More than 60 people took the opportunity to get to know a bit more about the British Army in Stornoway yesterday evening (Monday 15 May).
The British Army engagement unit were in town as part of a UK-wide tour encouraging more interest in the everyday workings of the service, and the opportunities it gives to individuals of all kinds.
Leading last night’s presentation and reception was Lt Col Hugo Clark, head of engagement for the British Army in Scotland, who explained the purpose of the evening.
He said: “The idea is to connect people across the country with what is, after all, their army – to get as many people as we can to come along and to tell them what the army is doing and what it is like.
“People tend to think of the army as it is represented on screen, to have presumptions about what it involves. People think of soldiers with bayonets fighting, but 70% of the army is made up of support personnel.
“We are all just ordinary people. When we deploy, we do have everybody in uniform, but our deployments are like cities, with all the specialisms that you would expect to make a city work.
“We have mechanical and electrical engineers, doctors, nurses, vets – there are very few trades which we don’t have.”
As an example, Corporal May Fox is a dental nurse, who came along to Stornoway as part of the engagement team from her base at Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy. She’s part of the Army Dental Corps and can be deployed on active service to do her job, like any other serviceman.
The British Army has, says Lt Col Clark, been incredibly busy doing work in the UK such as their additional duties during the Covid pandemic and at Royal events like the late Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Coronation of King Charles III.
But, he said: “We also have personnel currently in Europe supporting NATO and on enhanced forward deployment in Estonia and Poland, as well as on large scale exercises like Joint Warrior.
“Operational activity in this part of the world tends to be more obviously by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, but British Army personnel are deployed with those international exercises as highest readiness forces.”
There has always been an army presence in Stornoway, with an Army Reserve Centre on Church Street and, although the army’s numbers are smaller than they used to be, the UK Government always has to have the army it needs.
Lt Col Clark said: “It’s for the government to decide what they want the army to do, and that includes the use of technology.
“You can use technology for surveillance, using drones instead of people on the ground, and you can use robot vehicles to put supplies forward, but our current recruiting campaign emphasises the importance of people, with the slogan ‘Nothing can do what a soldier can do.’
“There need to be humans. Battles need people and there is no question that every member of the armed forces knows that fighting is involved in a career with the British Army.
“People do join for the humanitarian side, but you have to be aware that you could be asked to fight. Warfare is what we are there to do and I think everyone would agree that we need an army and, if we have an army, it has to be a quality service.
“But that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be fighting in the frontline. It is a place where people can really thrive.”
The army’s connection, historically, with the Western Isles is honoured in bases all over Scotland, where the young men of the Highlands and Islands are remembered as part of a proud tradition in the modern Royal Regiment of Scotland.
The 4th Battalion of that regiment is formed of the former Highland regiments (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons), with which many islanders proudly served through two world wars.
And there’s still full engagement with the community here, as six detachments of the army cadet force span the Western Isles, providing 13 to 18 year olds with uniformed activity which gives them skills and discipline for life.
Army cadet units are not recruitment factories, says Ltd Col Clark. “Most cadets leave the force as they mature, but they leave having developed pride, confidence and skills, with the ability to work as part of a team, to solve problems and to give leadership. It’s an opportunity for life.”
You can find out more about the British Army, its activities and opportunities, via linktr.ee/army_engagement.
The picture shows Lt Col Hugo Clark (centre) with Corporal May Fox and Sergeant Safique Ahmed, both of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, at last night’s event in Stornoway.