Yesterday I went to a Council meeting with a difference, to see the Honourable Artillery Company receive the Freedom of the Borough of Islington.
The HAC is often summed up as the TA branch for the City of London, but that is not really a full or fair description. The HAC is a much more ancient organisation than the TA, having been founded by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. And while it has many City workers in its ranks, the Company’s HQ – the castle-like barracks on City Road – is in Islington, adjacent to Bunhill Fields (and just opposite the former home of my grandad, next to Wesley’s Chapel).
The HAC members turned out in uniform. And what uniforms! Not just the contemporary camouflage and dress uniforms, but red and white Tudor pikemen’s outfits and the fancy plumes and braids of the C19th light cavalrymen.
The HAC have a long history and rich traditions, but are also keen to serve the local community today. This ranges from providing a base for the emergency mortuary after the 7/7 bombings to neighbourhood open days.
What’s more, there are HAC members on active service in Afghanistan right now, and they have had their losses, including Trooper Jack Sadler. The award was in part the borough’s tribute to all servicemen and women; it was good to see many members of the local Islington Veterans’ Association at the ceremony.
Afterwards I talked to Major General Simon Lalor, head of the UK’s Reserves and Cadets, who was one of the distinguished guests. He was enthusing about the idea of getting a cadet branch of the HAC going for local young people. Whether they go on into the army or not is up to them; but it would provide structured, energetic activities, build self-esteem and teach new skills. I think it’s an excellent idea, and I’ve pledged my support for the scheme. Now we just need to knock some government heads together…..
Speakers at the event praised the Lib Dem Council’s new initiative to give returning forces extra points towards council housing. Liberal Democrats marched against the war in Iraq. We’re critical of the strategy in Afghanistan. But that does not stop us wanting decent treatment for our troops on the ground.
I recently signed up to support the Royal British Legion’s manifesto. And I’m also backing Nick Clegg’s campaign for fair pay for our troops. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, we should support our forces in the field properly or else not send them in the first place. Sending inadequate numbers of inadequately-equipped troops is worst of all worlds.
You can sign up to back Nick’s campaign here.