On Friday 13th March, I was privileged to be in the congregation at St Paul's Cathedral at the Afghanistan service of Commemoration, Reflection and Remembrance.
I sat with a dignified group of people who were all wearing The Elizabeth Cross in recognition that they had lost a loved one in the battles in Helmand. Some wiped a tear, some were silent, others said it was good to be amongst people who understood and cared. I felt humbled, grateful that my family had escaped loss but deeply saddened at theirs.
Afterwards I went to a simple reception and met men and women who have served, many highly decorated, all understated and modest. Medals and Service Dress replacing battle and combat uniform, the same people but in another place, back from the war but still living it.
I saw a few of those who have been wounded, Andy Barlow told me about his skiing plans and I saw Josh Campbell wobbling on his new prosthetics, both looking forward.
It was an emotional day, dignified and a fitting tribute to those who have served in Afghanistan. People talked about closure and a ‘line in the sand’; a time to close one chapter and start another.
But what happens next? Is it over, will there really be closure for those who served out there or for their loved ones who waited at home? What about those who were injured or bear the mental scars?
What about Help for Heroes now that the battle casualties have stopped being flown back to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham? Have we done our bit and can we go back to our lives? The answer is no.
We may not be seeing the battle casualties but those who were injured are still with us. Some will continue to face operations in hospital for years long after the operations in Afghan have ended. Some blokes are still having operations ten years after they were injured and will continue to do so long into the future. Those who need to can come to our Recovery Centres as veterans and work on getting fit or learn new skills.
There will be future conflicts, there will be more wounded to help but we don’t just support the wounded; we care for the injured and sick. Servicemen and women get hurt, they get ill and H4H is there to help them recover.
Nor is H4H purely limited to helping those affected in Iraq and Afghanistan, we help those who have had their lives changed by service, whenever it was, including some who were injured in Northern Ireland and the Falklands. We’ve even been able to help a WW2 veteran, 96 year old Robbie Clark, stay in his own home.
Where we have the capacity, we will do our best to help those who need our support. The numbers are growing, not reducing and that shows how vital it is that we continue to do our bit to help those who have served us. We Civvies owe these ordinary decent people who serve on our behalf a huge debt. I've said this before but while this war may be over, their battles certainly are not and for some their toughest times are still to come.
It is right that we commemorate, reflect and remember but then we must roll up our sleeves and get on with the business of supporting them, in whatever way they need and for as long as it takes. That's what they deserve and that's what we must strive for.
Onwards and Upwards
Read more from today's events on the Guardian's website.
Image courtesy of the Guardian online.