Scones, seedlings and squaddies: the garden open day
Well, it’s over for another few years, thank goodness. Our open day for Scotland’s Gardens Scheme went very well in the end, thanks to the steady stream of well-disposed visitors and a tremendous team effort from gardeners, groundsmen, family, friends and the stalwart ladies of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute. While we are still awaiting some final cost figures, we know that we have raised well over two thousand pounds. This means that, after the SGS charities take their bite, we have more than £900 to donate to Help for Heroes. That might be a tiny drop compared to the immense amounts raised by others but it all helps: I am immensely grateful to all those who supported our efforts.
Our area of Scotland is part of the traditional heartland of the Black Watch and has a fiercely strong loyalty to the armed forces, the army in particular. Whatever our several opinions might be of the previous government’s decision to send British soldiers into an apparently unwinnable conflict in a sovereign state half way around the world, many of us share the feeling that we, as a country, have a moral obligation to look after our servicemen and women once they are back home again. The government is not felt to be doing enough: hence the founding of Help for Heroes and the tremendous support it has from the British public. At a dinner party not so long ago, where many ex-servicemen were present, I heard someone arguing that in fact we have no obligation to the members of the armed forces, since – there being no conscription these days – they have chosen to enlist and are being paid to do their job like anyone else. Logically, I suppose he has a point. Emotionally, I revolt against it. (That’s the problem with the electorate, they will allow emotions to cloud the issues. No wonder politicians try to keep us at arm’s length, except when there is an election to fight.) The job that soldiers do is not comparable to working in a bank or a burger bar. And if we want young men and women to fight for us when the bullies get too close for comfort, then we had better show that we are willing to support them in the aftermath. Charities like Help for Heroes have provided a focus for all the ordinary men and women of Britain who want to do exactly that.
In addition to the moral obligation, as many of us see it, there is a utilitarian argument for looking after ex-servicemen and women. While statistics are notoriously unreliable, there does seem to be a consensus that a high proportion (up to 30%) of long-term homeless people in the UK are ex-forces. Discharged soldiers are also disproportionately more likely to suffer from mental health problems, alcoholism, or to end up in prison. (For more on this subject, see this article in http://www.defencemanagement.com.) It is pretty self-evident that society pays a price for all these issues, one way or the other. Therefore, it is in all our interests to try to improve the support received by servicemen during their transition back into civilian life. There are politicians, senior officers and numerous charities working together to do exactly that, and it is not my intention – I hope I’m not that pompous! – to criticize their efforts; rather, I applaud the fact that there is now a focus for us civvies who also want to help. If it’s just paying a few pounds to come to a charity garden open day, buy a seedling from the plant stall or a teacup from the bric-a-brac stall and finish up with a buttered scone in the tearoom, then that’s great. Every little helps.