War widow's plea to Royal Mail

THE widow of a Colchester-based soldier killed in Iraq yesterday added her voice to calls for those who died in the recent military campaign to be commemorated on a series of postage stamps.

Roddy Ashworth

THE widow of a Colchester-based soldier killed in Iraq yesterday added her voice to calls for those who died in the recent military campaign to be commemorated on a series of postage stamps.

Gemma Long, whose Military Police officer husband Paul was gunned down in June 2003, made her comments as a major work by war artist and Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen OBE was unveiled at Essex University.

The Royal Mail has so far rejected calls for the soldiers to be remembered on stamps, saying a survey had shown 75% of Army families felt that it would be both distressing and disrespectful to use images of recently deceased servicemen and women on mail.

The artwork Queen and Country takes the form of facsimile postage stamps featuring the faces of those who were killed as a result of the conflict in Iraq.

Currently on tour around the country as part of a campaign to persuade Royal Mail to change its policy, the piece is now on display at the university Gallery until Saturday November 14 to coincide with the annual Remembrance period.

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Ms Long, whose 24-year-old husband Corporal Paul Long was murdered by an angry mob in the town of Al Majar al-kabir while he and five other Military policemen were helping train local officers, urged people to support the campaign for a series of stamps to remind the country of those who had died.

She said: “I really wish that Royal Mail would publish these stamps. Those of us that have taken part in Steve McQueen's Queen and Country would like to think that the British public would wish to see a serviceman or woman who has died for their country on a letter that comes through the door.

“That would really show honour and respect.”

Artist Mr McQueen, whose first feature film Hunger won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 and the Carl Foreman Award at the 2009 BAFTAs, said that until the stamps are officially issued by Royal Mail he considers Queen and Country to be incomplete.

Yesterday, Brigadier James Chiswell MC, Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, added: “We are grateful to the University of Essex and The Art Fund for inviting us to view this excellent art exhibition.

“A number of soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade are featured in the exhibition and we cherish their memories.

“It is an honour to be here with one of their families today.

“The pictures are a poignant reminder of the continuing sacrifices of HM Forces on operations.”

However, a spokesman for Royal Mail, said: “The role and sacrifice of the UK's servicemen and women have always been essential elements of the stamps we issue.

“For Royal Mail it has never been about the artwork involved - but simply highlighting the vital role our Armed Service play, presented in a way they want.

”This view has been echoed in an independent survey which asked servicemen and women and their families how they felt about the way they are portrayed on stamps.

“In the survey over 75% of respondents felt that it would be both distressing and disrespectful to use images of recently deceased servicemen and women particularly because of particularly because of the way they are cancelled or defaced with ink as they pass through our sorting equipment and also because used stamps are mostly binned.”