This year, of all years, our minds have been more than usually focused on the sacrifices of our military men and women. Partly this is down to the remarkable response to the centenary of the start of the First World War, a response most markedly illustrated by the crowds who turned out to see the poppies in the moat at the Tower of London.
But it is more about the just-finished conflicts that have been at the centre of our national consciousness. This year saw the final drawdown of our military operation in Afghanistan, an operation that has lasted twice as long as either of the World Wars of the 20th century. At last, there will no longer be flag-draped coffins returning from that conflict.
It also witnessed our Armed Forces once again drawn into combat in Iraq, with the RAF supporting the American-led bombing campaign against Isis. This has inevitably revived questions about the misjudged and misconducted war started by America with Britain’s help that did so much to create the conditions that enabled the present situation – with all its tragedies and suffering.
This newspaper, more than any other, campaigned against British servicemen and women being part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in the following years continued to expose the realities of that war. Throughout, however, our support for our men and women in uniform – if not those who had sent them there – remained absolute.
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We knew that those ordered into that conflict were doing the best they could in a horrible situation, and respected their ability in all but the rarest of occasions to perform their duties with professionalism and, when possible, pride. Our Christmas campaign this year, which we are running in association with our sister papers the London Evening Standard, i and The Independent on Sunday, is focusing on those who served, left their units and – for whatever reason – spiralled down into destitution. The reasons for this are myriad. Marriages collapse, people start to depend on alcohol to get through the day, jobs are lost or, for the Second World War generation, family members die and savings run out. For a small minority, the experiences they saw in a conflict zone meant they could never again adapt to normal life as a civilian. For them, the war never ended.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
The coming weeks will feature their stories and, as part of that, an exploration of what causes people to become homeless and what the varied forms of homelessness are at the start of the 21st century. Many find themselves stuck in hostels or are shunted into aged and rundown properties, unacceptable for anyone to live in, let alone if they have families and young children. The experience of veterans shines a light on the wider failings of our society and it is a light we intend to shine brightly.
The fact that in recent years this newspaper may have politically disagreed with the wars fought by Britain does not negate our belief in the responsibility owed to those who once gave service. The Military Covenant is not just an agreement between the government and its Armed Forces, it is between all of us and those whom we expected to put their lives in danger for their country. That responsibility is a debt that needs to be honoured, and in this campaign we will seek to fulfil our part in doing so.Reuse content