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1991 - Mr Major’s Speech to Servicemen at Munster Army Base

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to servicemen and their wives at Munster Army Base in Germany, made on Monday 11th February 1991.

[Quality of initial recording was poor, numerous sections are indistinct]


PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here today and I only regret [indistinct] able to have on this particular occasion. Can I just say something to you first about what is happening out in the Gulf and about the visit I made [indistinct].

I think all of you know why your husbands are out there and why your colleagues are out there in the Gulf; there are serious, important principles at stake. It is not just the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, important though that it is. I think there are wider issues as well and one of the wider issues, of course, is the fact that if a large [indistinct] nation like Iraq is able to invade a small defenceless nation like Kuwait and get away with it, then I wonder how many other small defenceless nations around the world [indistinct] a problem on our hands elsewhere if we do not deal with the problem that exists in Kuwait now.

The second problem, of course, and is that if this were to continue uninterrupted and the Iraqis were to keep control of Kuwait, then I believe very strongly that we would have a much more serious problem on our hands in two or three years time and a much more difficult and widespread problem to deal with. In fact, that it is better to deal with it now, rather than have a much wider and large-scale conflict to deal with in two or three years time, for in two or three years time the Iraqis could be better prepared; they might have the nuclear weapons they do not have now or the biological weapons they do not yet have and so to [indistinct] and to [indistinct] of other people it seemed to us to be necessary to deal with the particular problem immediately and I know from those of your husbands I met while I was out in the Gulf that [indistinct] is their view as well.

When I went out there early in the New Year, I went out there because I wanted to see for myself because I do not believe, however well you are briefed, you can understand a matter unless you do see it for yourself. I wanted to see for myself what it was actually like out there and I wonder if I can just paint you [indistinct] picture.

I went right out in the desert [indistinct] and they were well dug-in. If you, were for example, to travel as I did in a helicopter [indistinct] for mile upon mile upon mile [indistinct] encampment, with little pieces of armour [indistinct] headquarters [indistinct] that was actually dug well into the ground and covered with camouflage nets [indistinct] every single day regardless of the possibility of attacks [indistinct] from Iraq. It was [indistinct] a most remarkable operation [indistinct] for as far as you could see from the helicopter [indistinct] every single [indistinct] there were literally [indistinct] all well dug-in [indistinct] at that time [indistinct] they will have moved on now [indistinct] what they were doing.

I had the opportunity of having a lot of informal meetings with the boys over there rather like the meeting we have got here except that we were obviously short of microphones and it was just a question of gathering round and talking.

[Indistinct] when I went out there I was not at all certain what I would actually find [indistinct] professional army of course, but a professional army [indistinct] did not expect to be out in a place like the desert [indistinct] that is going on at the present time and I wondered what people would feel about that and I was naturally [indistinct] about the reaction. I do not think I will ever come away feeling so proud of people as I did of those people as I had [indistinct] just after [indistinct] but Iraq was [indistinct]. People knew what they were there for, they knew how difficult the task would be, they were totally and completely confident of their ability to do it and although on many occasions they made it clear how much they missed their families, they were utterly under-standing of the reason they were sent there and completely understanding of the fact that it would take some time before the work would be completed.

You have all seen what has been happening [indistinct] conflict in the middle of January. The Royal Air Force, the American Air Force and the other allies have done [indistinct] over the period of the last month. They have [indistinct] with the most remarkable skill; you can actually see from photographs out there how military targets have been picked out in the middle of large areas and destroyed [indistinct] have not been damaged at all and it has been a remarkable operation [indistinct] longer than many people imagine. It will go on for a little longer yet, for a very good reason: we want to make sure that if and when it comes to a land battle - and I think it is probable rather than possible that it will come to a land battle - that everything possible has been done to minimise the severity of that battle. We will not commit our troops to a land battle until we are absolutely certain it is the right time to do so and until the air forces have finished the work that they have been engaged on for a very considerable period of time. So I cannot tell you precisely when that will be: I can tell you that we will take every measure that we possibly can to minimise the scale and to minimise the possibility of casualties should that land battle come about.

When I was there, I [indistinct] some of the boys I met actually came from and I do assure you that they are totally prepared for what lies ahead.

There were several other things I had the opportunity of discussing with them and that I would like to mention to you today. When this [indistinct] is over we will, I promise you, bring them home just as soon as we can. I do not propose to leave them out there for a lengthy period at the end of this conflict. It may be we will have to bring the troops who are out there back home and replace them for a short while for logistical reasons, clearing up and bringing home equipment, with some other troops; that is a decision to be taken and quite possibly that is what will happen but I will not keep them out there for a lengthy time at the end of this particular conflict.

Let me also just say a word about the future of the army and [indistinct] at the end of this particular conflict what we can learn from it, what it actually may mean in terms of the future size, scale and skills that we need for the Armed Forces generally and for the Army in particular and we also will need to look and see what is needed for the future of individual regiments. That will take a while but I think it is a wise decision to stop, regroup and consider at the end of this conflict though it will not delay a decision unnecessarily because I know of the difficulties and uncertainties that that causes in many people's minds.

One other thing [indistinct] here in Germany [indistinct] I will just say to you I do not know quite how clearly you get a feel of what opinion is like in the United Kingdom but I must say to you that the support that there is for your husbands and for those troops out there in the United Kingdom is so tangible you can [indistinct] feel it, not just in the House of Commons though certainly [indistinct] the House of Commons, but also there among the public at large there is a total and overwhelming support for your husbands out there and tremendous respect for the work that has to be done and is going to be done. I think many people who perhaps often do not think about these matters will have gained new respect for the work of the Armed Forces as a result of what they can see and learn in this the first-ever television war.

I wish you could feel how strong that support is because I think it would be a comfort and I think to your husbands in the Gulf it certainly would be a great comfort [indistinct] the support that they have.

[Mainly indistinct, but regarding the large number of letters the Prime Minister had received at Downing Street]

[Indistinct] from other people in this country who support has been tremendously important. Your letters are getting through and the fact that they are getting through and the support that you are actually giving to your husbands from here is of the most immense importance. That is one of the things, I believe, why morale out there is so very high and if they cannot be here to say that to you, I am pleased that I am, to say "Thank you" for those letters and to keep on writing to them even though it is not always easy for them to reply and may not be so in the future, I do assure you [indistinct] all the things may not be so in the future, I do assure that [indistinct] receive your letters sent out there is very much appreciated

So thank you very much indeed for your welcome today and I was very pleased to be able to come today. I hope this matter will not drag on too long. I cannot tell you how long it will be because I do not yet know, but I can reiterate finally the promises that I made some time ago that when it is over, we will not delay in bringing your husbands back home to you and I hope that that day will not be far away. [Applause].


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

[indistinct] but now I have had the opportunity of seeing their families and seeing the tremendous support they are being given by them [indistinct] I am very pleased that I came.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

We will, I think, have to consider, at the conclusion of the events in the Gulf, precisely what lessons we have learned from it in order to be sure that we make the right decisions. That is the most important thing: to make sure we make the right decisions to have the right size and nature of army for the threat to be [indistinct] in the future, so that will be my first concern. I will not delay in making those decisions but I think I do have to gather together the facts and the lessons we have learned in order to be able to make them so I am afraid I cannot give you a time-scale but I can give you the promise that we will not delay unduly about it.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] people will be coming back home [indistinct] back to Germany?

PRIME MINISTER:

Back to where their families are. I think that is where they will want to come.

QUESTION:

Finally, Prime Minister, do you have any message - any additional message - for the families of troops in the Gulf?

PRIME MINISTER:

Only that I hope I can understand how they feel at this difficult time. I do understand that it is very easy for people to say it is very necessary but a particular stress and strain is placed upon the families of the troops who are actually out there. I admire them tremendously in the way they have responded to that strain and I hope that that strain will come to an end as soon as possible in the most favourable way.