2017-03-12 18:21:00
At last we have an impressive memorial to those who served and died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The stone and bronze sculpture, ­unveiled by the Queen on Thursday, honours both our armed forces and ­civilians – like my fellow journalist Rupert Hamer, 39, who was ­murdered by a Taliban bomb in 2010 while covering the conflict in Afghanistan. Rupert’s wife and three ­children were robbed of a wonderful husband and ­father and we lost a brilliant, kind and ­generous colleague. And while the new ­memorial marks the nation’s gratitude for service and ­sacrifice, it must spark a ­poignant mix of pain and pride for loved ones left behind. Especially those who were not even invited by the Ministry of Defence to attend the unveiling ceremony. The Queen and 13 senior royals were there, but just one in ten of the seats were ­offered to families, the Sunday People can report. So ­hundreds of relatives of the 682 servicemen and women who died were excluded. Family members of civilians killed in the conflicts also felt let down. Like Deirdre Fitzsimons, the sister of Margaret Hassan, 59, a British aid worker kidnapped and shot in Iraq in 2004. Her sister said: “We have no ­gravestone. We have had no funeral for Margaret because we still don’t have her body. This is the only memorial for my sister. This was the one chance for us. “We are furious. Margaret was the only female British aid worker to be killed in Iraq. How could they not remember?” How indeed. Perhaps they were too busy sending hundreds of VIP invites to military top brass and ­former prime ­ministers such as John Major and David Cameron. And Tony Blair, the man who sent our troops to those ­foreign battlefields, and was slammed by the Iraq ­inquiry last year. He got an invitation – but how on earth did he have the brass neck to accept? When it landed on the desk in his swanky office did he even stop to think before RSVP-ing? Didn’t he know his presence would be a slap in the face for grieving parents who blame him for the deaths of their sons and daughters? Lance Corporal James Bateman was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. His widow Victoria got a ­ticket after emailing the Army Widows’ Association. She said: “Tony Blair has a lot of blood on his hands. If he were a man with any honour he would have given up his seat to a bereaved family member.” The new memorial does not bear names of the dead, just two words: DUTY and SERVICE. Blair’s attendance at its unveiling did a huge disservice to the families of the fallen.