For Queen and Country: Squaddies at the gymnastics

They sat on their edge of their seats, engrossed by the leaps and somersaults of gymnastics’ finest female exponents, unable to take their eyes off what they saw.

They clapped vigorously and cheered at each and every triple salchow successful landing by a British team member, none more so than top medal hope Beth Tweddle.

They were having a high old time – and it was all for free.

These were the Olympic squaddies, their khaki uniform now as familiar around the games venues as the logo and livery of the games, doing their bit for Queen and country once more.

Olympic organisers, not content with having deprived British soldiers of their summer holidays to rescue their hapless security operations, now wanted them to give up their off-duty time to take up seats left vacant by Olympic officials.

It was difficult to know who to watch – the gymnasts, or the soldiers watching the gymnasts. There were 70 or so of them, nearly all men, and – hard to believe – there was nothing leery in their expressions.

When they left, they confessed to being pretty taken aback by what they had seen.

“Phenomenal”, “Amazing”, they said. Ever seen gymnastics before? “God no!” said one. “I’m a rugby man.”

If there has been a bigger presence of soldiers on London’s streets since the war, it could only have been to shore up law and order during a police strike.

It’s not often you see a platoon of soldiers with their sleeping bags lying on a patch of grass off the Mall. But is this really a “militarised games”?

Possibly, if one considers the scale of military hardware recruited as part of the games’ £1bn budget – but it is pretty much unseen and unnoticed by spectators.

Lord Coe’s prediction that the ranks of soliders around venues would prove a reassuring sight is closer to the mark. Certainly more reassuring than the G4S contingent.

One wonders what the organisers will ask the military to do next. Hold umbrellas for spectators? Check passports at Heathrow? Who knows, getting soldiers to carry out public duties on UK soil may catch on – provided there isn’t a war on.