EIBF2017: Richard Dannatt with Sheena McDonald in the Chair, Leading from the Front

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Richard Dannatt with Sheena McDonald in the Chair
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Sheena McDonald greeted us all and emphasised that this was The Dickson Minto event and that for their sponsorship we are most grateful. She immediately turned to Richard Dannatt and also welcomed him, saying that as a soldier he had been the Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces and then Chief of the General Staff (CGS) before becoming a member of the House of Lords. In reply Dannatt said that at a recent dinner he had been seated next to Betty Boothroyd. He asked her why he had been invited to speak and she, as a much more senior member of the Lords had not been asked. "Well", she replied, "by the time you speak they will all be too drunk to know what you are saying and so they just want a stand-up comic, so go on!"

Following this opening we were treated to an assessment of the history of what the Army had been involved in right to the present day. It was a masterly 'tour de force' which Dannatt had to take at full speed, otherwise there would have been no time for questions. Perhaps some areas could have been covered less and made more time for a relaxed delivery or possibly some areas might have been omitted - but which? Dannatt's book, "Boots on the Ground" obviously covers the whole period, but there was no doubt that to deal with every deployment by the Army in the short time available was a huge challenge.

Dannatt took us from 4 May 1945 with Field Marshal Montgomery receiving the unconditional surrender of all the German forces of Luneburg Heath right through to the present day. He said that some seventy years on in 2014 we have Monty's Desert Rats of 7 Brigade taking down their flag for the last time in Germany and moving to the UK. We are no longer an army of occupation in Germany. Dannatt reminded the audience that at Yalta the Americans were given the scenery, the French got the wine and Britain was given the rubble! He also talked about the difficulties that Britain had with Palestine until finally handing over control of Palestine to the United Nations. He touched on the independence of India and that India emerged from the independence process as two countries - India and Pakistan, some 70% of the land to India and 30% to Pakistan. Then Dannatt moved on to Korea which had been split since the end of the war at the 38th parallel; war was inevitable and we got drawn in to support the American effort. In addition there was the ongoing struggle in the then Malaya and then Indonesia to secure the rubber and oil palm, but in the case of Indonesia it was more of a land grab.

Then we had Suez where many said we had been let down by American support and the US was implacably against our intervention in Suez. Possibly this was because the US wanted to see British and French power being curtailed in the Middle East. In all of this we have to ask ourselves where military history ends and current affairs actually starts! But in 1969 we started the problems in Northern Ireland which were to continue for many years until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In the interim Britain had declined to join the US in the Vietnamese war. At this time the policies of Glasnost and Perestrioka in the former Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev had begun to take effect. Russia was no longer the feared advisory and the Berlin Wall came down to signify the unification process starting in Germany.

On 9th September 2001 - known as 9/11 - attacks took place on the World Trade Centre in New York. These attacks were carried out by Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and allegedly financed by a Saudi fugitive named Osma bin Laden. These terrorists were from the al-Queda terrorist organisation and the strike was in retaliation for American support of Israel in the Persian Gulf War. Following closely on this was the American strike on Afghanistan then the US action in Kuwait and Iraq where as an army we were closely involved. But in the meantime the infantry had been reorganised and the old traditional names had gone. Of course, BREXIT will change everything!

In questions he said that it had been a brilliant idea to award all the relatives who had lost someone, the Elizabeth Cross. And when asked how he "got his kicks" he said that the Christian faith gave him all he needed. On Suez he felt that while we had resented the lack of support from America he felt that the situation had changed to such a degree that there was a total lack of support within the area, so it was right to withdraw. Finally Dannatt was asked if he felt that the demands on the soldiers who served in Afghanistan contrasted with those who served in the World Wars. His feeling was that to serve for six months under intense pressure in Afghanistan was far worse than a few weeks in the line during the World Wars - the incessant pressure to keep fighting was almost more than anyone could stand.

(60 mins)