TalkTalk's Armed Forces Network - Remembrance Day 2023

Over the last two weeks I had the honour of representing the Royal Air Force Air Cadets (RAFAC), in which I am proud to be an commissioned officer, at two remembrance events in the Greater Manchester area.

The first was at Manchester Airport’s annual ‘Festival of Remembrance’ which is held under the wings of Concorde at the Runway Visitor Park. This event has become bigger and bigger over the years, but this my first time attending. It involves a fantastic display of marching bands and drill displays by Air, Sea and Marine Cadets, interspersed with moments of reflection and video montages of the veterans recollections - not just from World Wars, but also of much more recent conflicts, such as The Korean War, which ended seventy years ago, and more recent conflicts such as The Iraq War, which began in 2003, twenty years ago. As well as those ongoing currently.

The event is attended by civic dignitaries, including the Mayors of every borough in Greater Manchester as well as the Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester who is HM The King’s personal representative for the area; however by far the most important people present were the military Veterans and current members of the Armed Forces – those that have effectively written a blank cheque, payable to the nation, for an amount up to, and including their life – that’s why Remembrance is so important. The concept of ‘unlimited liability’ that potentially requires members of the armed forces to go into danger, in service of the public good, leads to sacrifices that may impact not just our service personnel, but also their partners and wider family life at home while their loved ones are deployed on operations, and often find on their return the need to support with mental or physical injuries that may have been suffered.

The second event of the weekend, Remembrance Sunday, is always a real reminder of how close to home the sacrifices made can come. I led 182 (North Trafford) Squadron in the parade in Urmston and Davyhulme.

The Air Cadets provides an excellent start for any young person – I was a cadet myself, before a short stint in the regular RAF; my daughter was a cadet and my niece has now joined. Respect, integrity, service and excellence is the ethos of the organisation and are great principles for life, either in a civilian or military career. One cadet on 182 (North Trafford) Squadron in the 1980s was a local lad from Urmston – Gary Quilliam - like many cadets he really excelled and applied to join the Royal Air Force. He was selected for aircrew training and qualified as a Weapon System Operator. Jump forward a couple of decades to 2006 and Gary, by then a Sergeant in the RAF, was on operations over Afghanistan monitoring Taliban insurgents, along with thirteen colleagues on board an Nimrod MR2 aircraft. The aircraft had just completed air-to-air refuelling when an uncontained fire broke out. Despite the best efforts of the crew the aircraft crashed, claiming the lives of all on board – they had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Gary’s name is now inscribed on the Davyhulme War Memorial alongside those from the area that had laid down their lives in WWI and WWII. His name is not forgotten by the cadets of his old cadet squadron, where he started his journey in to uniformed service – After he died, his family gifted the squadron a silver trophy in his memory, to be presented annually to a cadet for ‘endeavour’ – the cadet that had, like Gary, strived hard to achieve their aims. Each year, on Remembrance Sunday, that cadet marches up and lays a wreath under his name on the memorial and salutes - that’s how and why we remember.

I am part of the TalkTalk Armed Forces employee network. It is made up of colleagues who are Veterans, Reserves, Cadet Force Adult Volunteers, or family of those that serve. And anybody else who wants to be involved with supporting, fundraising and being a part of the community. The network, which was created a year ago now, is a way for us to come together to share memories, provide mutual support and work on initiatives - and to help TalkTalk ensure it supports the armed forces community and recognises the unique and sometimes complex situations that may not be well understood by those without a background or knowledge of the armed forces. Many of the members attended Remembrance events at the weekend, including Kat Percival who is a 2nd Lieutenant with a Royal Signals Detachment of the Army Cadet Force in Cheshire.

During the last twelve months the Armed Forces network has launched a regular ‘Walk and TalkTalk’ which gets anyone who wishes to come along out during a lunch time for exercise and to discuss any issues they wish.

We have also launched our ‘Cookhouse Catch Ups’ which are held in our Quayside restaurant where members can pop in for a hearty breakfast and catch up informally. On Armed Forces Day in June we held a ‘uniform to work day’ where we raised awareness of the commitments many of us have outside of work and where our veterans proudly wore their medals.

Our members have also raised vital funds for the work of Armed Forces charities. Julian McTavish, who was in the Army, undertook a charity bike ride coast to coast across the UK and just this weekend helped raise over £32K in an Armed Forces Rugby League match.

We’ve also helped TalkTalk be successful in gaining Silver Award in the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme recognising the support the organisation offers the Armed Forces community with the award ceremony at the RAF Club in London attended by our co-chair Catherine Hakki and Exec Sponsor, Lucy Thomas.

Everyone in the network is proud to be involved and to celebrate the links between TalkTalk and the Armed Forces. If you want to find out more, please do get in touch.