Ladies and Gentlemen, soldiers of the Territorial Army past and present, it is a great privilege to be here today on behalf of Her Majesty to celebrate with you the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Territorial Army.
In view of the many links I have had with the Armed Forces over the past thirty-nine years I do, I think, have some idea of how absolutely vital the Reserve Forces are. Today we have witnessed the history, tradition and values of a Territorial Army that is the envy of other Nations. Above all, an occasion like this brings home to us just how incredibly fortunate we are that remarkable people like yourselves remain an integral part of our Armed Forces. This is a tradition which fills us with unashamed pride and which, incidentally, must not be lost.
It is no doubt mystifying to many that you devote so much of your free time to serving your country and community. I know only too well that the commitment you make as T.A. soldiers to drill nights, training weekends and annual camps all eat into your spare time, time that is so precious in our modern, pressurized society. In addition, I know that many of you have volunteered to deploy on operations and stand shoulder to shoulder with your regular peers. In an age that is increasingly risk-averse, the fact that we still have people like yourselves prepared to take the ultimate risk on behalf of our country is something that should be the cause for special recognition and celebration.
Inevitably, however, serving your country comes with a cost and you may sometimes feel that you are pulled in three different directions, juggling the needs of the family, your civilian career and the T.A. We need to recognize, therefore, just what a debt of gratitude we owe to the families and the employers who support your essential contribution; without their good will and their long-suffering understanding, the T.A. would fail to be the extraordinarily effective force it has become.
Bearing in mind the tempo of current operations, many of you will, I realize, have been separated from your families for protracted periods of time whilst deployed on operations. The C.G.S. has already mentioned the extraordinary numbers of you that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 and the lives that have been so tragically lost. This, of course, puts the ultimate pressure on your families who have to cope with the absence of a loved one and all the day-to-day frictions that this imposes. Having had one of my sons serving for a time in Afghanistan, I can appreciate just something of what this means to so many. On this occasion, if I may, I would like to pay a particular and heartfelt tribute to all those families of T.A. soldiers who endure so much, who put up with their husbands, wives and partners spending their holidays on exercises, and who provide that bedrock of vital support, without which the volunteering spirit would be stillborn.
It is not just the families that have to cope in the absence of the T.A. soldier, but the civilian employers also bear the weight of the operational deployments. There are many employers here today who have agreed not only to allow their employees to take time off work for T.A. training, but have also been prepared to consent to their deployment on current operations. This often means obtaining temporary cover and dealing with an extra administrative burden. I can well appreciate how difficult this can be and so I would like to thank you for taking that leap of faith in your employee – an employee who will no doubt return both better motivated and more self-disciplined.
The T.A. would simply not exist and the T.A. soldier would not be well served, of course, were it not for the dedication and commitment of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations, which are also celebrating their 100th Anniversary. For this reason, I would like to offer particular thanks to all the representatives of the R.F.C.A.’s here today – not least for being the guardians of the volunteer spirit and ethos for the past century.
At the end of the day, and in this special anniversary year, we must remember, above all, that you provide us with an insurance policy in times of national crisis and remain a key pillar in the defence of the realm. In that sense you are a unique and indispensable asset to this country. Long may you flourish…