Prayers for soldiers and their families

TWO bishops have broadcast their support for Colchester-based servicemen who are preparing for war.The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev John Perry, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, the Right Rev Thomas McMahon, were speaking on Garrison Radio yesterday after visiting troops at Colchester Garrison.

By Sharon Asplin

TWO bishops have broadcast their support for Colchester-based servicemen who are preparing for war.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev John Perry, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, the Right Rev Thomas McMahon, were speaking on Garrison Radio yesterday after visiting troops at Colchester Garrison.

Bishop Perry, a former Army chaplain in the Royal Corps of Signals for two years, said: "Great uncertainty faces the men and women of our armed services and their families at this difficult time.

"Whilst we all pray that a war may be avoided, we want to pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of our servicemen and women and their families."

The Garrison is the home of 16 Air Assault Brigade – Britain's largest brigade - and the purpose of the visit was to give spiritual, pastoral and moral support to servicemen and women and their families as military action in the Gulf looms.  

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Just under 4,000 personnel and their families, 2,500 of whom are now serving in Kuwait, are based in Colchester. 

Troops specialise in paratrooping and helicopter-borne operations and light infantry.

During the visit, the bishops met Army welfare service and heard some of the difficulties and stresses now facing army personnel and their families. 

Bishop Perry added: "They will be much in our prayers, and we will want to give as much practical and spiritual support as possible to all those involved. The clergy and people in the parishes of our dioceses are ready to offer practical and spiritual help to all involved in this operation.

"It's not a support for military action being the way forward in this particularly long-standing crisis, but recognising the reality of the situation.

"If war is declared then we need to express our concern and our care for those who will be in the frontline and for their families in the anxieties and the fears that they will be having."

The Bishop of Brentwood added: "The troops are caught up in responding to the Government's decision to enter war. We have to show our support for them and especially their families."

Bombardier Stephen Newton, 29, left behind his pregnant wife, Marie, and two children, Matthew, one, and Lauren, three, when he was deployed to Iraq more than a month ago.

Mrs Newton, also 29, said: "It's been slow but now everything is coming to a head it's a bit worrying. It's as if he's been on exercise because we knew nothing was happening but now it's worrying, especially when you listen to the radio and they are talking about shipping extra blood out and we realise they might get hurt.

"I think we are all a bit nervous today. It's just fingers crossed that they come home safe."

She said she had contact from her husband and their children had written to him and sent pictures that they had drawn to help boost his morale.

But she added that her husband, who returned from Kosovo just days before she gave birth to their son, was unlikely to return before her baby's due date in less than four weeks.

Garrison Commander Tony Barton said the worst part for families was not knowing when their loved ones might return.

He added: "These troops have had a lot of operation deployment in the last couple of years. The families we have spoken to are incredibly resilient. They rally around each other. The families have no dates when their husbands or fathers will be returning. That's a very difficult situation to be in without an end date to work towards. That's what's driving them, getting home as soon as they can."

Garrison chaplain, the Rev Nick Cook, added: "We welcome the visit and pastoral concern of the bishops, who are keen to express their support and encouragement in prayer and visiting, to those caught up in events in the Gulf, those who remain and particularly for families and loved ones of those deployed."

The Army has always had close links with the Church and is served by chaplains from all the mainstream denominations. There are currently seven chaplains deployed with 16 Air Assault Brigade in the Gulf region, three Church of England, two Roman Catholic, two Baptist and one Church of Scotland.

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