WHITEHALL is being called to set up a national commemoration and ensure the courage of Northern Ireland veterans is not ‘airbrushed out’ of the history books.
The comments from former infantry commander Lieutenant Colonel Chris Parker come ahead of a memorial to mark 50 years since the start of Operation Banner.
Involving some 300,000 military personnel, August 14 1969 was the date British troops deployed onto the streets of Northern Ireland in response to growing sectarian unrest.
Lt Col Parker, who completed five tours of Northern Ireland during the 1990s, refused to attend the event at the National Memorial Arboretum, staged by military charity the Royal British Legion.
Instead, he demanded the government take a lead and host its own national event.
The 50-year-old father-of-two, who grew up in Cowplain, said: ‘There’s a lot of upset among the veteran community that there is not a national celebration of commemoration.
‘I will not be going to the Royal British Legion event at the National Arboretum and I know I’m not alone.
‘Veterans deserve to be recognised but there seems to be a huge absence of public statement.
‘Some of the best times we had as young soldiers were when we served our country. This should not just be air-brushed out.’
Operation Banner lasted from August 1969 to July 2007, and claimed the lives of 1,441 British soldiers with 30,000 others left injured.
However, since the war’s end, the government has come under fire for allowing the prosecution of former security force members who served in Northern Ireland – while granting immunity to Irish terrorists under the Good Friday arrangement.
‘The people who were breaking law and order using the bullet and bomb and not the ballot should not be given the same credence as the British soldiers who were one the wall and standing up for justice,’ said Lt Col Parker, who is the chairman of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment and represents thousands of infantry soldiers in the south.
‘British veterans have been hung out to dry while those terrorists who were doing the killing are living happy lives. It’s not fair.’
Defence secretary Ben Wallace last night vowed veterans who served in Northern Ireland would not face any future probes unless new evidence comes to light.
The former Scots Guards officer, who served in Northern Ireland, said: ‘Northern Ireland veterans in their 70s and 80s should now be enjoying their retirement – not dealing with the trauma of waiting for a knock on the door when there is no new evidence that an offence has been committed.'
Lt Col Parker said change needed to start with the public showing more open support to forces personnel.
‘All it would take is someone saying “thank you for your service” – that would mean so much,’ he said.