Monday, 9 November 2009
Respect, revulsion and a touch of frost
Well it was a solemn weekend up here in the frosty North of England. Saturday evening found me, on duty, at what was billed as the largest bonfire gathering in `Northshire` - it was pissing down with rain. However, that didn't stop the indomitable British spirit and people turned out in vast numbers to gather around for a free fireworks display, courtesy of the local council and other sponsors. This year's Guy Fawkes ritual was also to raise money for a well known organisation that provides superb support and training for the blind. The local FM radio station was there with a sound-stage and the DJ's were doing a great job of whipping up the crowd, before the Mayor of the Borough led the crowd in the countdown to the start of the grand fireworks display. Amongst the gathered masses was a boisterous but jolly group of trainee soldiers who were clearly enjoying the chance of joining in some local community fun and a break from their rigorous training schedule. They were all young lads, around 17 or 18 years old, and the rain didn't dampen their spirits, especially as they got a big cheer from the crowd when the DJ asked them if they were taking part in the remembrance parade the next day and all their arms went up. I don't care much for fireworks. I was there because I had a job to do. Sunday morning and I was up early. I was attending two Remembrance Services, one in the town centre and one at a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. The town centre event was attended by a large crowd. The service commenced with the full civic procession, with representatives of all the armed services, military cadet forces, veterans associations, a small contingent of the police and, of course, The Royal British Legion. It was a splendid and touching tribute and the crowd burst into spontaneous applause as the trainees from the Army Camp proudly marched past, followed by regular British army as well as American soldiers sailors and airmen , who are also staioned nearby. A group of our own veterans, medals a-jangling and glinting in the sunshine proudly brought up the rear. The cubs, scouts and guides completed the march past and all did a splendid job. The church service that followed really touched me. I don't do church, but the sermon delivered by the mayor's chaplain was the most moving and relevant piece in respect of war, despair, hope and peace that I've heard in many a year. The Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in this town is the final resting place of over 1,000 airmen, mainly from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, who gave their lives serving with the RAF in the skies over England and Europe during World War 2. As a piper played a lament and the representatives of civil authorities and the military laid wreaths, local schoolchildren moved among the headstones and laid a red rose on every grave. For anyone who has family in this place, they should know about such gestures and how their forbears memory is revered and remembered. As the ceremony concluded, I spoke to a corporal from the Royal Irish Regiment who was an instructor at the Army training campus. I asked him if he knew a particular trainee, as my cousin's grandson is training there at present - another Coldstream Guardsman in the Hogday family. He wasn't in this instructors platoon, but no matter, we had a chat. I told him how I saw some of his lads enjoying the fireworks the previous evening. He said, "Yes, but it didn't last long. There was a gang of civvy blokes wandering about looking to start trouble with them. They cornered two of our boys in town and assaulted them. They`re in hospital". `Squaddie/Matelot bashing` was always a problem wherever I served where there was an army or navy establishment nearby. Even as a police cadet at Hendon, there were certain places in the vicinity our instructors banned us from going, not because we caused trouble, but because the locals recognised us for what we were and thought it good sport to try it on with us. Early this morning I was pondering my weekend as I walked our dog, the Jack Rascal Terrorist. I took the above snaps on my mobile. I felt the sun slowly warming my back, but it was clearly the beginnings of winter. I snapped a picture of my long shadow lying across the frosty field and stood awhile, watching it get slowly shorter. I suddenly thought of it as being like my life slowly receding and me powerless to stop it. If I'm lucky, no black cloud will come along and shut it off, at least not for another 50 years or so. Then I thought of the remembrance services I'd attended and those young trainee soldiers, full of fun on the common and of the evil group of Britains "finest" who in some perverted way got a big shot in their own pathetic ego's by putting two of these teenaged servicemen in hospital. I tried to remember anything really bad that I'd done to someone else during my life, that could possibly make me feel the way I was feeling at that moment. Thankfully, I couldn't. I wanted to find the people that did this horrible thing to those young soldiers, put a .32 calibre round into the back of their heads and then call up the local council street cleansing services to remove their worthless corpses from where I'd dropped them. I hate myself when something gets the better of me and makes me think like that, as I like to think I can rise above such thoughts, but not this morning I regret to say. My blood pressure wasn't helped when I watched Sky News and the article about `the personal letter` that our Prime Minister wrote to the grieving mother of a young Grenadier Guardsman killed in Afghanistan recently. Brown should stick to what he does best - whatever that is - and let someone with a real appreciation of what it means to lose someone in this way to write his `sorry` letters for him. My sister just phoned me. My nephew, injured in an IED blast on only his fourth day in Helmand Province, is being flown home today. His hearing has not recovered and his back injury is causing concern. He is obviously not currently fit for frontline duties and will be re-deployed to a less intense role for 6 months, but he was lucky as he is the only one still walking after the explosion that killed his Lance Corporal. I suppose this is a small blessing. That was my weekend. I hope yours was OK.