2020: A Retrospective

It is easy to forget that 2020 began with great promise. Both personally and professionally, I expected great things this year; while it has been far from an unmitigated disaster, and I am aware that for many it has assumed that character, it has certainly brought troubles and disappointments along the way.

This time last year, I was looking forward to delivering a series of lectures beginning with the annual FINABEL conference in Prague and continuing with visits to the First Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland in Belfast and the Headquarters of the 4th Infantry Brigade in North Yorkshire. While these were delivered in person, talks to the Yorkshire Officer Training Regiment, 14th Signals Regiment in Wales, and 8 Engineer Brigade in Hampshire took place over the internet, and invitations to speak to the Land Warfare Centre, the Specialised Infantry Group, and the Infantry Training centre fell by the wayside under the weight of Lockdown. Covid-19 did bring an unexpected pleasure, when I was asked to speak to American veterans through Zoom about the campaign in Normandy in 1944, but overall 2020 was a mixed bag.

The biggest disappointment in my extra-curricula activities was the suspension of the War Talks series in February. The Series, established in 2017, was really getting into its stride with over a dozen speakers timetabled for the Spring and Summer, unfortunately they were postponed indefinitely. The British Army Military Book of the Year 2020, usually decided in September, took until December to complete; the judges understandably producing their results later than normal this year. The School Children’s Battlefield Tours programme was curtailed and I missed the opportunity to guide the last of those tours as France locked-down in February. These tours, with which I had been associated since 2015, were a fabulous initiative and I enjoyed many long days around Ypres and on the Somme passing on the story of the British Army to the next generation, the irony that we were stopped dead in our tracks by a virus was not lost on all those involved.

The Battlefield Guiding industry has been affected very badly by the Pandemic, I am rather lucky in that I am gainfully employed by Her Majesty, but I did miss out on leading Army studies in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Holland, the Balkans, and South Africa in 2020. I am hopeful that as these events are re-scheduled for 2021, I might be able to continue developing young soldiers through this invaluable medium. That is very much the theme for 2021: a time for re-birth. In 2021, I hope to be able to accept more speaking events, get back to guiding, arrange more War Talks, and organise the British Army Military Book of the Year 2021.

Despite all these disappointments, there have been highlights; in September, I became the first British serviceperson to be appointed as a Fellow at the Modern Warfare Institute at West Point and in November the first non-officer to be invited to become a member of the Pen and Sword Club. I am also writing a book proposal which once accepted, I have outline acceptance currently, should see it published in 2022. There are a couple of other landmarks pending which I hope to announce in 2021, although I am sure you will forgive my reticence at this time. I have been fortunate to have articles published in Australia, America, and the UK this year, that will be replicated in the New Year.

Personally, the great joy of purchasing my first house, an Edwardian town house in Shropshire, is balanced by the failure to either be promoted or be selected for commissioning. I will not go into this further other than to say that these events represented enormous disappointments, driving my chronic mental health problems to the very edge of the abyss, but thanks to the support of my friends, I am still here and will come back, although perhaps without any expectation of reward.

What has the remarkable 2020 taught me? Well, first be self-reliant – no one can, or will, give you what you need, you have to build happiness for yourself. Second, the life you build is your reward, the only reward you can ever expect, anything else is just the collection of valueless baubles, and finally, bring happiness to others when you can, but treat empty promises with the contempt they deserve. As we head into Christmas, let me wish you all Season’s Greetings, look after yourselves and those you love, work is just what pays the bills, the boss does not deserve one second of lost time with your loved ones.

Until next time, best wishes,

Barney

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