Speech: Sovereign’s Parade, Royal Military Academy

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  1. Commandant, Officer Cadets and Staff of the Royal Military Academy, your Highnesses, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen…

    It’s an honour as Defence Secretary…to represent Her Majesty at Her Sovereign’s Day Parade…and to address our…imminently to be commissioned…officers on one of the proudest days of their careers.

    It is a particularly auspicious time to be holding this event… …in a year of commemorations …as we remember a Great War fought 100 years ago.

    And it is particularly fitting that the German defence minister is among our audience.

    Because…if we were looking for proof that the scars of conflict have long been healed…we only have to see how old adversaries are now partners in pursuit of peace..

    Not only have we worked closely with Germany in Afghanistan but today we are part of the international Coalition…both of us training local forces…to take on ISIL extremists.

    For you… our officer cadets… 2014 will have a significance all its own.

    I can only imagine the sacrifices you have made to reach this point.

    I’m sure these 44 weeks will have seemed like the longest of your lives.

    Yet by standing here today……

    You have earned the right to be officers.

    And leaders of the next generation.

    It is pleasing to have so many graduates from our allies.

    15 countries have cadets at this ceremony…from Singapore to Saudi Arabia…from Nigeria to Nepal…from the UAE to the USA.

    For those who came here expecting a warm British welcome…Sennybridge in winter…must have come as a rude awakening.

    Yet you survived it.

    Sandhurst is much the better for your presence.

    And though you will go on to lead the armies of other nations…

    …the friends you have made at Sandhurst… are friends for life.

    And…as we look to counter complex global threats…by building partnerships across the world…there will be many opportunities for you to strengthen those strong bonds.

    I also know the pride etched on the faces of all soon to be commissioned officers today…is mirrored in other faces in this audience.

    Not least your instructors…who recognised in you that spark of potential…that fighting spirit…those qualities that make a soldier and shape a leader…and who were determined…to get you where you are today.

    We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

    Also watching on… are our other VIPs…your families.

    Mothers…fathers…brothers… sisters…wives … husbands… children.

    Those who were always there …with a comforting word…on the days when you had your doubts.

    Only those within a military household can truly understand the demands such a life imposes.

    But relatives should remember that….just as their loved ones are joining their regiments…they too will be joining our wider armed forces family.

    Our officer cadets, however, are our focus today.

    For you the journey is just beginning.

    Afghanistan might no longer be a waypoint on your journey… …but you will not want for danger, excitement or challenge.

    Far from entering an era in which our armed forces will be used sparingly, I see uncertainty, competition, and confrontation on the horizon.

    We see weapons proliferation, non-state actors peddling an expansionist global ideology, rogue states and ungoverned space and Russia resurgent.

    In such a world there is of course a role for soft power, and for the smart power that some have advocated. But there is no substitute for hard power, when we have to fight to keep the peace, uphold the rule of law, and keep Britain safe.

    I am confident that you will rise to this challenge.

    Firstly, because you have been chosen by your country to lead your fellow men and women.

    And there is no greater honour that your country can bestow.

    Secondly, because, as a government, we will do all we can to support you …to give you the best equipment ….to look after your families …and to uphold our covenant with you.

    Thirdly, because you will find that the glory of this establishment… … which…for over 200 years has educated kings and princes….the greatest generals…and even some Prime Ministers. …reflects back on you.

    In October I was in Afghanistan…where I witnessed the first Afghan officers passing out. They have been educated at an Academy modelled on this one.

    Taught by instructors who once stood where you stand.

    Now, while you might not know those young Afghan leaders.

    They know you…by your reputation as graduates of Sandhurst alone.

    So, officer cadets of course 141, I began by noting that this year abounds with anniversaries.

    Seventy years ago allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches to begin the long final assault against Nazi tyranny.

    Just a couple of months before… General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the allied forces in Europe… addressed this passing out parade at Sandhurst…

    He said:


    It is not enough that you are the best soldier in that unit, that you are the strongest, the most durable, and the best equipped technically. You must be their leader, their father, their mentor. Then you will be doing your duty and you will be worthy of the traditions of this great school and of your great country.

    …those sentiments are as relevant as ever.

    Just as your forbears won a war against tyranny, today Britain is, with its allies, once again defending our values, freedom of speech, religious tolerance and democracy.

    In doing so we can rely on you having the qualities to emulate their extraordinary example.

    So my warmest congratulations on this very special day.

    Wherever you go next…I know you will make …your family and your regiment …your Academy and your country …very proud.

    Why? Because you’re different.

    It’s special to want to serve; to put yourself behind others, behind your country; to step forward to do rather than to tell. The young men and women here today are not content, in the poet’s words,


    to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.

    You know that your reach should always exceed your grasp; you’re ready to challenge the faint hearts and the cynics.

    I wish you well but I’m not going to wish you luck. Leave luck to the lottery or the raffle. It isn’t luck that saves lives or wins battles.

    Because you go off this parade ground for the very last time today as well prepared as any of your generation, neither fearful of the future, nor I hope too cocky about yourselves but ambitious to make your own mark.

    You go with all our hopes and prayers but also with our confidence that each one of you is ready to write the next chapter in your life.

    We wish every single one of you the success you deserve.

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