Midget Gems, HP Sauce & The Taliban

For generations young men from Barnsley have marched off to war. Today we have at least 100 young men and a handful of young women serving in the armed forces on the front line in Afghanistan.

This Summer will see many of us trying to find a bit of sun amidst the seemingly endless wet of the British weather and maybe settling down with a cold drink to enjoy the Olympic Games.

Those deployed in Afghanistan will have no choice but to endure the scorching heat and unforviging terrain as they sodier on just like the generations that have gone before them. They will do so knowing the risks and no doubt with a dry humour for which the Yorkshire soldier is legendary.

I know from my time serving there that the risks are very high. A piece of bad luck can prove fatal and as Barnsley people know all too well, tragically not everyone comes back home. Every time I walk past the war memorial in front of our Town Hall I always pause to think for a moment about those I knew who made the ultimate sacrifice and I particuarly remember Martin Driver and Matthew Thornton - two brilliant Barnsley lads who in the last few years fell in the service of our country.

This week a young woman has headed out from Barnsley to Afghanistan. Barnsley Chronicle reporter, Kate Pickles, will be visiting our troops, spending time with 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment and The Light Dragoons. She will be talking to soldiers and writing about her experiences. It is really important that she does this because the truth is most people don't really know what it is like out there.

As a journalist she is doing an important job - not just in informing the people of Barnsley about what is going on, giving them a feel for what is happening on the frontline and what our soldiers are actually doing.

It is also important in reminding our troops that we back home in Barnsley care about their welfare and that we are thinking about them - I know that matters to them.

Kate will probably have thought long and hard about what she was going to take with her to Afghanistan.

Soldiers spend a lot of time making sure they have got all the equipment they need with them but however much they are carrying they always find space for a few home comforts. I used to take a good book and photos of my family - I also always had a supply of HP sauce to supplement army ration packs. When times got really tough I used to reach not for my body armour but for the packet of midget gems I used to keep in my webbing pocket - I would never have wanted to face the Taliban without my midget gems!

Whatever Kate has decided to squeeze into her bag the one thing she will definitely need with her is a sense of humour!

Recent foreign military commitments have been controversial; but whether you think it is right or wrong that we have soldiers deployed in Afghanistan - whether you want them home last year, this year or only when the job is completed, I believe everyone should appreciate the work the armed forces do on our behalf. They do an amazing job under the most challenging and extreme of circumstances.

I really hope they all come home safely and I hope that Kate can find the right words to accurately describe what it is they are doing to make our country a safer place.

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