In an extraordinary incident in the London borough of Croydon, not so long ago, some uniformed soldiers were asked to leave the bar of a local hostelry for not being smart enough for the strict dress code that the establishment operated. Given my ex-Serviceman's tribal loyalty to the Army, my initial reaction was unsurprisingly one of indignation. However, on noting how the soldiers were actually dressed on this occasion, I was inclined to think that the local hostelry's action may not have been entirely unjustified, and that to some extent the predicament that these soldiers found themselves in might, in a way, have been of their own, or perhaps more correctly, of the Army's own making.

For some inexplicable reason, the Army seems to have lowered its own high standards in military dress for ceremonial occasions. Although the occasion for these soldiers' presence in the borough was a homecoming parade, they had turned out it seems, not in their best kit, but rather in the desert fatigues and boots that form the everyday working dress in Afghanistan. This particular style of dress now seems to have become the Army's preferred choice of dress whenever appearing in public, no matter how special the occasion. Yet it is difficult to think of any good reason why soldiers should be marching through the towns and cities of England in desert fatigues at all, never mind yellow suede desert boots. Desert fatigues and desert boots belong in a desert environment, - not in the temperate conditions of northern Europe. In fact I believe they are not the regulation dress for Home Service.

The British Army has a regulation dress for every theatre of operations, every occasion and every type of activity, whether it concerns desert patrols, normal work in the camp or a homecoming parade in Britain. As might be imagined, a homecoming parade accompanied by ceremonial route march through a regiment's home town is a very special occasion, much cherished by regiments of the British Army. The correct dress for a ceremonial route march is properly either best service dress or No 1 dress, - complete with razor sharp creases and highly "bulled" boots. No British soldier so turned out, could possibly be thrown out of an establishment for "not being smart enough", - or if he were, would have good cause for complaint.

To many an old soldier, the mere fact that some soldiers were pulled up for scruffy dress may seem a poor reflection on the modern Army's dress discipline and may well lead them to apportion blame to Army leadership for its failure in this regard. However, the cynic in me sees the hand of politicians behind this uncharacteristic decision of the Army to forego its usual smartness of turn-out in favour of a dress that may be symbolic of the desert combat zone from whence these soldiers had just returned, but which is evidently not smart enough even for the local hostelry. I cannot imagine that the Army, steeped as it is in tradition and discipline in all matters including dress, would ever put symbolism before dress regulation. I see a politician's opportunism behind this decision: the desert camouflage dress, scruffy though it is, has PR value as an emblem of the so-called War on Terror in Afghanistan whereas the No 1 dress is merely smart and soldierly.

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As an ex-Serviceman, it has long irritated me to hear some of the spurious arguments being put forward in the debate over the "broken covenant". The so-called "broken covenant" seems to me to be a PR slogan that, like the so-called "war on terror", is trying to present a metaphor as a statement of reality. The notion conjured up by the term "covenant" is that of a constitutionally binding solemn pledge given by the nation to the armed forces. In reality no such constitutional undertaking had ever existed. What had always existed until recently however, was a genuine bond between the Army's county regiments and the county folk from amongst whom these regiments were recruited. It was a bond that had been formed over generations from strong ties of kinship, culture, history and ancestry and could be said to have constituted a real social contract as opposed to some vague notion of a "covenant". It is therefore disingenuous of the Army now to bemoan the breaking of "the covenant", when the long process that has led to this breach, was set in motion by the Army itself by wilfully abandoning County regiments in favour of the so called "Super" regiments.

Super regiments that are designed to belong to "no county and all counties" are destined ultimately not to belong to any county. These regiments recruit over a wide area encompassing many different counties and acquire in time a membership which, to any given county population, appears alien in character, - since it contains, as a result of wide area recruitment, far more non-county outsiders than local men. Such regiments do not evoke any sense of affection from any single county and remain consequently, alienated from all. This feeling of disaffection is scarcely alleviated by the Army's own new found enthusiasm for "globalism". It is sad to realise that the now obligatory mantra of "best commercial practice", seems to have led the Army to decide that the answer to falling recruitment in the UK is not to offer better wages and conditions to UK recruits but rather to embrace the "globalist" practices of British industry, and to try and recruit cheap fighting men from the third world, - on wages that by the Army's own admission are less than those of traffic wardens. If the presence of large numbers of non-county men in a regiment engendered within county folk a feeling of disaffection, then it could scarcely have been lessened by the Army's new "global" regiments, which to the further disenchantment of many in the shires, would seem to be manned by recruits that belong neither to their county nor their country.

"Globalism" may well suit British industry in its desire to obtain cheap labour from all over the world but enterprises that have embraced "Globalism" have seldom been regarded with pride and affection by the communities within which they are located. Indeed, they have nearly always evoked distaste and antagonism: thus the bus companies, for example, that have recruited in Eastern Europe for drivers have only attracted public opprobrium and even vilification for their efforts. Given the public perception of "Globalism" as a euphemism for cheap imported labour, for the Army to espouse it, is not merely foolish but indicative of a mind-set that is informed more by management consultancy talk than sound military common sense.

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Document created by Neil Keskar (nkeskar@hotmail.com) 15/9/08