This year because of illness I’ve missed several remembrance events I would otherwise have photographed. But while I was in Parliament Square earlier crosses with poppies were already being planted in front of the abbey. This set commemorate the submarines that have been lost, the two larger blocks representing the First and Second World Wars.
My own father was in the First War. He was fortunate always to be a little behind the front line because of his job, and although he got given a gun and stood on guard duty occasionally he was never taught to fire one (and didn’t ever know if it was loaded or not.) His wasn’t a dramatic story or one involving great bravery and he suffered no significant injuries; it is the story of an “ordinary” man caught up in events.
At his call-up medical the doctor discovered he was deaf in one ear and asked him if he really wanted to go, and he said he “might as well.” Quite unusually 119377 Marshall W F eventually became 3rd “Ack Emma” in the Royal Flying Corps where his extensive experience and skills could be put to good use in keeping the planes flying. Late in life he wrote a brief memoir of the first 40 or so years of his life, including the war years. These two extracts are exactly as he wrote them:
Corporal said “Put it down here“. I pointed out that the pit was on the other side of the lorry, and it was only sensible to put it over there. I was reported and had to go to see the Sergeant -Major. He said that I was on active service and people were often shot at dawn for disobeying orders. I told him I didnt expect to live very long, and if he liked doing that sort of thing it was OK by me. He told me to clear off and not be so silly . I rather think he had a word with that corporal. I didnt hear anymore about it…
Chinese coolies prepared our sites and probably erected buildings; and of course they dug the petrol holes out. There was every nationality represented amongst the troops and auxiliaries. It was amazing how varied an organisation the armies were. There were lots of horses, mules and bullocks pressed in to do the work. Then there were the Tommies and the Frenchies and all the other fighting men, all colours, marching backwards and forwards – Colonials, Indians, Africans; we had an Empire then! Our armies were advancing then, and we had to keep up with them.
I thought particularly of that second quotation when hearing the disgusting nonsense talked by the leader of the British Nationalist Party, Nick Griffin, trying to hi-jack the war (in his case particularly the1939-45 war, but the same kind of thing was true in that war) to support his party’s racist policies. Without the active support of the very peoples he would like to deport we would have lost both wars.
Not of course that our main parties have kept faith with those people who fought for the UK and were British subjects, most of whom were denied the right to enter the UK under the Macmillan government’s panicky Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and later of their remaining and largely meaningless status with the British Nationality Act of 1981 under Thatcher. Labour’s record on the subject is no better.