Thursday, 25 August 2016

Turkey

Although it has been some time (more than nine weeks) since we had our Turkish adventure, it is only now that I have found the time to write about it.

At the end of June, myself, Emma (whose birthday it was on the day that we flew), Drew, his girlfriend Kinga and Emma’s son Ant all headed off to Gatwick for the four and a half hour flight to Antalya in Turkey.  After arriving at the airport, we had no difficulty in checking in and made our way to find some food prior to flying, as we were unlikely to be arriving in Turkey in time for dinner.

We became a little disorientated as we had planned to visit the same restaurant that we had on our way to Menorca two years ago, but I think that we must have been in the other terminal last time, so we found ourselves joining the long queue for a table in the Nando’s.

After eating, we made our way to the departure lounge for the 1525 flight, but the journey didn’t go completely to plan as we were delayed on take-off due to the selfishness of one couple who hadn’t turned up by the time that we were due to depart, so their luggage had to be taken off the plane.  No sooner had they taken the luggage off than these two fuckwits arrived, without any apology, and their luggage had to be put back on again.  Personally, I’d have told them that their luggage was off, so they were too.

We eventually took off approximately an hour late and therefore arrived in Turkey an hour later than expected.  Once we had cleared customs and had our passports stamped, we made our way out into the Turkish night and to the coach that was taking us to our hotel.

This was the first time that I had ever been to Turkey, although I had flown over it on my way into and out of Iraq more than a decade ago. But the temperature was similar.  It was extremely warm, but not just warm, it was also very humid.

The hotel where we were staying, the Sentido Turan Prince, was located in Side, which was a forty-five minute coach journey from the airport and so we didn’t arrive until 11pm.  But having been greeted with cool flannels and orange juice, we booked in and were shown to our rooms.

The rooms seemed were all on the same floor, Ant in one, Drew and Kinga in the second and Emma and I in the third.  I think that we had the best room, as from our balcony we had a view of the pool and, in the distance, the Mediterranean.

After dumping our luggage, we made our way to the pool bar for a drink and caught the tail-end of the entertainment that was on.  It was all over and done with by midnight, so we made our way back to our various, thankfully air-conditioned, rooms for a good night’s sleep.

We were up fairly early the next morning, Emma and I making our way down to breakfast, reserving sun-loungers on the way, to be faced with a huge choice of food.  Drew and Kinga joined us a little later.  We then spent the day taking advantage of the fabulous weather and the very necessary swimming pool (the temperature hit 48° during that first day!) although Emma and I did wander out and visit several of the bazaars that were located close to the hotel.  These sold all sorts of things, mostly fake designer clothes and handbags, but we did buy our fridge magnets.  It was also fairly obvious that this was an area that was very popular with the Germans as all of the stall holders would greet us in German.

After another dip in the pool to cool off, we all made our way to the hotel’s own beach to have a look around, grab and ice-cream and then head back for a pre-dinner siesta.

After another fabulous meal, we again made our way to the pool-bar and had a few drinks whilst watching the entertainment.

And that was generally the pattern for the next week, although we didn’t spend all of our time in the hotel grounds and surrounding streets.  There was a water sports company located on the beach, although it had no connection to the hotel, but Drew, Kinga and Ant all went out for a spin on a jet ski (I would have gone out with Emma, but she was too chicken!).  We then all made our way out to a speed boat and spent the next couple of hours speeding back and forth across the Med, as well as making our way into Side Harbour and getting good view of the Temple of Apollo from the sea, before we anchored briefly and were able to have a brief swim in the sea.

As we were making her way back, Kinga’s day was made by the fact the she was able to see wild sea-turtles swimming about underneath the boat.

The pool bar was where we spent every evening, enjoying, in my case, the all-inclusive rum & cokes, and in the case of Drew and Kinga, a shisha on several nights.  As the humidity on each night was between 96-99%, the cold drinks were almost a necessity.

Although we visited the local bazaars most days, purchasing various items of fake clothing and a very nice, locally produced, Backgammon set, the only other excursion that we made further afield was by bus to Side Old Town, where we were able to visit the Roman ruins on the outskirts of the town, before making our way into the town for a much needed drink.  We then made our way down to the harbour for a closer look at the Temple of Apollo.  The only downside to this day was that Drew had overindulged the night before and was therefore feeling very delicate and “dehydrated”, so the trip was not the most enjoyable.

The night before we returned we were inundated with messages after there had been terrorist attack at Atatürk airport in Istanbul.  However, we were able to reassure everyone that we were safe as we were about 500 miles away, although I had anticipated that there would be an increase in security on our return home the next day.

The week that we were out there seemed to pass at a leisurely pace whilst we were there, but looking back it seemed to have flown past.  And there was increased security at the airport on the way home.  At least we weren't there two weeks later during the coup attempt!

The flight was boring, but there was a somewhat spectacular electrical storm over France, which I am glad that Emma slept through, as I don’t think that she would have appreciated it.

So, since our return, it has been back to the usual routine.  However, about two weeks after our return Emma and I booked our next break, a week in Rome in October, and Drew and Kinga have also had a two week break visiting Kinga’s family in Poland, where Drew proposed and Kinga accepted.

There has also been an extraordinary two weeks of sport with the Olympics taking place in Rio, but that will be for my next post.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

What the hell is going on?

Three days ago, a 41-year old Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was attacked in the street of her constituency in Birstall, West Yorkshire when she was on her way to hold a constituency surgery.  She was a married mother of two small children, aged three and five, and had been the MP for Batley and Spen since 2015.

It appears that as she was arriving at the library where the surgery was to be held, she was approached by a man named as Thomas Mair who shot her three times and then attacked her with a large knife, stabbing her multiple times.  She was pronounced dead about fifty minutes after the attack.

So why did this happen?  It was alleged that the attacker shouted “Britain first” as he launched his attack. Britain First is a far-right nationalist party that campaigns against immigration, multiculturalism and the alleged Islamification of the United Kingdom.  Ironically, for a party that regularly suggests that all Muslims wish harm to this country whenever there is an Islamist attack anywhere, tarring everyone with the same brush, they very quickly released a statement stating that this man had no connections with their party and saying that even if he was a supporter, the actions of one man did not condemn all their members.

It is also known that Mair had links to neo-Nazi groups in both South Africa and America and is believed to have purchased a manual from the publishing arm of a group called the National Alliance, a white nationalist political organisation based in the United States. This manual apparently included instructions on how to make a homemade firearm and the gun that Mair used is believed to have been homemade, although not necessarily the one that the manual suggested.

It is being speculated that perhaps the attack was because he was against Mrs Cox’s stance in the upcoming EU Referendum, which is being held next week.  Her stance was that the UK should remain in the EU; his politics clearly suggest that he believed that the UK should leave. Since then, this man has appeared in court and, when asked to give his name, replied that it was “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.  This has now led to speculation that he may be suffering from a mental illness and this may well be the reason for his attack.  However, nobody seems to be speculating that it may be due to him being an utter fuckwit.

I have to say that I’m not convinced as to the mental health angle.  There has recently been a video released on Facebook showing a “Britain First activist training camp” taking place in Snowdonia.  It consists of a group of overweight middle aged men running around in the mountains wearing camouflage and practising fighting.  What exactly are these “activists” actually “training” for? I thought it was very reminiscent of those old black & white films from the thirties of the Hitler Youth camps, except that these guys were older and fatter.  What is worrying is that the comments on the post show that there are appears to be no shortage of people who seem to think that this is a good idea and wanting to join the next camp.  Are they trying to model themselves on the various militias that exist in the United States, formed to “protect” against various perceived threats and enemies?

And this is worrying.  It has been publicised that there are places in Britain where there were so-called Sharia patrols, groups of young Muslim men confronting people and insisting that they conform to Sharia Law with regards to things like alcohol and dress.  To counter this, Britain First launched Christian patrols.  Not confrontational at all! I don’t know how active in Britain first this man was, or whether he was at all, but I speculate that there are people who are associated with this group who believe that he was right in his actions, just as I would speculate that there are people in the Muslim community who believe that the actions of the 7/7 bombers were correct, and will therefore see his actions as setting a good example.

This risk is that with nutters operating on both sides, how long will it be before they actually go hunting for each other and the UK descends into some form of civil war?  And you also have the nutters who, again from both “sides”, are heading off to the Middle East to fight either for ISIS or against ISIS, then returning to this country full of their respective “ideologies”.

The other campaign that has been launched since this tragic event is the “Thank your MP” one which seems to be suggesting that all MPs are some sort of superhuman being doing a very difficult job and that they should have our unstinting support.  Whilst this is true in some cases, not the superhuman bit, obviously, there are still a lot who are in it for themselves (see Snouts in the Trough)

Don’t get me wrong, if they do a good job, as it appears that Jo Cox was doing, by all means thank them.  But I don’t believe that we should give these people carte blanche.    We live in a democracy, so they are as entitled to their opinion as you are to yours. However, if you disagree with your MP, say so. Debate with them, argue with them, write to them and tell them (although from my experience they’ll probably ignore you) or don’t vote for them at the next election.  But don’t go out, hunt them down and murder them in the street. That isn’t democracy, that’s extremism. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Remembrance and Celebration

On the Thursday night before last, I was warm, dry and lying in bed listening to the rain falling steadily outside, wondering what the weather had been like one hundred years ago, on Friday 28th April 1916. I was also thinking how lucky I was.  Why lucky?  Because on that day in 1916, or rather that night, my Great Grandfather, Thomas McIvor, was in a trench near Loos in Northern France and some distance from his home in Arbroath, Scotland.  

If the weather had been as it was last Thursday, it is likely that he would have been an uncomfortable night, and his sodden kilt would have been so much heavier than normal, making him even more uncomfortable than the limited shelter available in a front-line trench during the First World War would have made him.  It was also to be his last night on earth.

According to the War Diary of the 9th Battalion Black Watch, my Great Grandfather's unit, at 0350hrs red and green rockets were seen from the German trenches and the Battalion was then subjected to an 'intense bombardment' during which 'every form of shell was used'.

At 0412hrs, the Battalion was subjected to a gas attack and bombardment with lachrymatory shells, but by 0510hrs all was reported as normal on the Battalion front.  However, casualties were heavy 'owing either to not being able to get their helmets on in time, or more probably (from information since gathered by the CO) because the men were told to take their helmets off too soon'.

Sadly, my Great Grandfather was one of the 33 all ranks of the 9th Black Watch killed that day before the Battalion was relieved by the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders at 1245hrs.  He left a pregnant wife and three children, one of whom was my Grandmother.

So last Friday week, one hundred years to the day since his death, myself, Emma and Alec left home early and made our way to the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone to make the thirty-five minute journey to France before driving to Dud Corner Cemetery which is also where the Loos Memorial is found, on which my Great Grandfather is just one of the 20,615 soldiers commemorated who have no known grave.

The weather was wet and overcast, but the rain held off whilst we were there and I put a commemorative cross below the panel on which his name appears.



I have been here numerous times, but it is still breath-taking to see this beautifully tended cemetery with the rows of nearly 2000 white headstones and the nearly one hundred panels commemorating those who died.  And despite the fact that it is located on the busy main road from Lens to Bethune, it is surprisingly peaceful.

Once we had finished here we went into Loos itself for lunch before deciding to make the hour's drive to Ieper in Belgium, another city that I have been to numerous times and home to the Menin Gate memorial.

We visited our favourite chocolate shop, Leonidas, and after a quick beer headed to the village of Passendale, before visiting Tyne Cot.

Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the world, containing 11,962 graves, only 1/3 of whom are named, as well as the Tyne Cot Memorial, which commemorates 34,948 Commonwealth soldiers killed in the vicinity but with no known grave.

After an hour or so here, we headed back to the Eurotunnel terminal for the journey back, arriving much earlier than our train, but managing to get on an earlier one and getting home much earlier than expected.

This was probably just as well as we were up earlier again the following day to make our way to Twickenham for the annual Army v Navy Rugby match.

This is the eleventh time that I have been to this match since 2004 and it gone from a match that barely filled the lower tier of Twickenham Stadium, to one that sell out the ground every year and during which I have only seen the Navy win once.

This year I had ordered 60 tickets for friends, family, friends or friends and friends of family, and apart from I think four people who pulled out at the last minute, everyone else attended.

The day started fairly early, meeting the first group at Tonbridge station at 1000, prior to getting the train, with beers on board, to Twickenham and making our way to our favourite “meet-up” watering hole, the Barmy Arms, next to the Thames.

After a few beers here we made our way to the stadium, this year arriving in our seats just after kick-off (in the past, its taken us until nearly half-time!)  The game was good, the result wasn’t, the final score being 29-29.  This meant that the Navy won the tri-service championship.

Following the game, a few of us, the Dukies in the group, made our way to The Dukies Association bar, before heading into Twickenham and, after a burger, meeting up with the others at the the Barmy Arms, which had closed.  It appears that in an effort to reduce the crowd that is milling around in Twickenham, the pubs now have to close at 1900.

What we normally do every year is have a drink in the Barmy Arms and then make our way along the river to Richmond, stopping at the White Swan on the way, before ending up in the Old Ship.  However, the White Swan had also closed at 1900, so it was a thirsty group that arrived at the Old Ship.

As Drew was working the following day, he left early with Kinga, so Emma and I decided to leave at the same time.  At least getting home that early meant that I didn’t wake up on Sunday feeling as rough as I normally do!

Still its only 356 days until 29th April 2017 and we do it all again, with hopefully another win for the Army.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Old Haunts and Goodbyes

At the beginning of this month, I had the opportunity to visit somewhere that I hadn’t been since I was a child, when I flew to Belfast to teach on an Immediate Life Support Course for the Reserve Field Hospital that is stationed there.

When I was aged of two, my father was posted from Düsseldorf to Lisburn at the start of what became The Troubles in 1969.  This was an interesting and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, dangerous time to be living there, particularly as the son of a serving soldier.  To this day, my nose is at an odd angle due to a child in my primary school class finding out that my father was in the Army and throwing a brick in my face, breaking my nose in the process.

However, that was a long time ago, and in the intervening forty-four years there has been a peace process that has resulted in far less violence than occurred during the time that I was there, although sadly, it still does occur.

The ridiculous thing about the trip to Belfast was that the flight from Heathrow to Belfast City Airport was less than an hour, but to travel by train and tube from High Brooms to Heathrow took just over two hours!
The flight was uneventful (and short) and we landed in a very wet Belfast (just how I remembered it).  Once I had found my driver, we made our way to the Reserves Centre to ensure that everything was set up for the course the following day, met up with the remainder of the faculty, all but one of whom had flown over from the mainland, and then made our way to our accommodation.

We were being accommodated at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, a place that I had last been to with my father, who had been stationed there, but this time, rather than going to the Sergeants Mess, it was the Officers Mess.  Not just that, but because of our rank, myself and one other member of the faculty who is also a Lieutenant Colonel, were accommodated in a suite, not just a room.

After quickly unpacking and a quick beer in the mess, we were transported into the centre of Belfast for a quick drink in a pub prior to a fabulous meal in a restaurant called Made in Belfast, located in the Cathedral Quarter.  On the way in, we had driven along the Westlink, passing under a statue called that is officially called Rise, but we were informed is known as either the Falls Balls or the Westicles.

The following morning we were up bright and early to be transported to the Reserves Centre to deliver the course.  En route we passed my first ever primary school, Harmony Hill, which was much smaller than I remember.  

The morning was cold and frosty, but sunny.  However, being Northern Ireland, that didn’t last and during the course of the day we were subjected to snow, sun, hail and rain.  I think that the only thing missing was fog.

At the end of the course, we drove to the airport as two of the faculty were flying back that night.  The route that we took was through West Belfast, an area that is famous for its murals. After the trip to the airport we then went to the Titanic Quarter, where one of the faculty was staying as he was meeting up with friends and going out in Belfast again that night.

Once I was back in Thiepval Barracks, I contacted Jenny, whom I had served with in Aldershot and who had moved back to her native Northern Ireland, and she and her husband then collected me and we went out for a nice meal in Lisburn at Ed’s Bar and Grill.

After another very comfortable night in my suite, I was up early and awaiting transport back to the City Airport and the short and equally uneventful flight back to Heathrow.  The one advantage was that it was a very sunny day, so there was no cloud cover, even at the height that we were at, so we could see all of the country laid out below us.

After this busy weekend, it was back to work as usual on Monday, although on the Thursday I had the afternoon off to attend the Tim’s funeral.

There were three other Dukies who attended, in addition to Tim’s brother, who is also a Dukie.  The service took place at the crematorium in Leatherhead, the eulogy being read by Tim’s oldest brother and then a poem being read by John Sessions, who is an old family friend.

After the service, it was back to Tim’s Brother’s house where it was nice to catch up with Tim’s parents whom I hadn’t seen for about thirty years, although I would have preferred happier circumstances.

The weekend following this I was again busy, as there was an Advanced Life Support course that I was teaching on, which meant that by the end of last week, I had done nineteen days in a row and was ready for the weekend.

However, next weekend will not be as chilled as I am off to France on the Friday and then at Twickenham for the Army v Navy rugby on the Saturday.  At least, as it’s a bank holiday, I’ll have two days to recover afterwards.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Concern and Sadness

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a blip.  It was Tuesday, I had got back from Aldershot and, after dinner, caught up with the things that I’d recorded whilst I’d been at Emma’s and, feeling knackered as I normally do I’d decided to go to bed and read for a bit before sleeping.

And that’s when it happened.  I experienced some chest pain right across my chest from left shoulder to right and feeling exactly how it did when I’d had my MI back in 2008.  Now, what I should have done was find my GTN, have a couple of sprays and see if that relieved the discomfort.  Unfortunately, although I’m sure that I’ve got some GTN in the house somewhere, I don’t know exactly where it is and I’m sure that it’s no longer in-date.  So what I did was dial 112 and request an ambulance.

It was obviously a busy night, as I was initially put on hold before getting through to the operator and an ambulance being dispatched.  Further evidence that it was a busy night was the fact that it was 30 minutes before the Paramedic arrived.  In the meantime, I’d called Emma.

Once the Paramedic arrived, she recorded my vital signs (normal), carried out an ECG (I could see no changes) and given me GTN (relieved pain).  By this time Emma had arrived and looked a bit worried.  It was then a further 30 minutes before the ambulance arrived.  Unfortunately, the crew, who were not a SECAMB crew, recognised me as they had brought a trauma case into the hospital and I’d bollocked them for not having the patient immobilised.

The decision was taken that I should go into the hospital, which I did, spending a night in the Resuscitation Department having ECGs and blood tests carried out, all of which proved to be normal.

The following morning, I was seen by various Consultants, and the decision was taken that I would need to be admitted to have a CTPA, as I had previously had a pulmonary embolism in 2008, and also an angiogram to rule out the possibility that I had another arterial blockage.

So after 12 hours I was transferred to the CCU, Emma coming with me and staying until I was settled before going home to get some sleep, which is what I did (sleep that is, not go home!)  Alec, my eldest, also visited having been to mine and brought some more clothes, underwear etc.

Fortunately, I had packed some stuff in case I was admitted, so when I woke up later in the afternoon (I'd had pretty much no sleep in Resus), I was able to dig out the portable DVD player and catch up on the first couple of episodes of Season 11 of NCIS.

The following morning, I was awake bright and early as I had to have an early breakfast and be nil by mouth from 0600.  I was able to go back to sleep until Emma arrived at just after 0800.  It was then a waiting game until I went down to the Cath lab and had my angiogram performed.

About 45 minutes later, I was back in my room and then had to lie flat for an hour before I was able to start mobilising again.  The only unpleasant side effect that I experienced from the angiogram (which showed that there was no blockage or other problem) was that when the large sheath was removed from my femoral artery it left me with a feeling that I’d been punched in the right testicle! Not comfortable!  Because there had been no intervention, I was able to go home (well, to Emma’s) later that afternoon.

The following morning, I was awake bright and early, as Emma was going to work, but I was unable to settle back to sleep, so I got up, finished my book and then set about setting up the treat to myself that I’d ordered whilst in Resus and got my son to collect on my behalf, a brand new PlayStation 4 along with Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

I had been under strict instructions from Emma that I was not allowed to do anything, especially not take the dog out for a walk, so I spent the day playing Unity, as I did for a few hours between rugby matches on Saturday and again on Sunday and Monday.

By Tuesday, I was fit to return to work and headed to Aldershot, returning to mine afterwards and back to work in the hospital on Wednesday, fully recovered from my experiences of the previous week.

What I hadn’t realised at the time, and didn’t find out until Thursday, was that whilst I was in hospital in Tunbridge Wells, in Carshalton one of my school friends was also in hospital, and what I found out on Thursday was that he had died during this admission.

Tim and I had been at school together and we’d kept in touch after leaving, as he lived not that far from me in New Malden at the time that I was living in Twickenham.  For those that didn’t attend a military boarding school, this would seem to be the norm, but for those of us who were at DYRMS, it wasn’t uncommon to live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart.

Tim had also had some bad luck, as in his early twenties, whilst working in the City, he had been involved in a road traffic collision whilst riding a motorbike and as a result he had been paralysed from mid-chest down and confined to a wheelchair.  As a result of this, he had experienced several setbacks in recent years, and his disability had restricted his ability to attend reunion events.  But we had kept in touch via the internet.

Earlier this year, Tim had popped back up, explaining that he’d had an extended period of hospitalisation in intensive care and been on the verge of multi-organ failure, including several cardiac arrests, but had made reasonable recovery.  I had also messaged him suggesting that I pop over to see him at some point as it had been so long since we had caught up properly.

It appears that Tim had recently taken a turn for the worse and had been readmitted to hospital, where he had again suffered from multi-organ failure, succumbing on Wednesday 9th March.  His funeral is not taking place until mid-April, which means that I should be able to rearrange the training that I am booked to do in order to attend.

I was talking to a couple of other school friends last night and we were commenting that, as far as we know, Tim is only the third of the 75 boys that started school together in Dover in September 1978 who is no longer with us. The other two both died some time ago, one apparently dying during a mountaineering accident and the other apparently of an MI about ten years ago. But we also realised that we are now of an age where it is likely that we will start attending more funerals of our peers from school, a thought which has added to the sadness of the loss of our friend.  

Rest in Peace Old Friend.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Executed

I have recently read a book entitled Executed at Dawn by David Johnson, which documents the roles not only the participants of the whole process, but also looks at the campaign to have 302 soldiers who were convicted, sentenced to death by Field Courts Martial and executed during the First World War pardoned.

I had also previously read a book called Blindfold and Alone by Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson, which also looks at the stories behind those executed, although the number stated in that book is 306, four more than David Johnson claims.

During the First World War, there were actually 346 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were executed for a variety of crimes with 91 of these soldiers already under a suspended sentence for a previous crime, 40 of these being a suspended death sentences.  However, 40 of the 346 soldiers were convicted of crimes that would have carried the death penalty had they been convicted by a civilian court, 37 for murder and 3 for mutiny.  Of the remainder, they were all convicted of the military crimes of desertion (266), cowardice (18), striking or using violence to a superior officer (6), disobedience to a lawful command (5), quitting a post without authority (7), sleeping at post (2) and casting away arms (2).

However, when one considers the fact that there were more than 300,000 Officers and men who faced a Courts Martial and that 3,080 death sentences were passed (1% of all of the sentences) with only 346 sentences being carried out (11% of the death sentences) one can see that the often seen perception was that the British Army was executing soldiers all over the place is not completely true.  What seems to have caused the most controversy was that these soldiers were executed for crimes that had no civilian equivalent, that many of the soldiers were suffering from what in modern parlance would be described at Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), that the process was seen as unfair in that there was no right of appeal and also that whether the sentence was confirmed or not by the senior officers was sometimes based on very subjective reasons.

As far as the crimes having no civilian equivalent, I do not think that this can really be put forward as an argument, as life in the armed forces is completely different to civilian life, and the basis of the military life is discipline.  For that reason, there have to be military laws that have no civilian equivalent and which may result in a custodial or other punishment.  For example, if I become disgruntled with my work, I can tell them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, clear my desk and leave.  The worst that is likely to happen to me is that I won’t get my final salary in lieu of notice.  However, if I do this in the military without giving proper notice and serving out that notice, it is classed as being absent without leave, which could lead to a custodial sentence, or, depending on circumstances, be upgraded to desertion which would, nowadays, result in a custodial sentence but, as can be seen above, resulted in the execution of 266 soldiers during the First World War.

The next argument that was put forward for the pardoning those executed was that many of those who were executed had deserted due to suffering from shell shock, something that would now be recognised as PTSD, but at the time was seen as a weakness or perhaps cowardice when a severely traumatised soldier reached the limit of coping mechanism and ran away or refused to carry out what was seen as his duty.  Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that there were many soldiers, some of whom were convicted and subsequently executed, suffering from shell shock, I do not think that we can condemn either the Medical Officers who declared the soldiers fit or the senior Officers who confirmed the sentence.  In modern times, the mental health support to soldiers returning from war zones is excellent, and there have been many studies into the causes and prevention of PTSD.  However, in the early part of the 20th Century and during the First World War, there was limited or no understanding of the effects that prolonged exposure to the traumatic effects of battle would have on individuals, particularly those who were conscripted rather than being regular soldiers.  However, there is limited evidence available to confirm whether a soldier was genuinely suffering from shell shock when he committed his crime (and I sadly have no doubt many were) or whether this was something claimed in mitigation in the hope of being dealt with more leniently (again, I have no doubt that this did happen).

In the 21st Century the procedure for Courts Martial has evolved since those that were convened in all of the theatres in which the British and Empire Armies fought between 1914 and 1918.  When a soldier joined the Army in during that War, he would have known that he was subject to Military Law and that the way in which trials and punishments were carried out was very different to the civilian law that he had been subject to prior to enlisting, including the right of appeal, which was present in civilian law but not in military law. There is also the argument that even if the soldier was ignorant of the law, this was not a defence.  At the time that the offence was committed, that was the procedure for the Courts Martial.

As for whether the decisions made by the senior officers were subjective or not, again it is likely that many of these were.  The procedure was that prior to a sentence being enacted, it would pass up through the chain of command with the Brigade Commander, Divisional Commander, Army Commander all making their recommendations as to whether the sentence should be carried out or not and finally the Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sir John French from August 1914 until  December 1915 and Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig from December 1915 until the end of the war, who would have the final say in whether the sentence was carried out.  As already stated, 89% of these sentences were commuted or suspended, but the reasons for the remaining 11% being enacted appears to vary greatly.

Even during the War there had been questions raised in Parliament regarding these executions, but nothing was really done until after the end of the conflict.  A Member of Parliament named Ernest Thurtle lobbied for changes to the capital offences within Military Law and was successful, as in 1928 the military offences of striking or using violence to a superior officer, disobedience to a lawful command, quitting a post without authority, sleeping at post and casting away arms all became non-capital offences.  However, Thurtle continued to lobby for the remaining “purely military” capital offences and in 1930, Royal Assent was given, leaving mutiny as the only Military offence that could be punished by death.  Even the offence of mutiny became no longer punishable by death following the adoption of the Human Rights Act (1998).

From the end of the War there had been a campaign to have all those soldiers executed pardoned, with there being more determination for this from the 1960s onward.  The Shot at Dawn Campaign was eventually successful when the then Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, granted pardons in 2006, although the original convictions were not quashed.

So where do I stand on this?  As already stated, I do not doubt that many of the soldiers executed during World War 1 for purely Military offences should not have been executed.  But that is looking back on events that occurred a century ago and judging based on the knowledge that we know have with regards mental illness as well as the current law.  For that reason, I do not believe that there should have been a blanket pardon.

With regards to remembering these men, I do believe that every one of them was a victim of the war, in exactly the same way that those killed by enemy action were victims.  In almost all of the cases, I suspect that it was the circumstances in which they found themselves that made them behave in the way that they did.  So they should definitely be remembered and commemorated on War Memorials, but there is no denying that they committed the offences, under the Military Law of that time to which they were subject.  They were dealt with by the Military Courts of that time and they were sentenced according to the sentencing guidelines of that time.  I do not believe that we can look back and judge using the laws, courts and sentences of this time. 

Next thing you know we’ll be apologising for things that our ancestors did 50-200 years ago.  Oh, hold on….

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Cash Cow

I got my new car about two years ago and in the time that I’ve had it, I have managed to fall foul of the law on two occasions, both of which involved speeding.

Bearing in mind that I’ve been driving for more than 20 years, it is probably surprising that I have only got any penalty points on my licence in the last two.

The first occasion was a bit of surprise as I was caught approaching the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford.  This is the method by which one crosses the Thames from Essex into Kent, and the reason that it was such a surprise to receive the letter informing me of the fact that I’d been caught speeding was that this area of the M25 was normally at a standstill due to the tolls on the far side of the bridge.  In fact, I don’t think that I have ever driven straight over the bridge without a delay of some description on all of the times that I have crossed it.

Anyway, I had taken Alec back up to University in Hull in September 2014 and was driving back when I was ‘captured’ doing 57mph in a 50mph zone.  However, as this was my first offence, I was given the option of attending a half-day ‘Speed Awareness Course’, which I chose to do.  It was more expensive than paying the fine, but it meant that I wouldn’t receive any penalty points.

I knew roughly what to expect as Emma had attended one of these courses earlier in the year (yes, I did rip the piss and then regretted it when my letter arrived!) and I attended at a hotel in Maidstone in December 2014.

The course was useful and I did learn some things. At the end of the course we were informed that if we were caught speeding in future, we would be unable to attend another course for three years and we would have to take the points, so with that I decided to make sure I stuck to the limit.

And generally, I have.  However, last summer I was on my way to Aldershot on the M25 when I was ‘captured’ again.  I have to say that I still feel that this one was a little unfair as the M25 has a variable speed limit.  As I approached one of the gantries, the speed limit was 50mph, but just as I was going under it, it changed to 40 mph, I saw a flash, and a week later I received a letter informing me that I had been photographed travelling at 51mph in a 40mph zone.  Even if I’d braked as soon as the speed limit changed, I would probably still have been over the limit!  So this time, I had to send all of my documents off and pay a £100 fine online.

And the reason that I think that this is a bit of a cash cow is because when I travel back and forth along the motorway every Tuesday, I have witnessed some appalling driving behaviour that will never be caught using a camera.  Apart from the usual people using their mobile phones whilst driving, which is illegal, as well as people reading books and work, or people using laptops, I think that one of the worst things I saw was a woman driving with her knees whilst holding a bowl in one hand and shovelling her breakfast in with the other and although there was a speed restriction in place at the time, she was still travelling at 40mph!

As I’ve said, these offences will never be caught on camera, the perpetrators will only be caught if there is a Police Officer in either a marked or unmarked car catching people in the act, but that is an expensive way of policing.  There is the cost of the fuel, the wear and tear to the vehicle and the wages of the officer driving, which will all add up and he or she will not catch all of the miscreants.

Compare this to a camera that can take countless pictures that will bring in £100 a time.  And yes, there is still the expense of administering all of this, but it will be far less expense for much greater reward than an officer on the road.

When I first started travelling to Aldershot, there were roadworks between junctions 5 & 6 in both directions on the M25, with a speed limit of 50mph.  There was also a camera on a gantry on the anti-clockwise side that, as I approached going clockwise at the usual 10-20mph, would be flashing like a strobe light at the cars that were passing in the much freer moving opposite carriageway.  And at £100 each, you can’t tell me that the camera didn’t pay for itself after its first day in use, or that Kent Police didn’t greatly increase their coffers.

Or am I being cynical?