Monday, 4 January 2010

A Straw Albatross and what it means, to me, to be British (and Canadian)

A few of the police blogs I stick my nose into had posts today about the recent comments by one of the eminently unimpressive `legends in his own lunchtime` (as that's about how long each one lasted) Labour Party Home Secretaries we've had to endure over the past decade. Normally I rise above such tripe spouted by the likes of Strawman Jack but, strangely enough, a little stroll with my dog nudged me back behind the old computer keyboard. This afternoon I was crunching my way through the latest dumping of snow listening, for a change, to a few of my favourite tunes on the amazingly tiny iPod my offspring got their old man for Christmas. I say ` for a change` as I'm more of a `country sights and sounds` walker these days and reserve the earphones for other times when I really do want to shut out the world. As I rounded the back of the cricket pavilion, standing cold, forlorn and empty on the edge of the green, I spotted the resting place of what was clearly a `six` that was struck out of the cricket field and lost, sometime last summer. There it sat in the snow like a big red cherry, with just a little green grass poking up around it like a hopeful, tempting taster of summer days to come. I took a quick snap with the mobile camera - I'm technology on legs these days. As I stood up from my picture, I picked up the ball and lobbed it into the snow for my dog to pursue and claim for his own. Then I heard a fast jet approaching. My ears and eyes locked on to what I quickly recognised as the latest frontline RAF Fighter, called a Typhoon, but formerly known as the outrageously expensive Eurofighter. I couldn't do it justice with a picture from my phone cam but, remarkably, I found a photograph on the web that pretty much represents exactly how I saw it as it flew directly overhead. Then the lucky Buzz Lightyear bugger who was flying it poured on the coals until reheat kicked in and booted him in the back and thence to infinity and beyond, in a matter of seconds. Our boys in Afghanistan could do with a few more of those covering their arses and sending down retribution and close support. As I watched this technological marvel climb out of sight it got me thinking about Britain and what it means to me. I suppose the Typhoon is Britains 21st Century equivalent of the Spitfire, planes that my father told me he watched almost daily as they fought for Britains very existence in the skies over his back garden in East London. My Gran's nephew Herbert, from our Canadian family, came to England and served with the RAF. Herbie's still alive and kicking and living in Cobourg, Ontario. His daughter is my second cousin, Jane. Dad was too young to fight in WW1 and a little too old to be conscripted at the start of WW2, but by then he was in a `reserved` occupation, a bus driver with London Transport and a special constable in the Metropolitan Police. Dad was a Special in the mid-thirties, at the time Oswald Moseley's fascist blackshirts were strutting through the Jewish areas of the East End causing riots and he told me he was involved in several dust ups and fierce baton charges. Dad eventually joined The Home Guard and was involved in driving thousands of British and American troops into Hampshire prior to the D Day landings embarkation. Other members of my family fought in WW2. Some in France during the D-Day landings and beyond. My favourite Uncle, my Mum's brother Len, was a gunner in the Royal Navy. He was involved in convoy escorts and had two ships (American "Liberty" ships) torpedoed from underneath him in the Med. His daughter, my cousin Sylvia, found a citation of commendation and letters amongst his personal belongings after he'd died in the 1980's. The letters were from several of his shipmates who wrote to him when he was convalescing after his second sinking. They said they owed their lives to Len, who went back into the oily, burning sea again and again to rescue men who were struggling to survive. Len was a champion swimmer in his schooldays. He never told us about this, despite me asking about his time in the Royal Navy when I was a young teen in mid 60's intent on joining. He had a lot of trouble dealing with his experiences and would often awake from the sounds in his head, of the screaming of the stricken shipmates he couldn't save. He would get so upset at these vivid images, which is why he never spoke much about the Navy. My brother in law's brother, Les, was a WW2 Royal Marines Commando. In June 1944 he was a gunner on HMS Scilla, bombarding the Normandy defences of Sword Beach in advance of the Allied landings. HMS Scilla hit a mine just over 2 weeks later. Les was de-mobbed after the war and joined the police. He was my divisional commander in the Met Police in the 70`s. One of the toughest men, and best leaders, I've ever known. He never rated politicians that much. Then I thought of some of the former Home Secretaries I've actually remembered and had chats with, some more than just passing words and some before they were in that post; Robert Carr, Roy Jenkins, Willie Whitelaw, Merlyn Rees, James Callaghan and Leon Brittan. Apart from Roy Jenkins, who didn't like us using sirens to get to his residence when the attack alarm was activated, I thought they all seemed very decent men who tried to understand our plight. I certainly don't ever recall them slagging off the police publicly or making snide and derogatory comments like Straw, either in or out of their high office. Leon Brittan was a very decent man. I single him out because I had closer dealings with him on one of the 3 day counter terrorist exercises all forces undertake from time to time, where he actually attended the command venues at a well-out-of-London location. I suppose that's what I noticed the most, because when Maggie was P.M. and we played counter terrorist exercises, she insisted that she and her ministers played it for real, along with us and the special forces. That was very reassuring and they scored big credibility points for that. As someone else's blog has pointed out, the Straw's were not made of such stuff, although I do have great respect for genuine conscientious objectors and pacifists. One only has to read "The Flag of Our Fathers" to learn a little of the bravery of the unarmed Corpsmen (Medics) of battlefields. So my musings are nearly vented and I have surprised myself in remaining so calm and respectful. It would be a shame to spoil it and end on a harsh word, but I can't help feeling that if Straw gave me the slightest reason, I'd probably.......... the little....... t and then take his........and....... it ...........rse . The harsh words were deleted out of respect for the true Brits I referred to in this ramble. You may add your own words to the gaps if you wish. I hope and pray that I have done my forbears, their deeds and their memory justice during my rather less remarkable life. I am truly blessed to have had such men in my family and I have also worked alongside some remarkably brave, compassionate and conscientious police officers, including special constables who do it for zero pay. I also read about todays officers and their current struggles on their fascinating blogs. Finally, I am so glad that the likes of Straw have been foistered on some other poor sod's family tree, for I would be so ashamed to be saddled with that albatross.


Blue Eyes said...

Wow, what a family to be proud of!

My dad served on the ILEA opposite "Jack" Straw in the early 1960s and was completely horrified that he had gained power when Labour were elected in 1997. He had got to know Straw quite well thirty years previously and did not trust the man at all. It looked at one stage of Brown's career that Straw might get his hands on the big chair. I think I might have dumped all my possessions and fled had he done so. He scares me. There are some politicians who would put country before ideology and some who would not.

Hogday said...

Blue; Agree re trust. I have no truck with lazy or incompetent police officers, but I always subscribed to the `Praise in public, chastise in private` school of management. Straw should not air such comments in public, he should keep fucking quiet and fix the fucking problem!

powdergirl said...

Yes, I'd say that, in as much as its possible, you have done your forebears justice. What a great tree it is that you fell from. I'd bet they're pretty proud to know that you've carried on the honorable traditions they began.

Nice piece HD, you're a realy great writer, but then, I've said that before haven't I?

Oh and I'm still quite taken with your description of the hopeful summer blades of grass surrounding that 'six'

Anonymous said...

There is something beautifully melancholy, yet promising, about that cricket ball.

I'd have shoved a few twigs in as pegs and practiced my wicked spin-bowling off the frozen tundra.

Crime Analyst said...

Thanks for that Mr H, I enjoyed reading every minute of your proud memories.

My Dad never spoke about the war until the last few years of his life, when he received a telephone call from a former POW officer who was tracing former inmates of Colditz castle.

Dad was 4868054 Private James (Jimmy) Bennett who served with the Royal Leicestershires in WW2. He was captured in North Africa and sent, via Italy, to a POW camp in East Germany. He was transferred to Colditz - Oflag IVC for an operation for appendicitis by a French doctor. (No anesthetic). Colditz was a Sonderlager ("special camp") where persistent escapers were imprisoned.

When Dad opened up about the war, it was to bring tears to our eyes.

He was always a diminutive man, about 5’5” but non-the-less hard as nails. His Colditz experience at was mentally and emotionally stressful rather than physical.

After his op, Dad remained at the camp as a “gofer” for the officers. At the hands of his senior officers, he was often the butt of their merciless cruelty and abuse.

Dad was sent up onto the roof by the German guards, to fix loose roof tiles. Unfortunately, he was as clumsy as he was small, and managed to dislodge more tiles than he fixed, showering the “goons” with slate.

The guards fired a few volleys to bring him scampering down to ground level. That incident put him in solitary and he was taunted by the senior British officers for his clumsiness.

Whilst working in nearby fields, he desperately needed to answer the call of nature. There were women working in an adjacent field, and without thinking, he wandered off to grab some privacy.

His absence was mistaken for a pathetic escape attempt, and as he sauntered back to the group, the goons jumped on him and it cost him another spell in solitary.

Dad was immensely proud and felt acutely embarrassed by the incidents which made him a laughing stock among the officers.

Naturally enough I suppose, he just wanted to rebuild his life after the war, without the mockery he would undoubtedly face, if the events were made public. He subsequently declined the opportunity to speak with members of the Colditz Society for the same reasons.

After he was released, he was placed on guard duty with his German shepherd, (it’s the one surving wartime photo we have), escorting German prisoners at the Nuremburg trials.

Sadly, he was dying when we heard his account for the first time. But he was our Dad, a right character, and we loved him dearly. Like yours, Dad had no time for politicians, particularly those who lack integrity and honesty.

Successful escapes were “Home Runs”. Airey Neave and a Dutch Officer dressed up in painted German Officer's uniform, with cardboard badges. They clambered through a corridor, and a hole punched in a ceiling, down some stairs into the Guardroom and, with the Dutch Officer chatting in fluent German, sauntered out of the Guardroom, where the guards were stood to attention, and out of the gate to freedom.

Airey Neave went on to become a Member of Parliament until murdered by an IRA car bomb, on March 30th 1979, in the House of Commons car park. He survived all that the Germans could throw at him only to be butchered by cowards in the autumn of his life.

Another famous inmate of Colditz was Group Captain Douglas R S Bader CBE, DSO and bar, DFC and bar, Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre, whose success as a fighter pilot with artificial legs made him a national hero.

31 prisoners successfully reached home - a figure unequalled by any prisoner of war camp during the Second World War.

I get an even greater sense of disdain and contempt for the actions of Jack Straw, when I think of all the suffering my fathers generation endured to give us our chances in life.

It takes a great deal of restraint not to use strong and expletive language when describing the despicable man and his behaviour.

Best Regards

De Campo said...

Wow. That’s an amazing linage. Your family encompasses duty, honor, and country.

However, I just can’t wrap my head around cricket.

Hogday said...

Thanks for your kind comment. I guess the family tree is one we never get to choose to grow from, we just find ourselves in its branches!

The things our Dad's got up to! Your comment was a fascinating addition to my little musing and worthy of a post on its own merit, thank you. I had the pleasure of irregular chats with Airey Neave during my duties in and around Parliament. A character who made an impression on me even before I knew of his past deeds.

I never took you for a leg spinner. There's a back-up career for you, explaining cricket to your countrymen. You could market it as a 100% cure for insomnia. I want a 5% cut for the idea you heard here first!

Thanks for the comment. Another vagabond from my linage, Great granma's brother, was in the regiment that was massacred by Zulu's at Isandhlwana in 1879. I never chose these crazy ancestors!! From what I think of our justice minister, I think, in another time and place, I'd have been lining up behind the Founding Fathers, musket in hands. As for cricket, best not try. Personally, I prefer watching the New York Jets.

Anonymous said...

Your dad was a Special in "interesting times" eh! In those days it would have been a lot harder to be a Special as well. It wasn't until quite recently that we have been respected as a species!

I wish I had the chance to work alongside you, I bet I would have learned a lot. I regard it as one of my main duties to not be a plonker in front of the "regulars" so as not to undermine the image of the whole Special Constabulary. I hope I manage it!

Hogday said...

SC: That's a good maxim to live by.

I always tried to keep it simple:
1) to make good decisions as quickly as they were required; 2)not to let my team down and always put their welfare first;
3) not to piss too many people off and finally;
4) have the balls to admit I'd cocked up and then apologise and promise to try harder if I ever failed on points 1 to 3.
In my experience that's all most frontline cops wanted. But never confuse `length of service` with "experience"! It might just be one years experience thats been repeated 20 times ;)

TonyF said...

My Granddad Survived the Somme, In fact he got through WW1 from the beginning to the end. He was in a 'Chums' Regiment. Hull East Yorks I think. He did collect a fair bit of shrapnel though. He was still getting bits out of his thigh up until he died in the early '60s. My Dad was too young for WW2, he did lie about his age, but he was caught out and sent home. He was out in Germany after the war doing his National Service.

Hogday said...

TonyF: The chums or `Pals` regiments were remarkable. Ironically, they also resulted in many many towns totally devoid of men of marriageable age, post 1918. How that war skewed the lives of our forbears!