Category Archives: War

The Poppy World Cup Qualifier: England v Scotland

England faces Scotland at Wembley in a World Cup football qualifier on Armistice Day November 11th 2016. Both teams wish to wear the poppy symbol as an act of remembrance, but face the wrath of FIFA sanctions if they do. The World governing body of football stipulates that no international team may wear any sign of political, religious or commercial affiliation, which they deem inappropriate. Alas, FIFA have once again in my opinion, shown how totally out of touch they really are with the game at ground level. Perhaps if they got out of their ivory towers, seen things as they really are in the sport and learned a little history they would get on a lot better.

I am totally in favour of both teams wearing the poppy symbol, especially with the game falling on the actual date when the guns of WW1 fell silent. It is particularly poignant when you consider the hostility between England and Scotland goes back centuries, when men fought on battlefields in the name of an English King, a Clan leader or a Young Pretender to the throne. Two nations shaped by their shared history through war, intertwined by a strange mix of inherent animosity and togetherness. What better way to honour the fallen of battle from both nations than by wearing the communal symbol of remembrance.

I’m aware that some people are of the opinion the poppy has become a political symbol which advocates support for interventions around the world. I don’t share that view, because if you think about it, war in general has been perpetuated throughout the ages by political manoeuvrings. Therefore you could say that ANY war or conflict is politically motivated and unjustified, not just the battles you disagree with. To me wearing a poppy shows a small sign of solidarity with all those who gave their lives in conflict situations, believing “ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die”.

The poppy became a symbol of remembrance in the UK shortly after the end of World War One, representing the poppy fields of Europe and the bloodshed spilt by the flowers of a whole generation. On the first Christmas Day of the war in 1914, a number of football matches broke out in several places along No Man’s Land in France. Warily laying down their weapons, soldiers from both warring factions came together to share small gifts and play improvised games of football. Peace on that 1914 Christmas morning was briefly restored, as the British and Germans celebrated a shared Christian faith and spoke the universal language of sport, and football was the most fluently spoken language between the two sides. Football gave the men a shared understanding, a reminder of their humanity and a brief sense of peace and camaraderie.    Hostilities resumed the day after and continued for four long hard years, orchestrated by military chiefs far away from the front lines. But on December 25th 1914 the foot soldiers took matters into their own hands and shed a light on what can be so good in sport. Thinking of those historical and unprecedented football matches makes it seem even more relevant that England and Scotland should wear their poppies with pride.

FIFA have not always been consistent in their edicts on the laws of football. In March 2016 a friendly match took place between the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, where the home team displayed an overtly obvious “political” reference to the Easter Uprising of 1916. And FIFA did allow England to wear a black armband with a poppy logo on it for a November friendly match in 2011. But the match next week is a World Cup Qualifier which puts a different slant on the situation, and I guess they are trying to ensure every team conforms in the same way! But giving out mixed messages over the years does not help FIFA’s argument. Neither does the rather pompous comment made by the FIFA general secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura “they are not the only countries affected by war”. That is not what the FA or SFA are saying at all, just that they would like to show a mutual mark of respect for a shared national remembrance day. If either England or Scotland had been playing Germany, I may have at least understood FIFA’s discomfort with the situation a little more.

FIFA should lead by example before riding rough shod over member nations with their interpretation of what political, religious and commercial neutrality actually means. Let FIFA be seen to conduct itself in a transparent and neutral manner, and show it has its own house in order first. But FIFA has shown itself to be a seeker of massive commercial advantages by awarding a World Cup to Qatar, a nation awash with cash but with no real football heritage. The decision can be interpreted as being religious and politically motivated as well. The successful Russia World Cup bid isn’t much better, though the nation is not as financially viable as the Middle East option. The rumblings of an “extended World Cup” that would allow more nations to take part in a qualifying round of the tournament, smacks of fleecing the average football fan out of their hard earned cash.  To me that idea is a purely commercial initiative to fill the FIFA coffers even more than they already are. And I haven’t even touched on the corruption charges meted out to several high ranking FIFA officials.

It seems that the Football Association and Scottish Football Association are agreed that they will defy the FIFA ruling, and wear a poppy symbol for the match. In a world where political correctness has gone mad, thank goodness some common sense prevails between my two home nations.

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TESTAMENT OF YOUTH Film Review

This film is based upon the memoir of Vera Brittain, an upper-middle class young woman fighting for the same opportunities available to her younger brother in pre World War One Great Britain. The story begins in the springtime of 1914 and we then progress through to around 1920, seeing events unfold through the eyes of Vera. It is a beautifully shot film and incredibly evocative of the time with a much slower pace to the story, a more romantic theme than a war one really. Anyone used to seeing movies with all out shooting, mass explosions and in your face armed combat should not go and see this; frankly such a viewer would probably feel rather bored by it all. What this film does have is heart and a deeply felt poignancy for an era and way of life that no longer exists, mainly because of the outbreak of The Great War.

At the start Vera is desperately trying to persuade her father to let her try for the Oxford entrance exam, whilst enjoying spending time with her brother and his chums on their last spring school holiday. Due to her gender and class, Vera’s parents expect her to be nothing more than educated and cultured enough to run a good house when she marries well. Vera’s fury toward this is palpable and she is only allowed to try for Oxford, after her brother Edward intercedes on his sister’s behalf. The university acceptance letter for Vera arrives on the day her brother and his friends leave Uppingham School. All the boys enjoy a passing out parade as members of the school Officer Training Corps (OTC). Ominously the newspapers report the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

As soon as war is declared Edward Brittain and his fellow OTC pals immediately volunteer and sign up. Being only 18 and not at the age of majority, Edward needs Vera to petition their father to be allowed to join the army, and she is persuasive. So we see Vera travel to Oxford in the autumn of 1914 to begin her studies, with all the boys who should have gone along with her, going into uniform instead. This includes Roland Leighton, who through family connections is accelerated through training and onto the front, at his behest. Despite his obvious growing love for Vera, Roland feels an over-riding compulsion to do his duty for king and country. His class, upbringing and education have moulded Roland into feeling honour-bound into being of service to his nation. All the other boys in Vera’s social sphere feel exactly the same, and it is only when Roland gets his first leave home, do you glimpse that the realities of war are not as glorious as Roland was taught.

Realising the gravity of the war situation, Vera decides on becoming a nurse, feeling her studies are somewhat frivolous under the circumstances. She undergoes her training and then proceeds to tend the wounded soldiers sent back to England. Vera then transfers to France to feel nearer her brother and to nurse the injured behind the front lines. Ironically she finds herself attending to German soldiers’ wounds, but is also instrumental in returning her brother to full health as well. Vera’s recall from frontline nursing is very indicative of her class status and undoubtedly exasperates her. Whilst at home news comes of her brother’s death in Italy, where she thought the fighting was less intense.

Vera makes good on the promise she made to her brother at their final parting and returns to Oxford. Initially she does not thrive weighed down by all the ghosts around her. At the end her healing begins with a powerful statement at a demonstration and her personal resolve to ensure that those whom she loved and lost would not be forgotten.

I have not read Testament of Youth but if the film is a reasonable interpretation of it, then I think Vera succeeded in her quest to remember those lost in battle. The overwhelming sense I got from the film was that of a very innocent almost naive generation within Vera’s class in society. They were from another world where privilege cushioned members from a harsher reality. Women had servants to run the home, so were always immaculate and genteel and virtually a social adornment for the men, whose stiff upper lip was highly evident. The war shattered the illusionary world that Vera inhabited and became a great leveller of society in some respects. Officers from the upper classes fought alongside the sons of the working class. They faced the same bullets, barbed wire, shells and mustard gas and were wounded and killed in the same awful way. With her own wartime experiences Vera kicked against and helped bring down her world and the etiquettes she despised.

Vera Brittain’s book has been described as the voice of a generation and I can see why as the film is full of service, honour, loss and the futility of it. It is one person trying to comprehend and live with the aftermath of war and find some meaning to the ravages of conflict. This film (and presumably the book) espouses a generation of men who sacrificed their youth, vigour, optimism, hope and lives to fight for a cause that was bigger than them. In that respect they are the Glorious Dead and should be honoured and remembered for paying the ultimate price for our freedom. But as I listened to Vera’s impassioned statement at the end of the film, I was reminded of a poem I learned about in school which still affects me deeply. Dulce et Decorum Est is from Wilfred Owen a voice from the trenches, who I suspect came from a similar world to Vera Brittain. In those lines the hideous consequences of war are laid bare and show the utter lack of glory in drowning in your own bodily fluids after a gas attack, and every nationality on the battlefield faced the same horrific fate. Each new battle and counter-attack perpetuated a cycle of revenge with hardly any gain for either side. Vera Brittain came to realise this as did Wilfred Owen who implored future generations with this plea:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori”. (my translation-to die for one’s country is a great and noble thing).

HARRY

The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand on June 28th 1914 in Sarajevo was the catalyst that brought about The Great War. Exactly one year later on the Gallipoli peninsula I’ve discovered my great Uncle Harry aged 23 was killed in action during the Battle of Gully Ravine. Harry’s name is honoured on the HELLES MEMORIAL in Turkey and may possibly be engraved on two war memorials in Lanarkshire in central Scotland.

To my knowledge my ancestor had no direct descendants; there were no fading sepia coloured photos, no paper records of any kind, just a faint memory of a name lost in the battle fields of WW1, HARRY. He was the beloved (adopted/favourite) brother of my maternal Granny Jessie Jardine. She spoke the name with fondness and tearful eyes, and when she had a son born on 11th November he was called after the uncle he never would know. That was the only information I had about the young soldier Harry Jardine who had a premonition during his last leave that he would not be returning.

With nothing more than my mobile phone, wi-fi hotspots and Google searches I set about trying to uncover the story of my WW1 ancestor, particularly as this year is the 100th anniversary of the war beginning. My initial search simply involved tapping Harry’s name alongside the words war memorial and North Lanarkshire. Trawling through the search hits I quickly came across something that struck a chord “son of Francis and Margaret Robb Jardine”, my maternal great grandparents!!! Using this finding as a base I’ve managed to piece together a little narrative that puts some life back into Harry’s memory.

Private Harry Jardine (7465) was born in Motherwell and at the outbreak of war lived in Newarthill. He enlisted in Shotts and joined the 8th Lanark Battalion of The Highland Light Infantry (HLI), which from what I can ascertain was a territorial unit (Lothian Infantry Brigade) that was part of the Scottish Coastal Defence. By mid August 1914 the unit was deployed to the Leith area on the East coast of Scotland. Further searches indicate that the 8th Lanark Battalion was disbanded around May 1916 possibly due to having insufficient numbers for overseas service. However, my initial finding told me that Harry’s battalion had already been attached to the 7th Royal Scots (B’Company) by around April 1915. Using the Royal Scot’s records for further investigation it seems that the company was warned of an overseas deployment around the 5th of April 1915. Confirmation came through on the 7th of May that the troop’s destination was Gallipoli. The soldiers were deployed between the 18th May and 8th June from Liverpool and Devonport. But calamity struck two companies; (I think it was A & C); of the 1/7th Royal Scots when their troop train crashed at Quntinshill near Gretna. Less than seventy men survived without injury, 210 died (3 officers) and 224 (5 officers) were injured. The remaining 7th Royal Scots including B Company continued their journey toward Gallipoli with the first units arriving on 6th June 1915. Some record searches cause confusion because they give the landing date of July 1915, some days after the date of death given for soldiers involved in the Battle of Gully Ravine. It can only be said that so many troops and battalions were arriving in continuous waves that a more generalised average landing date was given to some records.

In at least two Gallipoli records I sourced referred to the 156th division and/or the 52nd Lowland division. Further investigation clarified that the 7th Royal Scots became affiliated to the 156th (Scottish Rifles Brigade) in April of 1915, and the 8th Lanark Battalion was known as the 52nd Lowland as far as I can tell. Therefore any reference to battle involvement by the 156th Brigade of the 52nd (Lowland) Division would most probably involve my great Uncle Harry, and both Gallipoli sources referred to the newly arrived 156th when discussing the Battle of Gully Ravine. I managed to find the war despatches for May and June 1915 of Commanding Officer General Sir Ian Hamilton detailing the Gully Ravine battle. He mentioned how the 156th were initially successful in securing the two Turkish trenches they were assigned to capture but that further progress was limited. Another reference fully explained why my great Uncle Harry and his comrades were like lambs to the slaughter. A full complement of artillery hardware (around 208 pieces) would normally be expected for a fighting unit of that size but only a fraction (77) was available. Added to this was a severe lack of ammunition rounds (about 12,000) most of which were allocated to a front fighting division. This left virtually no protection from artillery for the 156th Division who also went forward with little ammunition!!! Hardly a surprise then that many of the casualties that day came from the 156th Division at a place called Fir Tree Spur. General Sir Ian Hamilton reported that casualties from Gully Ravine were relatively light, some 1750. I can’t help but feel how quickly war can make a man call the loss of nearly two thousand men on a single day “light”.

Reading the Gallipoli roll of honour for the 8th Lanark Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry I found 77 names of whom 36 (including Harry Jardine) died on the same day 28th June 1915 at the Battle of Gully Ravine. Much of the information in that document mentioned place names, streets and surnames that are so familiar to me, and suddenly all those lost soldiers honoured on local war memorials came alive to me. Coming across an article referring to miners who gave the ultimate sacrifice, I vaguely remembered that great Uncle Harry was a miner. This led on to me finding a comprehensive list of names for several local war memorials in North Lanarkshire. I read somewhere that some monuments erected were dedicated to residents of an area whilst others used enlistment details. I knew my Harry lived in Newarthill but had enlisted in Shotts, and on checking these memorials I believe I found him. At the Newarthill monument a Henry Jardine is listed whilst at Shotts a Pte H Jardine HLI is honoured. So at long last I feel there is a local spot in Scotland where I can visit and pay homage to my great Uncle Harry. His name is also engraved on the HELLES MEMORIAL in Turkey Grave Ref Panel No 173 to 177.

I haven’t got any photos or further information to add to this post but if I discover anything else I will report again. So, on this day, the 99th anniversary of the loss of (7465) Pte Harry Jardine my great Uncle, at the going down of the sun I will remember him.

One Woman, One Man in War

The woman referred to is Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt the First Lady of the United States during World War Two, and the man referred to is Simon Weston badly injured in the Falklands War. During an overnight visit to London, I became even more aware of the stories involving these two people caught up in two separate wars forty years apart.

Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt

In the small intimate setting of The Kings Head Pub Theatre, I attended the last performance of the one woman play Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London. Actress Alison Skilbeck had crafted this dramatic story having had access to Eleanor Roosevelt’s diaries. She performed all the characters within the play (including Churchill and The Queen Mother) with minimal props, but with an uncanny accuracy in accents.

The premise to the plot involves an elderly Eleanor living in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As she laments the possible end to peace, and even the world, the audience are taken back in time to the former First Lady’s visit to war-torn London in October of 1942. Through flashbacks we learn about her tour around Great Britain, meeting dignitaries, attending formal functions on behalf of President Franklin D Roosevelt, and visiting US troops and ordinary British people. We also learn in part something about the private person, and how a traumatic childhood and a husband prone to infidelity had shaped Eleanor as a woman. It was fascinating to watch the play and I came to have a deep respect for Mrs Roosevelt, and all that she had tried to achieve.

Until seeing this play my only real reference point for Mrs Roosevelt in recent times was from the film Hyde Park on Hudson. A peripheral character in this movie, I got the distinct feeling that Eleanor was a somewhat cold, unfeeling, distant and slightly eccentric character “full of causes”. The President’s infidelity wasn’t glossed over, but you couldn’t help feel that he had good reason to wander!! However, having seen this play I can well understand why Eleanor devoted herself to causes, and perhaps seemed a bit distant at times. She had offered to divorce Franklin on discovering his first affair, but had been told that wasn’t an option as it wouldn’t be good for his political career. So Eleanor was effectively trapped by the necessity of keeping up appearances, and as a way of coping threw herself into campaigns not particularly fashionable at the time.

Eleanor Roosevelt championed women’s rights and the rights of black people in the US long before it was a common cause. And on her visit to Great Britain she insisted on seeing for herself how the ordinary man/woman/child coped and dealt with the effects of war. The First Lady’s itinerary included visits to factories, land girls tilling the fields, bombed streets, air-raid shelters, docks, WRVS and many other places the length and breadth of the country. Far from the cold and unfeeling character I thought Mrs Roosevelt was, I came away with a sense of someone with a tremendous empathy for those less fortunate. I was particularly struck by a small part in the play, when the First Lady speaks of the horror of witnessing bombed out streets. Her thoughts went along the lines of “although these houses were probably no more than slum dwellings (a civic wrong in itself), they were home for these people. Now they have nothing at all”. Compare that to what the Queen Mother said when Buckingham Palace suffered minor damage from a bomb blast, “glad of it, now we can look the East End in the face”. I was far more moved and affected by the consciousness from Eleanor Roosevelt than the pretentious uttering from our Royal family.

Aware of being someone of privilege, Eleanor Roosevelt strived to put her status to some good use by shining a light onto issues and concerns affecting those less well off, and using that status to try and change things. Only a First Lady could attempt to bring the issue of “wrong socks” for US troops, or black servicemen pay and conditions, to the attention of the US Army General. Through her speeches, news articles and publications Mrs Roosevelt brought many issues into the public domain.

After the war ended Eleanor became the chairwoman for the Commission of Human Rights and its inception, and announced the template for the Commission in 1948. She also became the US ambassador at the United Nations. Now as the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened to envelop the Western World, an obviously dying Mrs Roosevelt wondered aloud had she done any good during World War Two, and had she tried enough to make a difference. I think the answer is an unequivocal YES.

Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London. Image credit offwestend.com
Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London. Image credit offwestend.com

Simon Weston

The day after seeing Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London I went to the National Portrait Gallery, with the express intention of seeing the David Bailey Stardust photo exhibition AND taking a look at the new People’s Portrait of Simon Weston. Last year a competition was held to find a portrait sitter elected by the general public; (a first for the NPG); and Simon won the accolade. Probably he’d be the first to admit a wish that the circumstances which brought his likeness to canvas had not happened.

In 1982 during the Falklands Conflict Simon Weston suffered 46% burns to his body, when the ship Sir Galahad was bombed by the Argentineans. Miraculously Simon survived his ordeal but many of his comrades perished. Over the years Simon has been a tireless fund raiser for charity, and his badly scarred face has become a familiar sight on TV.

The artist chosen for the People’s Portrait was Nicola Jane Philipps, who I believe did a superb portrait of Prince William & Prince Harry a few years ago. I liked the royal picture very much so I was intrigued to see how Nicola would portray Simon. On setting eyes on the newly commissioned portrait I was not disappointed. I found the simple and yet powerfully styled setting with muted colours and soft lines very appealing.

In the portrait Simon is holding his medals, standing behind a chair that has a soldier’s beret sitting on it. Simon’s badly damaged hands are prominent holding the medals, a symbol of his (and other soldiers) courage and bravery. The beret on an otherwise empty seat is a tribute to those who have passed. The standing position of Simon could be interpreted as “standing for justice and fairness to all”, or as a position of strength I suppose. Dressed in a simple open necked shirt and jacket, rather than the pomp and circumstance of a full military uniform, Simon is shown as an ordinary humble man. The one thing in the portrait that I couldn’t take my eyes off were Simon’s eyes, which had a depth of colour and clarity to them that mesmerised me. The distinctive line and the striking blue colour of the eyes stood out from the fudged framework of earthy shades. The only other sign of bold colour in the portrait came from the patriotic medal ribbons (red, blue and white).

You could say that Simon Weston having endured horrific burns to almost half his body is aesthetically half the man he was, when he embarked on a ship bound for the Falkland Islands. But having survived that extraordinary experience, those eyes tell you that Simon Weston today is twice the man he was before.

People's Portrait Simon Weston. Image credit Nicola Jane Philipps
People’s Portrait Simon Weston. Image credit Nicola Jane Philipps