Defending Wales X: Service & Veterans

(Title Image: © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

As I come to the end of this journey looking at Welsh defence policy, I consider issues relating to the welfare and working conditions of armed forces personnel, as well as how we should remember those who’ve lost their lives, or will in future lose their lives in military service.


The Adjutant General

The head of military administration is usually titled the Adjutant General. In Wales’ case they could be responsible for: personnel, pay & pensions, resettlement/careers services for people leaving the Defence Forces, media & PR, chaplaincy services as well as recruitment (with the National Military Academy) for all branches of the defence forces.

Another sub-department – the Quartermaster General – would be responsible for military procurement, estates management and security. A Judge Advocate General would be the senior legal officer of the Defence Forces, responsible for offering advice to the government and officers on military law, providing legal services (defence or prosecution) to service personnel, upholding military standards and determining punishments for breach of the military code (I return to this later).

Each major military base would have their own detachment from the Adjutant General to run administration at their level, but the Adjutant General and most of the centralised administration functions would be in the same place as the National Military Academy – Brecon, probably Watton Barracks, which could be the de facto headquarters of the Welsh Defence Forces.

Although the Adjutant General would have more civilians working for them than trained service personnel – due to a large number of desk-based roles – all non commissioned and commissioned officers would still have to go through the same training process as any other recruit.

Pay & Working Conditions

One of the advantages of having a military based in Wales full-time is that, in principle, it could be treated as a 9-5 job – with exceptions for training exercises and deployments overseas etc. This should lead to less family disruption and means Welsh military personnel would become as much a part of local communities as anyone else; so we don’t need a grandiose “military covenant”.

The pay model for the British military was recently reformed, starting April 2016 (pdf).

Rank is the single biggest influence on pay, with new (non-commissioned) recruits starting on £14,500 a year, compared to £25,700 for officer cadets. This rises to £18,500 and £31,000 respectively once they’ve passed basic training.

Then there are supplements for skilled trades (like engineers, specialist divers, nurses) – normally between £280-330 a year added to their basic salary. An “X Factor” adjustment is used compensate for different working conditions they endure when compared to civilians. Reservists are paid a daily rate (based on rank) – ranging from £37.12 for a recruit to £125.33 for a major. If they fulfil their minimum annual training commitment (27 days) they receive a bounty of between £440 to £1,742 depending on length of service – to get the maximum bounty a reservist needs to serve for a minimum of five years.

The pay structure doesn’t necessarily need to change, but Wales could go down the road of paying mid-ranking non-commissioned officers (corporals, petty officers and sergeants) as well as junior officers (lieutenants, captains, squadron commanders) higher pay on the expectation that they would be joining with higher qualifications (Part IX).

The issue of pensions needs addressing. For everyone who’s already retired from the armed forces, they would in all likelihood still receive a pension from the UK Armed Forces Pension Scheme (like state pensioners who retire before independence should still get a UK state pension).

Post-independence, we could either set up a separate Defence Forces Pension Scheme, or we could fold it in with a general civil service pension. To receive any military pension, we should expect recruits to see out their minimum term (4 years service), but to receive a full military pension we should expect them to have seen out their contract and served for 20 years until at least age 40 (known as the 20/40 rule). Reservists would be eligible for some form of retirement top-up as well as long as they make voluntary contributions.

Other issues:


  • Recruitment age – As mentioned in Part IX, the recruitment age for the regular military could be 18; 16 for reservists. The maximum age for a new recruit is usually 33 (43 for reservists). With longer life expectancies this could be raised to 35 and 45 respectively.
  • Minimum term of service – As mentioned in Part IX and earlier, adults in the regular UK armed forces are expected to commit to a minimum four years service (three years for reservists) and there’s no reason to change that. This would make them eligible to receive some pension; if they’ve served less than the minimum term their pension contributions could be refunded.
  • Retirement age – Full-time commissioned officers are expected to retire by age 55 unless they’ve achieved a high rank (like general); non-commissioned officers are expected to retire at age 60 (65 for reservists).
  • Mobilisation of reservists – Reservists should be expected to be “action ready” for domestic duties with a few hours notice; those duties could include providing emergency assistance to a local authority during a flood or severe snow. Deployment overseas alongside full-time personnel would be voluntary, and they would be paid a full time rate if they choose to go. The latter would likely only affect reservists with particular skills, such as field medics and engineers.
  • Transfer between specialities – For example, a field engineer wanting to transfer to the infantry or the air corps. This should be allowed as long as there’s room and there’s permission from commanding officers, but they would still have to undertake relevant training and it would justify a demotion in rank (and, subsequently, pay).
  • Sport & Recreation – Sport and adventurous training have always played a part in military life and that needn’t change. There’s plenty of opportunities, and with troops being based mainly at home, there’s no reason why they couldn’t join local sports clubs anyway. Wales could send teams to compete in the World Military Games and other international military sports competitions – this could prove a useful way to find potential Olympic athletes.
  • Astronauts? – As mentioned in Independence Minutiae: Wales in Space, the very best military candidates could be encouraged to put themselves forward as astronaut candidates for the European Space Agency.
Use of Welsh in the Defence Forces

Like any part of Welsh public life we should expect the military to operate bilingually and, in some respects, it could be a tactical advantage; the UK Ministry of Defence has a Welsh language scheme (pdf).
As for why Welsh might be an advantage,if you were an enemy looking to break into secure communications, which would be harder to infiltrate – Welsh or English? There are stories – I don’t know how true they are – that the Royal Welsh Fusilers used Welsh in Bosnia for secure communications, and similar stories go back to the First and Second World Wars. It works.

It’s not unreasonable to expect all radio operators/signallers to be bilingual and able to use Welsh in the field (that doesn’t necessarily mean being fluent in Welsh). Elsewhere in the Defence Forces, at least one infantry battallion in each brigade should be bilingual (perhaps two in the north/2nd Brigade), and there should be an expectation that number of Welsh-speaking recruits should (but not necessarily forced) to be broadly in line with the proportion of Welsh-speakers in the general population. 

Discipline & Legal Issues

There are a number of military-specific criminal offences that can only be committed by members of the armed forces such as: desertion, AWOL, insubordination/mutiny, assisting an enemy, looting, malingering (pretending to be ill), reckless flying etc.

Post-independence, Wales would need to establish its own system of military law via primary legislation. It’s likely to be similar to the  Armed Forces Act 2006, though the number and definition of some offences could be changed.

The Judge Advocate General (mentioned earlier) would be a direct appointee (like any other judge) in charge of all matters relating to military law. The crux is whether cases relating to military law should be heard in a separate military tribunal (convened ad hoc) or in a civilian court; either way the case would be tried by the Judge Advocate General themselves.

The Judge Advocate General’s office would also provide legal counsel for any serving Defence Forces personnel on trial in a civilian court, or an international court in cases where there may have been a breach of statutes such as the Geneva Conventions.

A Military Code of Conduct would be drafted and all Defence Forces personnel will be expected to abide by it. Minor breaches of discipline would be punished by an officer or senior NCO; punishments for more serious breaches that fall short of breaking military law would be determined by the Judge Advocate General’s office.

The punishments could include, depending on the seriousness of the offence:

  • Informal or formal reprimand.
  • Temporary restriction of privileges (i.e. loss of leave).
  • Fines/docked pay.
  • Demotion in rank.
  • Corrective training (essentially returning to basic training).
  • Dishonourable discharge (“sacked”).

“Beasting” – punishments based on arduous physical exercise – could/should be banned.

As the number of people you would expect to fall foul of military law is likely to be small, there’s no need for Wales to have a military prison/stockade or dedicated corrective training centre; anyone going that far would probably be discharged anyway and would serve out any sentence handed down by the courts in a civilian prison.

Dealing with Injuries & Fatalities

It’s inevitable that a number of active service personnel will suffer serious injuries or be killed in the line of duty. Despite being politically neutral, the Irish Defence Forces have lost at least 90 personnel on UN peace-keeping missions over the last few decades.

The army branch would nominally provide medical staff – including trained doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, dentists and nurses – who would be part of medical units but would also provide medical services for other branches at their respective bases (in addition to overseeing recruit and annual physicals).

It would be the responsibility of the commanders of each branch to estimate how many casualties and fatalities they would expect per deployment and to inform political decision makers before any commitment is made. These estimates would have to take into account things like the strength of opposition, likelihood of insurgency or terror attacks, friendly fire and the equipment available to troops.

Routine injuries would be dealt with by Defence Forces medical staff, whether on base or at a field hospital. More complicated injuries would require emergency surgery and evacuation (back to Wales if incurred overseas) to be treated in a civilian hospital.

It’s difficult to imagine Wales needing a separate military hospital, but a unit specifically dealing with military injuries and rehabilitation could be established at an existing hospital. Considering the proximity to major air bases (for air evacuations), that would either be Llandough Hospital in Penarth or Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor. As Llandough no longer has an A&E department and is a specialist rehabilitation hospital, it’s probably the best bet.

Next, fatalities. You would expect repatriation of remains from abroad to happen as soon as possible to the air base closest to the family; deaths at home would probably be treated like any other death. Either way they would be subject to a coroner’s inquest.

There may be circumstances where bodies can’t be returned – victims of chemical, nuclear or biological attacks for example and, indeed, circumstances where there’s very little or nothing to return.

The responsibility of informing the next of kin and helping them through the process would fall on the Adjutant General’s office and a senior officer of the branch involved – but names shouldn’t be released to the media until after the next of kin OK’s it (to make sure the entire family and friends are told) – these are amongst the criticisms emerging from the Chilcot Inquiry.

Leaving Service

Leaving the regimented, disciplined life of the military – where most things are provided for you and where you’re told what to to – into the dog-eat-dog nature of civilian life can be a massive culture shock, though some find it easier than others (see also : National Assembly debates veterans support).

Research from the Royal British Legion suggests 3.5% of the UK prison population have served in the military (pdf) and depending on where you are in the UK, the number veterans counted amongst the homeless ranges from 6-12% (pdf). Homelessness in itself can lead to drug abuse and serious mental health problems. 100% of them are men and most of them are white.

Combat is stressful so it’s no surprise that serving in the military can trigger mental health problems, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and related symptoms like depression and anxiety.

We shouldn’t let Welsh Defence Force veterans down in the same way successive UK governments have. From the very start of drafting a Welsh military and defence policy the issue of discharge and post-military life has to be front and centre and – as said previously – making sure anyone thinking of joining the military has a clear idea of what they might face.

Officers and administrators should take discharge seriously, and there should be a clear process triggered when someone considers leaving the Defence Forces. They should be interviewed by a senior officer, welfare staff and careers staff so they all have a good idea of what the dischargee would do when leaving the services and the reasons why they want to leave.

As for the types of discharge:

  • Early termination – Leaving during basic training, or before the commencement of a commission (for an officer).
  • Medical discharge – Where someone suffers an injury (physical or psychological) that prevents them from continuing active service. There would presumably be some sort of compensation available.
  • General discharge – Anyone who’s serves out their minimum term of service (4 years) and applies to leave the Defence Forces.
  • Dishonourable discharge – Determined by the Judge Advocate General for service personnel who’ve violated military law. It’s effectively a sacking and they would lose certain benefits – subject to appeal.
  • Retirement – Anyone who reaches the minimum or mandatory retirement age.

We should expect everyone leaving on their own accord – having served their minimum term of service – to have a transferrable qualification or skill. “Conversion courses” could be offered by the National Military Academy, universities, training companies and FE colleges – for example, field medics could offered fast-track qualifications to become civilian paramedics or first aid instructors, military engineers could be offered similar courses for aerospace, telecoms and IT.

Wales could also institute a policy similar to the Guaranteed Interview Scheme for the disabled, so anyone leaving the Defence Forces will be guaranteed a job interview if they meet the minimum requirements. A certain number of vacancies in key public services could be reserved internally for veterans too. Similarly, Welsh ex-service personnel and their families should be towards the highest priority for social housing.

The Welsh Conservatives have advocated an “Armed Forces Card”, and the UK runs a Defence Privilege Card that grants active and ex-service personnel certain benefits, such as free swiming in public pools and retail discounts. This scheme could continue.

Wales could also ensure the long-term partners of service personnel who are either killed in action or die as a veteran continue to receive some of the dependent benefits they were entitled to when their partner was alive, as long as they’re designated as next-of-kin.

People from outside Wales (particularly the Commonwealth) who serve in the Welsh Defence Forces for a minimum term, as well their immediate families, could be fast-tracked to full Welsh citizenship too.

Remembering the Fallen

Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are pan-Commonwealth commemorations and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t continue as they currently do. The only noticable difference is Welsh commemorations will centre entirely on the National Memorial in Cardiff.

Similarly, the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal would likely continue but take on a new meaning in Wales. Whether Wales would follow Scotland’s example and establish a Welsh poppy appeal is another matter. There are arguments for and against and the prospect has been raised on-off down the years.

You would expect the military to play a leading role in state funerals (Part II), but they would also take part in military funerals. Traditionally, at military funerals the deceased have the national flag on their coffin, serving personnel from the relevant branch act as pallbearers, there’s a gun salute, while a military trumpeter plays The Last Post.

Based on examples elsewhere, people entitled to a military funeral (on request of the family) could include:

  • All retired service personnel (pre or post-independence) who’ve served a minimum of 4 years, or retired reservists who’ve served at least 8 years.
  • Service personnel killed in action (regardless of length of service).
  • Service personnel who’ve died as a result of an injury sustained on active duty or during training exercises (regardless of length of service).

There’ve been a number of high-profile cases in Wales of veterans dying without living relatives and facing the prospect of nobody attending their funeral. In those circumstances they would be entitled to a military funeral too.

Overseas war graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), an intergovernmental organisation funded by partner nations based on their proportional number of graves. In 2015-16 it received £61million funding. A Welsh share of the UK’s contribution (which works out at around 3.84% of the total budget) would be in the region of £2.34million – though it’s likely to be lower than that.


What I’ve attempted to do is show that independence wouldn’t result in Wales being “defenceless”.

Likewise, we don’t need to be dragged into wars that aren’t in our interest for the sake of post-imperial posturing. We would be more than capable of dealing with genuine threats to our security and wellbeing without aircraft carriers, without squadrons of fighter jets, without nuclear weapons and whilst saving hundreds of millions – if not billions – of pounds of your money doing so.

Defence policy would also play a vital role in foreign relations and when – in some distant future – people around the world see troops with a Ddraig Goch on their arm, they’ll know they’re in the safe hands of professionals who’ve been taught more than simply how to pull a trigger and know how to win the peace.

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