On the theme of war and remembrance…

Two things you should try not to miss this weekend… The BBC’s powerful adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front as its Saturday Play… And for those of you with sufficient disposable income to be able to watch Soldier’s Stories on the History Channel… According to the blurb:

During The Troubles over 1300 British Military personnel were killed, 6000 were wounded and over 3000 civilians were killed. There were no parades and no hero’s welcome for the 300,000 soldiers who served in Northern Ireland and for those who came home their memories will last a lifetime.

Soldier’s Stories, presented by former soldier Ken Hames, provides a new and unique insight into the conflict in Northern Ireland and is based on the in-depth interviews conducted by veteran Ken Wharton for his books on The Troubles. It’s pretty personal stuff and the interviewees run from guys who when they were called out in 1969 thought the strange bugle call they were hearing was a joke… to still youngish men who saw out the last days of soldierly conflict…

The interviews are skilfully interspersed with scenes from the troubles… the mill on the Falls Road I remember was standing one week when were on our way to visit relatives in Beechmount, and gone the next… But what makes it valuable is that they are just talking to soldiers, and getting their angle on what happened to them… so you hear one guy talking about how his colleague got hit on the head and then next minute you see a soldier in black and white talk one of the side of the whilst his comrade vainly tried to warn him of what’s coming…

And there is the odd revelatory detail of one squaddie’s conversation with a policemen on the Shankill Road, and tells him, “Well, I’m not biased, but their houses are not as clean as ours”…

It’s a longish programme, probably slightly too long for the material.. and a strong focus on the mad days of the early seventies… And there’s a passage”I hear you knocking for 9th August…”, “Rubber Bullets (10cc)…” We’re all crazy now… (Slade)…

The bomb disposal guys whose technologies grew and developed along with that of the organisations who were planting them who had the most gruesome tales to tell both of what happened to their colleagues and members of the public who got in the way…

“I remember seeing a sheet of glass being blown across the street. It was travelling horsizontally as it hit the bloke and took his legs off, just above the knee…

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Mick,

    re. disposable income

    although a Sky man myself is the History channel not feee with various satellite options? What time is on at?

  • Rory Carr

    I see that Soldiers’ Stories is showing on the History Channel on tomorrow, Sunday at 10pm. I have set the TV to record the programme and will watch it during the coming week.

    While Wharton’s compilation of the stories of those British soldiers who were sent to NI during the period of ‘The Troubles’ is a valuable addition to the literature of the period insofar as we are allowed to hear the raw, unrestrained voices recount their experiences and their feelings, I found that it suffers from a complete lack of any examination of the motives of those they were fighting or any self-examination of the motives or actions of the soldiers, a lack encouraged by the author’s own blind refusal to question the complexities of the war.

    It is all – the soldiers were the good guys, anyone who helped them was wonderful, anyone else who opposed them or complained about their behaviour were scum and…that’s it. I found myself reading these accounts more in sorrow than in anger at the shallowness of so many of the memoirs included.

    I’ve spoken to a number of men who did tours of duty there, including men who had lost comrades in action but who nevertheless were able to find the grace to question their own motives and actions and to attempt at least to understand what motivated those they fought. It is a pity that Wharton was not able to seek out and include such men but nevertheless, as I have said, his book remains valuable, if only as a study of the seeming incapacity of the average squaddie for the kind of introspection that allowed such as Erich Maria Remarque in WWI or Tim O’Brien in Vietnam to produce their little masterpieces of men in war, not that I wish to equate or compare a two page memoir with even a rather short novel like Remarque’s, merely the attitudes contained therein.

    But then perhaps that is unfair and the opportunity provided to these men by Wharton might prove to some at least to be the catharsis that allows them that room for fearless self-examination that is essential to all men for healing and growth and is to be denied to none whether former comrade or former enemy.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Rory,

    often this type of programme is interesting not becuase it provides the ‘insight’ it intended but because it informs us as to how an ideological position can often unwittingly be propogated by a ‘neutral’ observer.

    But I will of course reserve judgement until after the viewing.

  • Intelligence Insider

    They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
    Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
    They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
    They fell with their faces to the foe.

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.

  • LURIG

    I watched it and I don’t think it was meant to be anything other than the account of soldiers who served in the North. They were hardly going to spend 2 hours ripping the pish out of themselves even though yes I did feel that some context should have been introduced into the programme. Why was the British Army use of counter insurgency murder gangs not mentioned like the Four Square Laundry or the fact that the British Army for 35 years totally ran ALL Loyalist paramilitaries and a fair proportion of Republicans? This conclusion that “we were the boys in the middle” was pure pish when in effect the British Army was the catalyst for many murders…….though I do accept that your average squaddie wasn’t partial to a lot of their superiors nefarious murderous activities. However I wouldn’t deny that a lot of these young fellas were shitting themselves on patrol and who have very vivid memories indeed nightmare visions of this place. TOTAL respect to those bomb disposal guys, nerves AND balls of steel whatever your politics. The BEST book I have read about a British squaddie’s memoirs of this place is one called SOLDIER OF THE QUEEN written by a former soldier named Bernard O’Mahoney. He was born in England of Irish parents and stated that many who ended up in the Army were the dregs and scum of British society basically ordered into the Army after appearing in court. My old aunt of 88 still recalls how soldiers stole family antiques and ornaments from houses in North Belfast in the early 70’s and the Scottish regiments smashing Holy pictures and spitting on religious statues. O’Mahoney bluntly states that while there were good people in it the British Army also contained some right bad bastards. He particularly reserves a large dose of criticism for the UDR and RUC who he states were largely hateful sectarian bigots with guns.

  • The Truth

    British army, the most muderous, vile bunch of low lifes. Brought murder and slaughter across the planet. Gods shame on all of them.

  • The Truth
    The Imperial Japanese Army,the most murderous,vile bunch of low lifes.
    Read Iris Chang’s ‘The Rape of Nanking:The Forgotten Holocaust of World War Two.’

  • Lenny Deans

    I watched it, and having lived through the troubles i thought it was a very good insight on a soldier’s perspective.With all respect “LURIG” I lived in Belfast in the early 70’s and to cherry pick events of the troubles and quote from a one book that sympathize with your own political ideals-doesn’t give a very impartial view of the past…. but then?
    Just to give you one aspect how this blog could go on; i remember in the early 70’s a part time UDR man kidnapped by the IRA….he had been badly tortured and had died an agonising death…. Also the mini-bus shot up outside Gilford in the 70’s when the IRA thought they were shooting up a bus full of policemen, it turned out it was a party of o.a.p.’s going to bingo the result being o.a.p’s killed,and the poor mini-bus driver suffering badly with pain before he died-I know i used to hear him scream on the ward. This is also just an example of the injustice’s that happened,we could quote from whatever political aspirations we aspire to all day,but hatred and bitterness (on either side) never accomplish anything.

  • I dread November even though it is the month of my birth because of all the mindless glorifying of the massive murders of wars during this month in the modern age.

    I am particularly reminded of this by my old acquaintance Intelligence Insider – the guy who made fun of my almost being murdered by CIA and Portuguese securocrats (n.b.) back in Portugal during 1995-96 – citing part of Laurence Binyon’s “Ode of Remembrance” – utopian lines that he wrote from the cliffs of North Cornwall in September 1914, just when the guns of August were opening up.

    Before it was over, many millions had been killed, wounded and horribly maimed, well over a million in the U. K. alone. And most of them were forgotten.

    So let’s just make a vow to stop glorifying, contributing to, and remembering wars, and their forgotten fallen. It has made a shambles of our so-called civilization.

  • greagoir o frainclin

    2 more great programs for fans….The annual Festival of Rememberance on BBC1, Saturday night, where the Royal Marines etc…march around the Royal Albert Hall playing familiar war tunes ie Rule Britannia, Nimrod etc..and of course on Sunday morning the annual ceremony at the Cenotaph in London. Very poignant indeed for those involved!

  • Mayoman

    Einstein says it all for me:

    “He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”

  • Reader

    Einstein: I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action.
    Though he didn’t stick around in Germany to allow that to happen to him. Other people sorted out the Nazis for him. Mind you – he did his bit to sort out the Japanese…

  • greagoir o frainclin

    Conscription should be probably introduced in the UK to help sort out this war in Afghanistan as
    folk have shown great approval for the troops and the war. Democracy in Britain is in great peril, if this war is not won as the Prime Minister and the MOD says.

    People wear their poppies with pride, but action is needed however. Folk from the UK regions should show their loyalty and help repay what they owe to the English taxpayer.

  • Mayoman

    Reader: “Though he didn’t stick around in Germany to allow that to happen to him. Other people sorted out the Nazis for him. Mind you – he did his bit to sort out the Japanese…”

    Wow, a man of jewish background leaving Germany in 1935 Shocking stuff!!

    Einstein on the bomb:
    “My part in producing the atomic bomb consisted in a single act: I signed a letter to President Roosevelt, pressing the need for experiments on a larger scale in order to explore the possibilities for the production of an atomic bomb.
    I was fully aware of the terrible danger to mankind in case this attempts succeeded. But the likelihood that the Germans were working on the same problem with a chance of succeeding forced me to this step. I could do nothing else although I have always been a convinced pacifist. To my mind, to kill in war is not a whit better than to commit ordinary murder.” (Albert Einstein, 1952)

  • Gerry Mander

    Einsteain was a genocidal maniac, who developed the bomb under false pretences.
    Next we should have old SS veterans on and maybe UFF/UDR killers telling us what it was like oputting the Croppies down.
    Or how about the Black watch telling us of all the houses they robbed in Belfast? Fascist propaganda.

  • Rory Carr

    Conscription should be probably introduced in the UK to help sort out this war in Afghanistan…

    What a great idea, Greagoir. I’m all for it.

    If implemented it should prove to be a source of great merriment as hospitals and doctors’ surgeries are beseiged from young men seeking certificates of medical disability and the M1 becomes logjammed as potential conscripts head for Luton Airport in order to fulfil a sudden desperate urge to visit Ireland to be outside of the grasp of the recruiting officer’s goon squad.

    Support for the Afghan and Iraqui occupations will also no doubt increase immeasureably as a result.

    I wonder will they draft me? I should look quite dashing in a Guards’ officer’s uniform and the Sam Brown will help disguise my paunch.

  • Greenflag

    Re Einstein’s comment .

    ‘But the likelihood that the Germans were working on the same problem with a chance of succeeding forced me to this step.’

    James Chadwick who was Rutherford’s associate at the Cavendish devoted 11 intense years in hunting for the elusive ‘neutron ‘ before he finally succeeded in 1932 . He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1935 Bohrs and his colleagues pointed out in their history of the ‘bomb’ the delay in discovery was probably a good thing, as mastery of the neutron was essential to the development of an atomic bomb . Because neutrons have no charge , they are’nt repelled by the electrical fields at the heart of an atom and this can be fired like miniature torpedos into the atomic nucleus setting off the the destructive process of fission. To get an idea of the precision required . An atom is mostly empty space and the nucleus at it’s centre is of the same order of size as a fly in Westminster Cathedral .

    Had the neutron been isolated in the 1920’s the history noted that it was very likely the atomic bomb would have been developed first by the Germans most probably in or around the time the Nazis came to power .

    I think we can all agree that Einstein did the right thing -in hindsight of course .

  • Greenflag

    Addendum to the above .

    Ironic to think that if Hitler had not been so bat shit crazy with his anti semitic ideology and had all of Germany’s jews remained in Germany -the Germans would probably have become the world’s first nuclear power ?. I wonder if that Art College selection board who turned down the aspiring artist e thyoung Adolf – in Vienna, from a place in the college ever thought afterwards that their decision would have such ramifications for so many people ?

  • Greenflag

    Conscription ? A marvellous suggestion. Much more egalitarian in all respects. Gives the rich and powerful in whose interest wars are fought anyway an ahem ‘fighting ‘ chance of putting their life’s blood on the line alongside their fellow poorer countrymen ?

    And would based on past performance and actual results even give NI Prods the same chance to win as many VC’s as Southern and Northern Mick’s eh 😉

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. “Ironic to think that if Hitler had not been so bat shit crazy with his anti semitic ideology and had all of Germany’s jews remained in Germany -the Germans would probably have become the world’s first nuclear power ?. ”

    What a delicious thought, our old friend the law of unintended consequences strikes again and will no doubt be causing Adolf some unsease if he is a regular reader of Slugger in his hideout in South America.

  • Rory Carr

    Greenflag,

    You should know that flies are not permitted in Westminster Cathedral. I suggest you try Westminster Abbey for that kind of thing.

  • Greenflag

    Rory Carr,

    ‘ You should know that flies are not permitted in Westminster Cathedral.

    Not even of the quantum variety ? You know the kind you can see only when you want to see them 🙂 And as nobody would want to see them they would’nt be there . The microverse makes the Trinity seem like clarity personified:)

    Sammy ,

    ‘our old friend the law of unintended consequences strikes again ‘

    I prefer the law of unexpected responses which lately afflicted little red riding hood as she rambled through the forest on her way to see her granny , with her wee basket of harvest apples and ginger biscuits . As she came to a clearing in the wood she saw the big bad wolf in a crouched position with a somewhat startled look on his face ‘

    ‘Oh Mr Wolf ‘peeped little Red Riding Hood

    ‘Why do you have such big eyes’

    And the wolf replied appropriately in German .

    ‘Nicht mal in ruhe kacken kann
    mann hier ‘

    translation

    ‘Not even here can I have a quiet shite ‘