Racist insults made by the BNP against Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, the black Victoria Cross holder, was a driving factor behind General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the Army, making a stand against the far-right party.
Gen Jackson is among a group of distinguished former military leaders who have warned against the extremists attempting to “hijack” the reputation of the armed forces “for their dubious ends”. The General told The Independent: “I heard complaints that the BNP were being extremely offensive about Johnson Beharry, I looked into it, and found out that was indeed the case. I thought it was pretty appalling that a brave man like that should be insulted in this way.
“The BNP claim that they have a better relationship with the armed forces than other parties. But their behaviour shows that they don’t understand the armed forces at all. The fine men and women who serve so courageously are not like the BNP. They are decent people who appreciate and honour the sacrifices made by their comrades.”
Yesterday another senior former officer, Major General Julian Thompson, the highly decorated former commander of the Royal Marines, also speaking to The Independent, said: “The BNP trying to exploit the good name of our forces is pretty monstrous and the fight against this must continue. The fact that they had been maligning Johnson Beharry is dreadful.”
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the recently departed head of the Army, Lord Guthrie of Craigebank, a former Chief of Defence Staff, and Major General Patrick Cordingley, commander of the Desert Rats in the Gulf War, were among the others who signed the letter as part of Stolen Honour, a campaign by the military against the BNP’s attempt to exploit them.
Their view that the far-right groups was “fundamentally at odds” with values of the British military was supported by veterans like Simon Weston, who was severely injured while serving in the Falklands, and the writer and former SAS member Andy McNab, who condemned the BNP’s use of images of the armed forces in election materials.
Mr Weston said: “I find it appalling to think that they can take the dignity and the honour and the respect with which those people treated their service and their uniform, and align it to the horrors and desires of these people.” Mr McNab added: “What it’s doing is abusing and taking advantage of what our troops are doing in both Iraq and continuously in Afghanistan.”
Lance Corporal Beharry, whose family comes from Grenada in the Caribbean, received his VC in 2005 after twice saving lives of comrades under intense enemy fire in Iraq. On the first occasion his Warrior armoured vehicle was hit by rocket propelled grenades during an ambush. He pulled other soliders clear of the burning wreckage despite a bullet going through his helmet. He went back to duty and a week later drove an armoured vehicle through fire, while seriously injured, saving the lives of others.
In its website the BNP declared that Lance Corporal Beharry was an “immigrant” who had benefited from “ positive discrimination by a PC mad government”. What he had done was nothing more than “routine” said the message , continuing "All he did was drive away very fast from a combat zone. . . to safety, as have hundreds and hundreds of other British soldiers."
Veterans groups have complained that the BNP have been selling full-size replica VCs, and other medals for valour. Under military rules, only armed forces heroes who have won the decorations in combat - or their widows and widowers - are allowed to wear them. However, the Ministry of Defence said selling the replicas was not illegal.
BNP leader Nick Griffin insisted yesterday that his party has support among the military. He added. "The generals might not because some of these generals are now in the pockets of the Conservative Party, who used to be able to take Armed Forces votes for granted but now cannot.”