The remembrance period is an opportunity for us to:
- Pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of individuals from across Wales who now serve or have served in our armed forces.
- Acknowledge the work of organisations, individuals and volunteers who support our armed forces community and veterans across Wales.
- help future generations to understand past conflicts, where the past informs the future
- Remember all those who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts, including civilian casualties.
- AND support the need for peaceful resolutions to all conflicts.
Remembrance this year marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice which ended the fighting in the Korean War, the “Forgotten War”, and honours the contribution of the generation in uniform who undertook National Service, 60 years after the last serviceman was demobbed.
My father was a National Service Soldier a decade prior to that, serving in Cyprus and Egypt.
During the Korean War, units of the Welch Regiment were sent to Korea, accompanied by a company of Royal Welch Fusiliers and a platoon from the South Wales Borderers.
32 Members of the Welch Regiment were killed in the conflict.
Remembrance 2023 also marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of settlers from the Caribbean on the Empire Windrush, many of whom were Veterans of the Second World War.
Speaking here in July, I highlighted the ‘Credit their Service’ Campaign launched by the Royal British Legion, calling for an end to the treatment of military compensation as income across welfare benefit means tests, and emphasised the need for action by the Welsh Government and Welsh Local Authorities to ensure that this happens.
A hundred and fifty thousand members of the Armed Forces Community receive military compensation awarded to support the ongoing costs of an illness or injury acquired in Service.
Means testing results in some of the poorest members of the Armed Forces Community being denied thousands of pounds of support, while civil compensation, such as for personal injury or medical negligence, is exempt from this.
Although a UK wide issue, this includes areas where the Welsh Government leads, and we therefore look to them to respond.
I led a short debate here in January 2008 supporting the Royal British Legion’s “Honour the Covenant” Campaign, concluding that this must be fought until it is won– and welcomed the publication of the UK Armed Forces Covenant in May 2011.
The Welsh Government and all Local Authorities in Wales signed the Covenant and subscribed to work with partner organisations to uphold its principles, as have Health Boards, Police and Businesses since.
The Royal British Legion is urging the next UK Government to bolster the Armed Forces Covenant Duty.
This includes extending its reach to encompass both UK and devolved governments and all policy matters.
In this context, it is noted that the Statutory Guidance on the Armed Forces Covenant Duty was issued last November, produced by the UK Government in consultation with the Devolved Governments, placing a legal Duty on Specified Authorities to have due regard to the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant when exercising certain statutory functions in the devolved fields of healthcare, education and housing.
It is also noted that the UK Government launched a £33 Million funding package in March to support Veterans over the next three years, and that they launched Op FORTITUDE for homeless Veterans in July, a first-of-its-kind hotline and part of a two-year £8.55 million programme to fulfil the UK Government’s pledge to end veteran rough sleeping.
Housing providers including Alabaré Homes for Veterans are listed as accepting Op FORTITUDE referrals.
Alabaré Homes for Veterans provides dedicated support to veterans in North and South Wales - specifically, Cardiff, Pontypridd, Swansea and Conwy.
As a British Army Veteran living in North Wales recently emailed:
“I have friends and colleagues that have slipped through the net who are or have been homeless. As we know, a large percentage of UK's homeless are British Armed Forces Veterans, which is unacceptable considering they signed their lives away to defend the realm and country”.
Mental Health Charity Adferiad have told me that although two “Change Step Peer Mentors” are embedded in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board both, they and Veterans NHS Wales state there is a need to appoint peer mentors into the remaining 5 health boards which do not have one.
They add that “it’s become a post code lottery now as to veterans access to a Peer Mentor”.
When we say “We will remember them”, we must remember what this really means.