This year’s Remembrance Day marks 100 years since the first poignant Armistice Day commemorations held in 1919. Each year, the 11th November offers us an opportunity to remember all those who have given their lives in the defence of our nation. It remains just as important now as it was then.
The challenge I would set down for us in 2019 is to reflect on the importance of our Armed Forces as part of the fabric of our society and of our veterans as positive assets to our workforce and society. The nation’s traditional image of our veterans is of old men who fought for our futures in wars on distant shores. This risks excluding the many thousands of veterans who are still of working age and are striving to carve out their own futures in communities across the country.
Those images have become stereotyped, and there is a danger of that situation being reinforced as our Armed Forces shrink in size and members are less visible to our communities. Although numbers have shrunk, the size of the ex-service community is still significant. It is estimated that there are some 240,000 veterans, or roughly 5% of the population in Scotland. Today, most of them are over 65 years of age. By 2028 it is estimated that almost half of all veterans will be of working age and each year, we add a further 1,800 ex-Service personnel to the population.
In the same way that we care for our older veterans, we also have a duty to ensure that when they leave military service, new and future generations of younger veterans are properly equipped to go on to lead rewarding and fulfilling civilian lives.
Fewer of us these day will have first-hand experience of military life or second-hand experience through loved ones who may have served. There is a risk that preconceptions may affect the understanding of what benefits today’s veterans bring to our communities when they leave the Services. This has the potential to throw up unintended barriers to those leaving the Services. The result, potentially a loss to the individual but also a loss of the talent that veterans and their families bring to the workplace and our communities.
It is time to think again about how we engage the wider population to improve understanding of the military in today’s world. We need to try and break down the myths and misconceptions and see through to the talent these individuals bring to our society. To recognise the invaluable work our Armed Forces do and the excellence they achieve in training and developing individuals during their service.
In recent years, it has been especially encouraging to see the heightened awareness and increase in Remembrance activity, with hundreds of events and projects taking place across Scotland to mark the WW1 centenary. With these centenary commemorations behind us, it is vital that we now harness this momentum and look forward.
Of course, there will continue to be those who have had traumatic experiences and families who have lost loved ones through conflict. We must never forget them. They must be at the forefront of our minds at this time of year as we contemplate our freedoms which they have fought so hard for on our behalf and for which we enjoy on a daily basis. We will remember them.