I was greeted by the utterly haunting sound of the bagpipes and I felt as if I was going back in time, some 150 years perhaps when I would have been met with similar sights and sounds.

Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

I can't tell you what special pride it gives my wife and me to be here this evening.

I must say it is also profoundly humbling when we've heard such tales of selfless courage and incredible fortitude in overcoming horrendous injuries.

And if I may I would just like to begin by offering my warmest and most heartfelt congratulations to all those who have been nominated for an award tonight and for all those who have won.

In particular, the 1st Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, of whom I have the greatest privilege to be Colonel-In-Chief.

But as we sit here this evening in this remarkable museum surrounded by the machinery of war, I think it is only right that we remember the sacrifices that have been made over the years so that we may live here at home in peace and security.

Tonight we should remember those friends and colleagues who have been tragically killed in action and the families and loved ones who so mourn their loss.

We remember those who have been injured, physically or psychologically, who carry the scars of conflict with them each and every day.

And of course, we remember those who are deployed at this very moment on operations throughout the world.

But particularly in Afghanistan, where there have been so many acts of extraordinary courage and where every time a soldier steps out of the camp gates they have to face their ultimate fears and do their duty.

I know only too well how unbearably tough it can be for those left behind when their loved ones go off to fight, in many cases knowing only what they see and hear on the television, which can be so often adjusted to fit an editorial agenda.

Our Armed Forces are usually out of the limelight until the worst happens, so all I can say for those so often left behind is this: thank you.

Thank you for your stoic resolve, your relentless commitment and your unconditional love.

Our soldiers, sailors and airmen depend on such unselfish support.

Earlier this year, ladies and gentlemen, I was fortunate enough to visit Afghanistan to see for myself something of what our service personnel are called on to do.

And while touring Camp Bastion I met chefs, bomb disposal experts, medics, engineers, dog-handlers, logisticians and aircrew.

I also met soldiers from the Afghan National Army who were training alongside their British colleagues before moving on out to the front line bases.

Each and every person had a different role and responsibility.

But each recognised that they were a small yet vital part of the huge team effort that makes up the deployed forces in Afghanistan.

Like the Army Air Corps and Joint Force EOD, the Chinook Force and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm have been deployed in operations constantly since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003.

Our air crew and the remarkable men and women who ensure their helicopters actually remain air worthy have been incredibly busy.

In the last 12 months, the Chinook helicopters moved some 96,000 troops and carried a staggering 6,700 tonnes of mission-critical freight across Helmand Province.

The Medical Emergency Response Team has recovered nearly 2,000 casualties and in many cases they have had to land their aircraft in the thick of the firefight.

And while on the subject of casualties, I just wanted to say a few words about the superb medical staff both military and civilian who care for our injured servicemen and women.

From all that I have seen during my regular visits to Selly Oak and the New Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, I'm quite certain that the medical care and rehabilitation of those wounded in action is second to none.

The staff at the hospital and at Headley Court are an immense credit to their profession and to the NHS and I'm sure, ladies and gentlemen, you would all wish to join me in expressing untold gratitude to them for their valiant efforts to support our casualties.

And let us never forget the invariably unseen and unsung world of the casualty visiting officers, who have the heart breaking task of supporting the families of those killed in action.

While in Afghanistan in March I was able to pay a visit to Headquarters Task Force Helmand in Lashkar Gah where I met the staff running the counter insurgency.

And it was here that I was exposed to the extraordinary complexity of operating in Afghanistan, the capabilities and resources required, the depth of planning necessary for each operation and the challenges of sustaining our forces in such a hostile environment.

This work is unglamorous yet vital and is carried out by an industrious headquarters staff working long hours behind their desks while many of them, I'm sure, secretly yearned to be on the front line. 
And not all that far from Lashkar Gah is a forward operating base called Pimon, which I was taken to in the back of a Chinook in order to visit the Scots Guards.

I was greeted by the utterly haunting sound of the bagpipes and I felt as if I was going back in time, some 150 years perhaps when I would have been met with similar sights and sounds.

And while the muskets have been replaced with the SA80 and scarlet battle dress by camouflaged fatigues, it seemed to me that the men and women who fight for this country have remained largely the same, incredibly courageous, modest, selfless in adversity and full of the kind of banter and humour no matter what the time of day that so distinguishes the British soldier.

These attributes which are perhaps not so obvious in today's society are, I believe, the golden thread which links one generation of servicemen and women to the next and stands for this nation's history.

I believe that the values and standards of our Armed Forces set them apart from all others.

And this is why these awards play such an important role in reminding us of what these remarkable people mean to us.

I'm sure I speak on behalf of you all when I say just how incredibly proud we are of all that our Armed Forces do for this country.

You only have to look around this room and see the array of medals to realise just how busy they have been and will no doubt continue to be.

So on behalf of a truly grateful nation we can only salute them for doing their duty whatever the circumstances or conditions.

We are incredibly lucky to have them.