From the Chaplain-in-Chief to the Royal Air Force
Sir, - I have read with considerable disquiet the report "Bishop: 'Escort
the dead from Iraq'" (
News, 16 December). I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the
concerns of the Bishop of Bath & Wells regarding a perceived "lack of
honour and respect given to fallen service personnel".
The chaplaincies of the three armed forces work very closely to uphold the
long-held tradition in the Services that those killed in action are given due
honour and respect upon their repatriation. I want to assure the Bishop and
your readers that chaplains for their part play a pivotal role in this
extremely delicate and sensitive process.
The chaplain in an operational theatre will always be heavily involved
alongside other welfare agencies after the death or serious injury of serving
personnel. This will encompass, among other tasks, the pastoral care of
colleagues, and invariably a memorial service will be held in theatre as a
fitting tribute to those who have died.
On return to this country, in a designated aircraft, the bodies are
repatriated in a moving ceremony attended by family and senior members of the
military. As part of the ceremony, the coffin is borne out of the aircraft by a
uniformed bearer party drawn from the same Service as the fallen comrade.
A bugler sounds "Last Post", and prayers are offered by military chaplains.
This ceremony is first and foremost an important milestone for the families in
their own journey of grief.
In the opening paragraph, the Bishop is quoted as expressing a concern
regarding a "cloak of secrecy" over these ceremonies, which suggests a lack of
public recognition. The Ministry of Defence website
carries pictures, eulogies, and details of all fatalities in theatre, and is
the first port of call for national and regional media as a source of
information when one of our service personnel is killed. It is very well used.
But our first priority is, and will always be, the family. I would like to
assure the Bishop that the intention is for a dignified, appropriate, and
essentially a private ceremony that also takes into account the wishes of the
family. It is for this reason rather than any desire for secrecy that the event
is shielded from the glare of publicity.
I hope that this allays any understandable concerns. In writing, I have
taken the lead on behalf of my colleagues in the Royal Navy and the Army, as
the Royal Air Force has the primary responsibility for the transportation and
reception of those who die or are injured in overseas military operations. The
honouring of fallen or injured personnel is a priority, and a duty that we
undertake to the very best of our ability.
Chaplaincy Services (RAF)
Royal Air Force Innsworth
Gloucester GL3 1EZ
From Mr Christopher Betterton
Sir, - I found Mr P. Arulanantham's letter (
6 January) rather worrying. Surely the servicemen and women engaged in Iraq
(or in any conflict) are entitled to receive a pastoral visit from a member of
the clergy - however senior.
It is not the troops' fault that they are embroiled in a war with which they
may not (or, indeed, may) agree. They are doing their duty - a long way from
home and in very difficult circumstances, and deserve our thoughts and our
prayers as much as those affected in other ways by the conflict in Iraq.
25 Fennel Close
Rochester, Kent ME1 1LW
From Dr N. P. Hudd
Sir, - I was mystified by the letter from Mr P. Arulanantham. No
explanation is given why the service personnel in question are not worthy of
the Archbishop of Armagh's pastoral attention.
I would agree with the view given about the war in Iraq, but the terrible
things done there seem to me an excellent reason for the Archbishop to go. Why
does Mr Arulanantham think that Christ should not be preached in places where
dreadful things are done?
N. P. HUDD
13 Elmfield, Tenterden
Kent TN30 6RE