Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch…*

I was walking through Buchanan Galleries today (November 11) when a voice on the loudspeaker asked everybody to stop what they were doing and observe the two-minute silence in honour of the dead in two world wars. So I did. And as I stood there I thought: What – again? I had been in exactly the same mall at 11 o clock on Sunday morning when they had a two-minute silence for the war dead.

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I had already watched the silence at (Saturday) rugby matches and heard it on the radio and was beginning to wonder if there was no coordination. Or does everybody just have as many salutes as they want? It’s not as if you can carry on yelling into the iphone as silence descends…‘I said the plumber promised he would come on Tuesday…’ and march on through the indignant statue shoppers, is it? ‘ Sorry, I’m in a rush and I did the two minute silence earlier…’

For weeks we have watched the build-up get underway like an army preparing for departure – all active personnel start wearing a poppy to act as a spur to the rest of us then we have a programmed series of media events advertising ceremonies of wreath-laying and remembrance films and stories. The BBC has a Head of World War One and is planning coverage to last for the full equivalent duration of the war itself – four bloody years.

Here’s what one BBC producer wrote about it.

‘Put simply we will gather 100 stories in eleven English Regions and the three nations (BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland), and showcase them on radio, online and on TV. This of course makes it a hugely ambitious project; 1400 stories, which must all be well told, and which reflect a whole range of different perspectives, across different media. The scale is dizzying, but I’m heartened by developments so far.

First and foremost I am delighted with the sheer enthusiasm from the 40 plus (yes  40!) BBC producers from across the UK who are currently gathering these great stories. This plays to our strengths in the BBC’s Nations and Regions – telling stories steeped in a sense of place, through the eyes of the people (and their relatives) who lived through the experience of the First World War.’

Wow. What fun! Sounds great, doesn’t it? It could be the BBC’s Summer of Family Fun Coming to a Venue near You…let’s hear your stories of growing up in the 80’s – Multi Coloured Swapshop, Transformers and Cabbage Patch dolls.

Apart from the mega network productions, the regional BBC is putting up 40 producers paid at your expense to tell family stories about life during the war. But hold on. Where does the excited BBC man mention the horrors experienced by the million who never returned or the pain and disfigurement of those who did?

The machine gun killed more soldiers overall and death was frequently instant or not drawn out and soldiers could find some shelter in bomb/shell craters from gunfire. A poison gas attack meant soldiers having to put on crude gas masks and if these were unsuccessful, an attack could leave a victim in agony for days and weeks before he finally succumbed to his injuries.

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On the Western Front the lucky ones were killed instantly. The majority of wounds were mainly from artillery. Steel shrapnel from exploding shells was white hot and travelled at two times the speed of sound. It literally tore men to pieces.

Among the most tragic of injuries were horrific shrapnel wounds to the face, in thousands of cases the entire face was torn off and the men were unable to see, hear, speak or drink. These injuries were so severe that returning soldiers were unrecognizable to their families. Most found it impossible to assimilate into civilian and were left destitute. Thousands committed suicide.

The war claimed millions of civilian victims through malnutrition and famine, forced resettlement, herding into camps, epidemics, forced labour and aerial bombing. In addition, the war saw the first genocide of the 20th century, that of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. That violence would not be restricted to armed combatants (as the pre-war Conventions of The Hague had prescribed), soon became clear; for the war started with massacres of civilians.

I agree with this from a former BBC religious affairs correspondent Ted Harrison.

The British Legion was set up after the First World War to help the thousands of soldiers, many suffering from horrendous disabilities, who had returned from war to find themselves betrayed by the political classes. They did not find the land fit for heroes that they had supposedly fought for, but one of deprivation and unemployment.

Within 20 years an even greater betrayal became evident. Far from being the war to end all wars, the politicians had so badly handled the peace that a second military conflagration engulfed Europe and spread to the rest of the world.  By 1945 a new cohort of war victims required British Legion help.

He reminds us: It is part fiction and part propaganda designed to reassure those bereaved, traumatised or wounded in warfare that their ‘sacrifice’ had a noble purpose. While some soldiers have indeed died courageously in battle defending the innocent or protecting colleagues, huge numbers have not. They died because of incompetence, inadequate preparation, disease, and sometimes in pursuit of futile objectives. Many fought because as conscripts they had no choice; or, they joined up through peer pressure; they signed on through immature bravado; or because they had no other chance of work.

When I think of the world wars, I don’t think in terms of millions but of one. I imagine what a young man of 20 would think in the mud of France as comrades were ripped to pieces and mustard gas floated on the wind, of the crash of weaponry and bedlam of conflict and of what it meant to stare into the void of death. Did he see honour and national pride all around? Did he feel heroic as the day he signed up? Did he imagine home – a kitchen, a mother, a coal fire, a warm bed? I have seen his grave – many times in different places from Scotland to Normandy. I wonder how I would have coped and feel eternally grateful that I will never find out.

I honour him. I do it at different times in different circumstance and am touched every time, either in the war museum at Ypres or at the Menin Gate or in the cemetery at home where the ages on the tombstone give it away, or on my sofa when a poignant programme reminds me.

I also recognize that there is value in a collective remembrance which demonstrates a national gesture of thanks. This was originally designed as one moment when everybody knew to show respect in an age before electronic media and marketing. It was heart-felt. And then it was done.

What I can’t abide is being dragooned into wearing my heart on my sleeve with a poppy weeks in advance and being forced-fed a constant diet of media splurge that demands the attention of my feelings when the schedulers decide.

I am cynical enough watching the earnest faces of men (and women) who have consigned later generations to their death, often to recover their own reputations, as they stand in solemn solidarity. You can count them at the Cenotaph, not one I reckon who has held a gun let alone dodged a bullet.

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Do we remember those we killed? Or more accurately in many cases, murdered? Do we atone for the lives destroyed by our incursions and the legacy of hate Britain has trailed across the continents?

For years now I have called for our former enemies to be present at the commemorations because all nations are caught in the maelstrom of death and because – to be prosaic – the war is over. Where are the Germans, Italians and Japanese? Did their soldiers not also fight for their nation and are we not allies now with a joint interest in learning from the past? Isn’t that what the EU is for and the UN? Where are the children? Why not the voices of those too young to know as a reminder to the older generation of why we must avoid war and never – never – argue for it as a political tool.

It has taken 100 years for Britain to invite the Irish to the Cenotaph. It’s a sign of warmer relations since peace was – legally at least – settled. But it’s also a sign that the undeclared war of the Troubles is also mutually forgiven at official level and it is now time to move on – by rightly and belatedly remembering Irish volunteers who fought for the UK. But if we can do that in the case of a struggle in which violence still hasn’t been totally eradicated, why can’t we turn the remembrance of a war from a century ago into a multi-nation celebration of European peace…with our former enemies.

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The bit that niggles at me is the tone of glorification implied by designer poppies, of showers of the damn things falling from the roof like party balloons and the art installation of thousands of ceramic examples at the Tower of London which seeks to press our pleasure buttons at its visual luxuriance instead of reminding us of the ripped and smashed faces of the war-wounded.

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I fear the memory of tragic loss has been hijacked by the establishment and their media cohorts. It has been turned into a winter holiday ‘event’ where we’re encouraged to feel pity and share a sense of involvement, just like any other charity offering. And, don’t forget, it is charity. For all the pious platitudes of a David Cameron, the funds for old soldiers come from donations, not from the Treasury.

Here’s a story from two weeks ago. Medical experts have accused the Government of failing to honour its promise to care for armed forces veterans injured in Britain’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Professor Neil Greenberg, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Professor Tim Briggs, a leading orthopaedic surgeon, have said commitments made in the Armed Forces Covenant that veterans should receive priority treatment in the NHS for injuries suffered in the line of duty are not being fulfilled. They include former service personnel who have lost limbs in the course of operations as well as those who have suffered mental health problems.

Politicians aren’t fit to stand beneath the Cenotaph let alone immerse themselves in poppies as if they were party rosettes. I agree with Harry Patch, the last WW1 Tommy who died in 2009.

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‘When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?’

*Sigfried Sassoon – The Rank Stench of Those Bodies Haunts Me Still

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60 thoughts on “Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch…*

  1. Truly sad hijacking of our natural grief at so much loss and destruction visited on us courtesy of our politicians and their funders in the arms industry.
    But look on the bright side Derek.If there are 11 regions in England identified by the BBC then we have a Federal system! Sorted.

  2. Bugger (the Panda)

    I heard a bit of Kipling today, a recording of him addressing a post dinner speach to some important people.

    Apart from being intrinsically, by today’s standards at least, he talked about the death of “English” youth being replaced by ” inferior ” (my word) foreigners. He was originally, to me, a “soldiers” poet, of all classes and manifestly against the destructive futility of war. He lost a son in WW I

    His poem on MESOPOTAMIA, follows

    They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
    But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

    They shall not return to us; the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
    But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
    Are they too strong and wise to put away?

    Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide–
    Never while the bars of sunset hold.
    But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

    Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
    When the storm is ended shall we find
    How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

    Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
    Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their
    friends,
    To conform and re-establish each career?

    Their lives cannot repay us–their death could not undo–
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
    But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shell we leave it unabated in its place?

    Sorry for the wrong post but, it seems to me nothing changes unless we tell it to do so.

  3. I was in Glasgow on Saturday. It was flooded with people selling poppies. Old men and women, young boys and girls dressed in camouflage type combat gear. Plus all ages in between. There were huge trailers in Buchanan St and around the city centre selling “Official Merchandise”. I found it disturbing, particularly as this would obviously be taking place in cities and towns all over the UK. This is more like big business than a charity.

    I didn’t buy a poppy, haven’t done for a long time. My neighbours used to come round the doors selling them. That seems to be small time now.

    There appears to be a huge distortion of the original intent and the overtones are very unpleasant.

    • Charities have lost sight of who they are there to help…its big business…a small portion reaching those who are meant to benefit!

  4. Bugger (the Panda)

    Capella,

    If there are 11 regions in England identified by the BBC then we have a Federal system!

    Sorry, it is not sorted because these regions would outvote Scotland as well, even 1 of tem could.

    A federated England and a two or three other participant countries might be able to cobble together something but, the existing nature of the best south of Berwick would render it inoperable,

    • I was thinking of a Swiss Canton style federation where they collect all their own revenue then hand over what they decide is appropriate to the central government which only deals with defence and finance. If there is a proposal e.g. to build a nuclear power plant, the Canton holds a referendum.

      • Bugger (the Panda)

        Capella, good luck with that.

        To do this would require a correct, truthful and common method of selecting how to prepare accounts.

        Then we would see what we have known for some time. We have been subsidising the “union” for decades, if not centuries.

        Moreover, how could we have such a Swiss system when one tiny square mile could blow up the economic unity and stability of the whole, by illegal financial manipulation?

  5. Yes Derek, but Iraq and Afghanistan? Tony Blair? Gordon Brown? The UK visited the horrors of maiming of soldiers and civilians upon these people, and the terrible abnormalities now being found in the newly born due to the use of uranium depleted armaments.

    i have withdrawn from the UK in an emotional(?) and operative sense. No longer a subscriber to newspapers, no longer a client of the BBC, don’t listen to the radio, haven’t bought a poppy.
    I am unable to stop paying income tax, if I could I would, and happily have the UK government challenge me to paying arrears.

    In summary I’m heart sick of the UK Establishment and despair at the reasoning of No voters. We had it in our grasp to set a new course away from the UK imperial mindset.Yes we were cheated in the referendum, nevertheless a large portion of our countrymen and women do not seem to mind the UK’s armaments industry commercialism and the UK’s warring tendencies.

    • Re “the UK’s armaments industry,” Campaign Against Arms Trade points out that:

      As the nation marks Remembrance Day you might expect that if there is one industry that should be keeping a low profile it’s the arms trade.

      Unfortunately not. Despite its history of war profiteering it has only been too happy to exploit the legacy of those who have died in conflicts and to brazenly associate itself with the annual memorials.

      One arms company that has a long and inglorious history of arming some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, Thales, has taken the opportunity to brand the entrance of Westminster underground station with a poppy covered billboard.

      Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company, is the main sponsor of the British Legion Young Professionals’ Poppy Rocks event. Unfortunately this is far from the first time that the Legion has taken money from the arms trade. The UK’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has been a long-standing ‘supporter’. In the past it has sponsored national poppy appeals and donated to fund-raising drives. It’s influence is still there, but now it keep a lower profile. This year they will be sponsoring the annual Poppy Ball white tie dinner, and specific offices and arms factories will be hosting their own local events.

    • Gavin, I too feel like I am living in a foreign country; or rather living in a country which has been imposed upon me; certainly one for which I have no love. I too make any small gesture I can in order to keep my sanity and my self-respect. Also, I take succour from knowing there are others like you who are out there taking part in the resistance movement. There are two targets to aim for: the election in May, and the Holyrood election in 2016.

    • Gavin

      Absolutely with you there my friend. Scotland could now be beginning to regain it’s sanity and reputation through different governance and a wiser world view.
      Instead we wake up every day and witness a corrupt establishment engineering fights with Europe, pumping propaganda through state media and propagating the same empire rhetoric.
      I’m sick to the back teeth of this so called union of equals in which my Scottish identity is continually bombarded with ‘britishness’
      A revolution is coming as more and more Scottish folk wake up from this nightmare. It’s hard work being Scottish right now Gavin but i believe we’re going to get there sooner rather than later.

      • Methinks all these misguided folk (me included) who mocked and ridiculed David Icke for his beliefs re Britain being ruled by weird lizard like creatures owe him a great big apology.
        The Better Together mouthpieces, Alistair Darling, Ed Milband, Danny Alexander, David Cameron, Gideon Osborne, Lord George Robertson and Jimmy,’Two Crates’ Murphy all have the same slithery characteristic.

  6. Couldn’t agree more Derek. A veteran Harry Smith also summed it up nicely “Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/08/poppy-last-time-remembrance-harry-leslie-smith
    What a pity also that the British Legion chose to cut out the end of Eric Bogle’s “No Man’s Land”, from this year’s poppy appeal from the Royal British Legion’s YouTube channel, removing its anti war message.
    To see a great anti-war song sanitised like this, from a condemnation of the folly and obscenity of war, is an insult to the writer of the song, to the many singers who have sung it previously, and ultimately to the armed forces, who know better than anyone else the horrors of war.

  7. Grateful for this article – you’ve entirely expressed my own sentiment much more eloquently and compassionately than I could. I have refused to wear a poppy for years for all the reasons you give. It tholes me to watch this sacred remembrance be hijacked and commercialised into yet another profiteering season particularly when those profiting are the politicians that are continuing to perpetuate and gain from war and outright murder of innocents.

  8. My granddad served in WW1 in Gallipoli, Jerusalem and then France. When the war was finished he came back to Scotland to go back to work as a miner and then 2 years later the Miners strike started and he had British soldiers shooting at him, he was disgusted, his family was starving. Then he faced the WW2, (at the age of 5) he started telling me about his time at war and said I would need to learn all the tricks to survive as you cannot trust the Government and there will be more wars. He taught me how to live off the land and to fight for the good and always help your friends. I never wear a poppy, as he said it glorifies war and these politicians don’t care about people just propaganda. On Remembrance Day I post my Grandad’s picture and my Great Uncle killed at Gallipoli aged 18 on Facebook.

  9. Thank you Derek for expressing so concisely many of the thoughts that have been troubling me as the” Poppy Industry” approached its peak today, although we will doubtless be kept informed about the dismantling of the plastic poppies at the Tower of London

    The whole acceptance of the idea that our maimed and damaged service people, however just or unjust the conflict, should be dependent upon charity- Poppies, Help for Heroes et al – while mainstream politicians defend the stockpiling of even yet more expensive weapons of mass destruction I find difficult to support or defend. This year I donated a modest sum to the Haig Fund -no irony in that title? – but I decided that I would not, could not wear any poppy, far less the currently fashionable designer versions.

    Several years ago I visited a small graveyard on the shores of the Dardanelles, one of many where the results of the senseless carnage of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign were to be seen. Around 50 or so New Zealanders, part of the substantial ANZAC participation were buried there and it was noticeable to me that these were mostly men in their thirties, volunteers rather than conscripts, and many, from their names, of Scots descent who had given of their lives in a futile and senseless ploy thousands of miles from their homes. The Turkish courier, who stated that Turkish casualties were correspondingly high, observed that the allied soldiers scarcely advanced 400 metres from the shore before suffering grievous losses.

    The same Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” summons up that particular folly in a searingly effective way.

    Is this “celebration” really going to to drag on for four more years?

    • About 9 years ago, I was in Crete, and I stumbled across a German cemetery from WWII. I didn’t see one grave of a soldier aged above 23-24, although I didn’t read the dates on all the graves.

      As for the ‘celebration’ lasting four more years, I’m pretty certain it will. The ruling classes know that over the last few years, the ‘United’ Kingdom’s people have increasingly felt more attached to their individual nations than to the British whole, so they feel the need to give us as much ‘gloriously’ Britishly British stuff as they can. After all, there won’t be another Jubilympic year for decades, if at all.

  10. Well said, Derek. It seems this year the powers that be have been going into overdrive to ram their idea of Britishness down everyone’s throats. Meanwhile the terrible truth about all war gets covered in a sickly coating of self-righteousness.

  11. Some years ago I went to Belgium to visit some of the battlefields such as Messiness, Passchendale, Ypres, and some of the cemeteries, including Langemark where 25,000 Germans lie.
    I was appalled at the carnage and the apparent indifference to death and major injuries of the soldiers in these battles. Tynecot was the worst I thought, where soldiers from Northumberland were expected to walk slowly up a hill at the top of which German pillar boxes were situated firing their machine guns down the hill at almost defenceless Tommies.
    I couldn’t conceive that captains and majors and generals could order this to happen, but they were under pressure from the politicians to “get a result”, and the politicians were under pressure from the “three Kings”
    to come out on top. It was then I decided that there was nothing to “celebrate” and I stopped buying a poppy in Novembers.
    Of course there should be no need to buy poppies to support ex-service people, that should be the task for the Government of the day. Instead these Governments are turning Armistice Day into a pantomime, seeing who can make the biggest show and increasingly ridiculous and expensive “poppies”.
    Count me out.

  12. Today the Google Home page carries the ridiculous tag “Remembering the First World War”. There is nobody left alive today who can remember the First World War.

  13. I, like Gavin, also find myself increasingly withdrawing from any involvement with the British State and find it’s warmongering and imperial ways very embarrassing.

    I hope we can break free from its evil tentacles one day though I’m very sad that we threw away the best opportunity to do so.

  14. I look at the ceremonies and think, “you’re all wrong!”.
    The mob mentality wants everyone to fit in, even though it is the mob that is being sacrificed for something that they will never know.
    It was not just the poor, but the rich officer class that was wasted.

    I went to an exhibition on the lost houses of Berwickshire. Prior to WW1 there were many grand mansions in Berwickshire. After the War the sons who should have inherited were dead and there was no way that the houses could be kept up. The world had changed. The large houses with dozens of bedrooms were coal fired and a little arithmetic tells us that they used as much coal as an ocean liner.
    All swept away like the menfolk of the wee villages of the Western Isles, like the volunteer clerks from the cities.
    Do we know who benefited?

  15. I saw a photo of a group of children posed with giant poppies, wearing t-shirts reading “Future Soldier”. I was appalled. The poppy is the symbol of the fallen. It was tantamount to saying “here are the contents of the future body bags”.

    I went online and ordered a pack of peace poppies. I did put money in the red poppy collection tin because although I believe the state should be looking after ex-servicemen, if that’s not happening then we ought to contribute. I didn’t take a poppy though, and I never will again.

    I wore a peace poppy to church on Sunday. I didn’t notice anyone else in the congregation with one, though I did see a few people without a poppy at all. Hearteningly, both ministers officiating were wearing them, as a pair with red poppies (I remember last year the Church of Scotland minister had a red one and the Episcopalian minister a white one, and they explained the symbolism.)

    I’m just going to stick with the white poppies in future years. People can think what they like.

  16. Amen

  17. I am left feeling very sad at the waste of youth in WW1. And angry at how they were duped that war was an exciting and noble thing, when their ‘betters’ knew otherwise.

  18. Presumably the politicians who took us to war in 1914 did so with the same conviction seen recently by Blair and Bush.

    My dad had his WW1 campaign medals but I never saw him wear them – he indicated they were given for his part in a killing spree.

  19. Good piece Derek.

    ‘For years now I have called for our former enemies to be present at the commemorations because all nations are caught in the maelstrom of death and because – to be prosaic – the war is over.Where are the Germans, Italians and Japanese? Did their soldiers not also fight for their nation and are we not allies now with a joint interest in learning from the past?’

    I believe there were German sailors present at the Edinburgh commemoration on Sunday.
    Not to be overly parochial and nationalistic, but I preferred the more modest and restrained ceremonies held in Scotland and as expressed on BBC Radio Scotland. The London/UK ceremonies seem to get more triumphalist & fetishistic as the years go by.

  20. An excellent article, Mr Bateman, and some comments I can’t help agreeing with. I think it’s time to pop over to Youtube and play some appropriate records: We Gotta Get Out of This Place (The Animals), Fortunate Son (Credence), Gypsy Biker (Bruce), among others. There’s a lot of rage building up after reading of such waste and the indifference of ‘our’ ruling classes.

  21. Designer poppies? Really?

    Oh. My. God.

  22. I refuse to wear a poppy. It was hijacked a long time ago by the war fascists. In other words if you don’t wear a poppy you are not patriotic or disrespectful. I care more for the living than for a war that ended 69 years or 96 years ago depending on which. Both my grandads fought in WW11. Strangely I have never felt the need to go to Belgium or the Cenotaph or anywhere else for that matter. Neither did they feel the need. It was rarely mentioned and certainly never commemorated or nostalgised by the two men. What we have is an artificial state created outpouring of grief. I am fed up hearing about the war or the wars. When can we be allowed to move on as Europe and stop banging on about Germany. Its an excuse to bring out the imperial union flags and go on about Britishness. My Grandfather’s were both of Irish descent and they werent fighting for Britain so that is just fantasy! well said Derek enough is enough.

  23. You know something different is happening when Nicholas Witchell is regularly heard on the news, or maybe other newscasters ape his delivery? Nobody does solemn like him.

  24. Thank goodness somebody has the courage to talk sense. Can’t bare to watch the ceremonies with all those self important bodies decked up in their finery, dripping in gold braid and dubious medals.

  25. There is a war memorial in Glen Coe which claims that people died for freedom and justice.
    I don’t agree

  26. This year I wore a white poppy. Tomorrow I’ll go to the war memorial to fasten it to the wire that holds on the wreaths.

    When I was a child, buying a poppy meant you were contributing to the support of the war wounded. Now it has become a symbol of patriotism.

    The state should be supporting people injured in wars, but if they won’t, I’ll contribute, in the same way that I contribute to food banks that shouldn’t be needed.

    That doesn’t mean I’m a supporter of the recent wars. I resent the attitude that every TV presenter should wear a poppy. Will the same bling poppies be brought out next year? And if they are, will the wearers contribute to what used to be called the Haig fund, or just accept them as part of the costume?

    Nowadays it seems that wearing a poppy implies support for recent wars. Not wearing one implies disdain towards ex-servicemen.

    I choose neither. That’s why I contribute to the poppy appeal, but wear the white poppy.

  27. I always enjoy your stuff Derek but I have to say that this piece stands out like a beacon. Excellent antidote to the sheer unashamed hypocrisy all over the media right now. Thank you indeed.

  28. War is death, death and destruction to all those who engage in it. We have narcissist politicians fetishising the military, history and war to make today and future conflicts acceptable to the population in ideology and expediture. I bought a poppy this year like I always do but for the first time I questioned my action and nearly didn’t bother, I may not do it next year. How many times this year have we had to pay homage to the military in one guise or another? Why don’t we celebrate all British Empire winning wars like the first one of the 20th Century, the Second Boer War. Tens of thousands died in South Africa for Queen Vic, for Britannia, or has the Downing Street PR machine not quite cracked the nut of how to present 30,000 boer civilian deaths (and countless blacks) in concentration camps as a moral victory packaged up by Dan Snow and the BBC.

    I remember how everyone guffawed and crowed at the BNP party political broadcast made for the GE2010 where Nick Griffin gave a cringing BritNat speech on British values, Rule Britannia and Union Jackery with a picture of Churchill and model of a Spitfire next to him. But that is what we have now, only presented in a more slick high-budgeted presentation that is meant to highjack people’s emotions on how Britian is good and the world (ie Johnny Foreigner) around us is bad. And yet for some reason our ‘goodness’ is projected via our military and the almost religious-worshipping that is our military history. Goebbels would have been proud.

  29. I had the misfortune to query why we now have two silences on two separate days, the second of which is effectively compulsory and have received over 60 negative comments on Facebook for even asking the question. Most take the same line: that these people died to preserve my freedom so I should give up my freedom for two minutes a year. Of course, they don’t know I actually take part in the remembrance Sunday parade. I feel that if this was good enough for 90 years it is still good enough for me.

    • Is not the case that the searches, patting down, metal detecting and so on, together with the armed police, snipers on roofs, and all the panoply of State Security amounts to pretty much everything that we were supposed to be fighting against in WW2?

  30. Thank you Derek. You have a way of hitting the truth like no other.
    It’s sickening what has taken place over the last few weeks.
    It has been wrong to commemorate the beginning of WW1.

    Next year my garden poppies will be white!

  31. As usual, well written Derek. Unfortunately, because of the result of the referendum, we are still part of the U.K, and the “establishment” will do what they will to us, so at least for the moment there is very little we can do about it, except register our opposition at the ballot box next May.

  32. A great read, thank you. I appreciate the alternative view whenever we are at risk of mass hysteria. My personal feeling, as a soft, arty, lefty has recently shifted since spending time with severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Wearing a poppy is something I believe we all drift in and out of year to year, we slide left or right in reaction to our response to how our government is handling the latest foreign campaign and how they are often failing our soldiers when they return. The main motive of the poppy fund is because our government did and still does on the whole leave veterans in the supporting hands of charities. I found whilst interviewing the veterans of all ages from late 20’s and upwards, each one has a different motivation for signing up, the old idea of soldiers being war mongering thugs is simplistic and so very often way off the mark, they are not culpable for their injuries. Whatever the motivation of a young woman or man to join the army they join knowing they are putting their life at risk. I believe the poppy has nothing to do with national glory or patriotism but is a demonstration of a human connection to those who have done their best in extreme circumstances despite the failings and illegal actions of the governments who sent them into harms way. I choose to wear the red poppy as message to our government that they need to think very hard before committing our men and women to life threatening engagements. This year I wore a red poppy from the Haig Fund, next year my feeling is I’ll wear a red and a white poppy, we need to look forward as well as back.

  33. Thank you for this, Derek. It expresses my feeling about this cynical exercise exactly. So glad to feel that I am not alone in this opinion of how the establisment attempts to manipulate our feelings about the horrors they have brought into our lives.

  34. And of course it’s cheap telly. No wages need be paid to the interviewees; liberal use of library footage; the main expense being chauffeuring presenters and celebs to the locations in question: jollies to the killing fields on expenses, not forgetting the champagne and grub as they collect their BAFTAS,

  35. Lest we forget

    theconversation.com/forgotten-britains-civilian-mass-prison-camps-from-world-war-i-33514?utm

  36. Thank you Derek for saying what was badly needing to be said.
    My father, who fought in the last war, strongly condemned what he saw as the celebration and glorification of war by politicians. So good to see his thoughts and opinions in print.

  37. Well said Derek. Last night I forced myself to watch a BBC doc about ‘Teenage Tommies’. As it was presented by Feargal Keane and made by N.I. BBC, I thought it might be inclusive and honest.
    Unfortunately, it was an exploitative ,shallow and exclusively anglo saxon focused narrative.
    No real research was done, but plenty of gratuitous close ups of overwhelmed distant offspring being reduced to puzzled tears by the realisation of the horrible ends their departed ancestors suffered.

    The one honest element in it was the examination of the disgusting murder, by military execution, of the 16 year old Jewish kid from East End London. But one sad example of British Imperial pitiless behaviour did not diminish the exclusive concentrating on ‘England’s glory’. Even the opening images showed that even more back then…non English were marginalised.

    Nearly half of the volunteers who enlisted in the UK during 1914-15 were Scottish. Nearly 1/5th of the British dead were Scots. A programme made in N.I. never considered focussing on one Irish under age volunteer, never mind a Welsh, Scottish, or British Asian, of whom there were tens of thousands.

    There has an ongoing process by English historians for several years now, by such as Starkey and Hew Strachan in particular, to glorify England and its bloody imperial history. This involves denying non English involvement and diminishing, in particular Scottish losses and contribution e.g. conquest of Empire; WW1 Scottish casualities; the St. Valery Highland Division rearguard abandoned at Dunkirk evacuation etc.

    Make no mistake. I do not want our role to be glorified. But when I consider, my dead great uncle machined to death at Loos, my uncle drowned in the Aegean by German u boat, and my two traumatised grandfathers..I do not recall glory, but human grief and suffering. It does however deserve to be recognised and mourned appropriately, as I do, but no longer with butcher Haig’s poppy.

    Recently, pre REF, I attended a meeting led by Veterans for ‘YES’. A more moving exposition of the disgraceful treatment of modern veterans could not be more telling. These men betrayed by the government, but speaking out to help their less fortunate comrades spoke the real truth of warfare in a humble and honest manner. What these men testified is an unvarnished truth that bears no relation to the UK Gov led circus of the death cult now called ‘remembrance!

  38. My late father (Fleet Air Arm) and his best pal Tom (Gordon Highlanders) who was my godfather, served a total of 11 years between them in WW2, ie, most of the war. Both made it back. My Uncle Jack is buried in Stellawood South Africa having succumbed to an infection on a troop ship on return from the Far East. Tom and my father would never miss an Armistice service or parade but did this specifically for comrades lost. Today, more than 10 years after they both died they would have been appalled at the emerging commemorative culture in the present day so keenly summarised by contributors on this page. Oh and by the way, my father was Aberdeenshire Liberal until changing to SNP in the 70s and Tom had to move to London in 1946 for employment but despite having great-grandchildren speaking with a north London twang he revealed to me in 2000, shortly before he died that he had always hoped that Scotland would eventually self-govern. Was it not so inappropriate (and hurtful) that a letter appeared inthe Scotsman yesterday accusing Alex Salmond’s absence from the London Cenotaph as ‘xenophobic’ (and the rest) ?

  39. Thank you for this, Derek. I was planning on writing a post about the grotesque hypocrisy of the Establishment, but I can’t really add anything more, with any greater eloquence than yourself.

    I wonder exactly how much money was spent on the commemorations – and how much of that money could have been spent on the veterans marginalised and neglected by the state, historically and currently. Wouldn’t that be a greater memorial to their “sacrifice,” to ensure that the state which put them in this situation would ensure their wellbeing after their service?

  40. Your article has put in to words what I feel in my heart. Thank you. I no longer feel guilty about my thoughts.

  41. Thank you for articulating much of what I feel. I’m horrified that the’fallen’ are remembered by rank and regiment, and not as men.

  42. I’ve been to dozens of war cemeteries and battlefield tours for over 20 years now. I’ll admit, you can become quite blasé after a while. The one occasion that sticks out most in my mind though was Bayeux Commonwealth cemetery. My dad and I had been reading the book “By Tank Into Normandy”. We stood over the graves of the people mentioned in the book, the friends of the writer, and read out their stories – how they had been shelled and burnt to a crisp, “brewed up” in their tanks. It was one of the most moving and humbling moments I’ve ever had in my life.

    Then we turned and looked at the rows and rows of anonymous marble headstones. Each and every one of those has a story attached too. I can promise you, after that I could never be blase about any war cemetery ever again.

    The politicians still think of war as anonymous rather than personal.

    Last week there was the unveiling of a new war memorial in Falkland. I found it quite disgusting, military bands parading about that would embarrass the North Koreans, politicians and local dignitaries making sure they were seen being all rememberancy, everyone praising god (who is always on our side) and singing the national anthem. Someone reading a speech about how they were all lovely-dovey fighting to protect their friends (by killing other people’s friends, or only just blowing their faces off).

    I will not wear a poppy until politicians stop being hypocritical. Stop saying on telly how bad war is while at the same time dropping bombs on faraway lands. Stop publically making a display of mourning our youth who you deliberately sent away to be killed, while at the same time you don’t even keep statistics on the civilians you’ve blown to pieces in other countries.

    I would hope that when Scotland gets its independence we can say no to NATO, have a ministry of defence that really means defence and get a reputation as the most peaceful nation on earth. I really hope that’s not asking for too much.

  43. Here’s my take on this, posted a couple of weeks ago: Poppy Outrage http://wp.me/p53087-c6

  44. Katrine Paterson

    Well would you believe it. Aemonn O’Neil and Stewart Cosgrove telling John Beatty today about your first class piece Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch…

    They really went to town on this. Also complained about the lack of good journalism. It was almost you talking Derek.
    I wonder what BEEB had to say.

  45. Is there a correlation between how bad the economy is and how close we are to the next election, and the increasing hysteria of war “celebrations”…or is my cynicism showing?

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