest and most costly fighting of the Iraq campaign.
I visited the Battalion before your departure earlier this year, and join you in mourning the loss of those who have not returned. The Battalion lost five Riflemen in action: Corporal Jeremy Brooks, Corporal Rodney Wilson, Major Paul Harding, Corporal John Rigby and Rifleman Edward Vakabua.
Cruelly, this number increased with the recent deaths of Lance Corporal Nathan Long and Lance Corporal Paul Knight shortly after Lance Corporal Knight’s return from Iraq. I know the Battalion has lost two more dear friends to this conflict recently-retired Riflemen Steve Dixon and Colin Cope, who were killed alongside the 4th Rifles.
All of these men gave their lives selflessly in many cases to save others. We salute them and will always remember them. My heart goes out to their families, whose lives have been devastated by their deaths, but who are, I hope, sustained in some way by the regimental family, and the extraordinarily strong bonds I have seen between you all.
I am delighted to see so many of the injured well enough to be amongst the ranks today, and I am particularly pleased to see that Rifleman Steven Vause and Lance Corporal Jonathan LeGalloudec are here with us, as I know how hard their road to recovery has been....
We must never forget the families of all these Riflemen here today. They too are unsung heroes, for it is they who stay behind coping with the worry and stress of the safety of their loved-ones and do a magnificent job of keeping the home fires burning.
Neither should we forget those soldiers in the Rear Party who did not deploy, but whose support enabled their fellow Riflemen in Iraq to concentrate on their job.
I have followed the Battalion’s progress closely in good and bad times. I know that you were subject to frequent and heavy attacks in unbearable temperatures, both inside and outside the vehicles, not to mention the perilous levels of humidity. But despite these adverse conditions, the enormous risks and the heavy losses, you never faltered. You showed unswerving courage and professionalism and lived up to your exacting motto Swift and Bold. Some of the injured even returned to the Battle Group a testimony to the determination and fighting spirit of The Rifles.
Within months of formation as a Rifles Battalion, you have done much to live up to the standing of your forebears and, crucially, to forge an enviable and glittering reputation in your own right as The Rifles and the 4th Battalion in particular.
You have also strengthened the reputation of the British Army, in my view and that of so many others the best in the world, not only through your courage and commitment, but also through your restraint and common decency.
You have made your Royal Colonel very proud; proud of you and proud to be British and I believe this country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude.
It only remains for me to wish you and your families a peaceful and Happy Christmas and a well-earned rest before you return to Bulford in the New Year.