Staying In Touch by Major General David Shaw CBE
Over a month ago
Staying In Touch
I finished the last article by hinting that I’d talk about Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palme d’Or recently. This film documents what happens when an older man, living in Newcastle, has a heart attack and can no longer do his job. His benefits are stopped when he is declared fit for work and he begins to go hungry as he finds it difficult to get a job. All the complicated bureaucracy of the welfare system in the UK is splashed across the screen here and the dead-end fact that key decisions are referred to the ‘decision maker’ who doesn’t even have a name. Who exactly is this – a person, a committee or the boss of the local social services office? Very Orwellian. The film is set close to Launchpad’s Avondale House. At one stage in the film I recognised some of the characters - residents of Launchpad’s Avondale House - who were acting as members of the food bank queue. But I was really floored when the credits rolled and ‘Phil Old, Manager Avondale House, Launchpad’ was plastered across the screen. So Launchpad now has international reach through cinema!
[A shot from I, Daniel Blake]
Food banks are interesting and I have been watching them in operation in Newcastle. Some people really do need food bank assistance but others (including veterans, sadly) cunningly use them to ‘save’ their benefits and then spend that money elsewhere. I actually think food banks are a vital and necessary part of our communities right now; there are people so poor that they need this help, particularly children, the aged and individuals who haven’t managed to connect with the benefits’ system. But we should do all we can to dissuade and deflect alcoholics and drug users who take this free food and use what they save to pay for drink and drugs – but we also need to recover those who are addicted.
Let me know, please, of your own experiences of food banks and, in particular, if you know when veterans use them, so that we can really get to grips with the wider issue and this very real need.
[Queuing for the food-bank in I, Daniel Blake]
Keeping In Touch
I am interested to know how veterans keep in touch with one another or indeed how they get back in touch with each other once the link has been broken. This isn’t a plug for Forces Reunited although it’s clearly very useful and important! I want to explore the benefits of social media. When I joined the Army there was no ‘social media’ and regimental reunions and newsletters were the best way that serving and retired members of units kept in touch. The Royal British Legion clubs played an important role too, pulling people from all the Services in a local area together. As social media has taken hold, veterans are now able to keep in touch with their particular group of friends all the time, wherever they are in the world. These social media groups are actually much more intimate because they are people who actually served together and got on; no longer does one rely on the hit or miss nature of seeing your friends at reunions. The other wonderful thing about social media is that news of a person who needs help or those seeking a ‘lost’ member can use the very quick cascading nature of messaging to provide the answer. The strength of friendships formed in the Services is remarkable: even when you haven’t seen a person for years, you can reconnect immediately because of the experiences you’ve shared. This is evidence of the wonderful camaraderie that you only really get within the military.
Tell me about your experiences of keeping in touch before and during the social media age. Are there any interesting stories out there?
I thought I’d introduce a ‘current issues’ element to this blog and my choice this week is terrorism. Our thoughts are with all those who are and have been affected by the dreadful Manchester suicide bomber. There is also the very real fear that this may happen again. A flurry of retired military commentators have been airing their views on how we should tackle terrorism - I suppose I am one of those too, now! Colonel Richard Kemp is outspoken about detaining, deporting and excluding terrorists. MI5 is trying to keep tabs on over 3,000 terrorists at any one time so it is no wonder that occasionally, and only occasionally, a terrorist slips through. I agree with Richard Kemp that known high-risk characters, those who for example, go and fight with IS, might be detained, deported and excluded but we must recognise that this is about terrorists and not religion. We also have to be sure that the way in which this anti-terrorist campaign is conducted is open, falls within intelligence limits and that the rule of law supports it. The clamor to do this is loud, but so too are the voices that warn us not to become a hardline police state. We need to be firmer with high-risk people and the support to do this will become even greater if there are more suicide bombings. Let’s consider and try to learn from lessons in the past, but as Richard Kemp says, we are not facing the same situation as the one before us when the Northern Ireland troubles were our focus.
On a lighter note, I note that Armed Forces day is on 24 June. The main national event is being held in Liverpool, other events take place all over the UK.
Where will you be on 24 June and will you be supporting this event?
I will discuss Armed Forces Day further in my blog next time.
You can get in touch with me via my profile page, click HERE.