Blackpool has been a rich recruitment ground for the Army’s infantry for well over a century.
Local lads have served in the First and Second World Wars and conflicts before and since.
Afghanistan has cropped up time and again since Brits invaded back in the 1830s.
Soldiers from the Weeton-based 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and Territorial Army colleagues from the 4th Battalion will be there any day as mentors to the Afghan National Army.
I’m far from jingoistic but I’ve spent enough time with local regiments, attended enough funerals, and witnessed enough oaths of allegiance ceremonies at the Town Hall to feel real respect for those who sign up.
They don’t see the Army as the last resort. It offers personal growth, a sense of purpose.
The risk to life and limb goes with the turf – the point Prince Harry tried to make before his “take a life to save a life” was twisted by headline hysteria.
It’s a huge commitment to the soldier’s family.
Parents, partners, kids shoulder the responsibility. They wait, worry, watch the news back home. That’s why I feel strongly about the closure of the Army Careers Information Office in Blackpool because it’s crucial in the path taken by many and critical in the assurance process for families.
It ceases operational business later this month. Local MP Gordon Marsden castigates the lack of consultation. Blackpool veteran Marine Jim Baker laments loss of the “personal touch”.
It’s the latest in a round of Army office closures. This one will be harder felt than many others.
Blackpool cherishes historic links with the Army, hosts reunions, veterans’ week. At Stanley Park and Moor Park arboretum trees honour regiments.
At Fleetwood, magnificent trees in the memorial park were planted as saplings by children of the fallen of the Great War.
Local kids. Many join because of a family connection. I’ve chatted to young men about deeds of grandfathers, great-grandfathers.
They are grounded in that sense of history, the seamless strands that bind us all however misguided some of the conflicts.
I’ve heard mums talk of how they sign up too. And how when they needed guidance over whether their child had made the right choice they turned to the sergeants at the army careers office.
And they tell it like it is. They don’t fudge the fears and legitimate concerns of worried parents but help them understand the path their son or daughter has taken.
You don’t get that personal service online. Yet next month locals will have to travel to Preston or Lancaster for the personal touch. It’s not the end of the world but it is a fair old haul for a youngster without a car or a parent anxious to learn more.
The local office has enlisted thousands. This year alone 88 more recruits swore the oath of allegiance. Of the 88 the MoD told me 39 had inquired online initially. Well, that leaves 49 who didn’t. The maths of closure doesn’t add up for my money. The value of personal contact doesn’t figure in the equation. It is a false economy...