IT MUST be 15 years since I visited a small town called Port en Bessin in Normandy. It’s right on Omaha beach, so-called from the June 6 landings of 1944.
I was there to play golf with a bunch of hooray-Henry London media types who weren’t very good at golf and couldn’t hold their beer either.
But when needled by local youths after our solitary wander into town, they proved expert at pointing fingers, developing Kray twin east end accents, and shouting “who are yer, who are yer?”
Dearie me. One very public school type chappie, a seemingly understated, modest fellow, somehow found a length of wood with a nail in the end and ratcheted things up a notch from finger pointing by resorting to the old upturned palm and “bring it on!” gesture.
Good heavens. Before the local gendarmerie arrived to crack a few skulls, I shepherded the chaps back to our hotel and proceeded to pour them more beer and teach them to play three-card brag, which paid for my trip.
The golf done, a few of us visited the Normandy American Cemetery at Coleville-sur-Mer, just up the road.
It put the previous night’s finger-pointing into rather poignant perspective, the sight of 9,385 graves spread across 172 acres (plus inscriptions to 1,557 missing) of US soldiers, sailors and airmen lost in the landings of those few, world changing days.
It took the breath away.
I was reminded of that by our picture story last week of Sean Guy and Dave Horrobin representing the Mirfield British Legion at a wreath-laying ceremony at Ypres.
If Coleville made a huge impression on me, visiting the Menin Gate at Ypres a couple of years back was moving beyond words.
It isn’t the magnificence of the structure, the almost holy reverence that you sense just walking around it, or indeed the fact that the 54,395 British and Commonwealth names inscribed on it weren’t just killed, but never found.
A cut-off point of August 15, 1917 was arbitrarily chosen to close the Menin Gate’s book of the dead – another 34,984 lost souls whose remains were never recovered are remembered at Tyne Cot, a few miles to the north.
It’s ironic, but witnessing such sights brings home the brutality and futility of war more than simply contemplating the bigger numbers – a million British and Commonwealth dead, 1.4m French, possibly 2.2m Russian dead on the eastern front, 2m German dead. In France and Germany’s case it constituted around eight per cent of the male population.
The numbers beggar belief. And you can almost double those for civilian deaths due to military action, famine and disease.
No wonder it was called the ‘war to end all wars’. Stunning wonder then that 20 years later the world could not just repeat the madness but quadruple it – between 70 and 85 million people dead, around the world.
We’ll never see conflict on such scale again, you say?
I hope not. But large tracts of the world are still witnessing daily horrors.
On a global scale, I think we’ve seen the last of the greedy colonial ambitions that sparked World War I. But not to be too simplistic, it was the political settlements of both that, and WWII, that laid the ground for most of today’s ongoing conflicts – Israel, Kashmir, the entire middle east conflagration.
Brainless straight lines drawn on 1919 maps that divided up the continent of Africa, disregarding national, tribal, religious roots and allegiances.
The thing is, unless we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.
The Soviet Union, an iron-fisted federation of unwilling states, collapsed despite its might. The Balkans went the same way, the middle east and Africa continue to.
In the history of the world I can think of only one contrived federal success story – the USA. And that succeeded because they basically wiped out the indigenous people and created an entirely new national identity.
Just look around us here on our ‘peaceful’ island home. Welsh, Irish and Scottish self-determination, is a powerful and passionate fact of life.
The entire history of Europe is – and continues – to provide proof of that basic, human dynamic. Just like those French youths in Port en Bessin, people are defensive of their territory, their ‘tribe’ for lack of a better expression.
It’s been an innate part of the human make-up since man first stood upright and no breast-beating, snowflake, one-world liberal sweetheart will change that.
Labelling anyone proud of their national identity ‘far right’ is more likely to cause conflict than cure it.
That’s why, as we approach the November centenary of one of mankind’s most costly and atrocious follies, we should celebrate the fact that Britons and Germans will stand side by side to remember the dead, reflect on the madness, and commit to never repeating it.
And the biggest danger to that? In my opinion, it is the despotic, unelected hierarchy of the federal European Union. History tells us it is doomed to end in failure and possibly bloodshed.
That’s why Brexit was and is the UK’s biggest contribution to future world peace.
I’m certain the Remoaners will never have the grace to thank us, but the day will come when they should.
AW SHUCKS! We didn’t get a mention in his big Edinburgh speech this week, but it is immensely heartening to know that Labour leader and Second Coming of JC himself – Jeremy Corbyn – is a massive fan of our humble newspaper, The Press.
He didn’t say it in so many words, unfortunately – clearly a simple oversight – but he did name-check a lot of local and regional campaigning, investigative newspapers.
He went so far as to even suggest giving us charitable staus, complete with tax breaks and all sorts of financial incentives.
The Labour leader pledged further support for public interest journalism after warning that “vital oversight is being lost” because of the “decline” of local newspapers. Amen to that Jezza.
He added: “To root out corruption, improve services and empower citizens, we need a dogged local media with the time and money to work on stories.” I’m proper blushing, I can tell you. How soon can we have a general election and anoint the new messiah?
Because it’s clear this man really could feed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. And turn water into wine. My hero.
THIS time tomorrow (it’s 2.15pm, Thursday) I’ll be on my Boris Bike, pedaling like billy-oh (if not quite as fast as Coun Martyn ‘Froome’ Bolt) round the streets of London.
It’s Challenge Cup Final weekend and the annual pilgrimage to the greatest city in the world. And with Rugby League fondly calling itself ‘The Greatest Game, this year the cup will be presented by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester. At least no-one can accuse us of getting above our station...
SO MUCH for the Great British heatwave, eh?
The kids got a good week or so of patching up their paddling pools in the bright sunshine, and by the time dad had found a bicycle pump and adaptor that works so he could pump it up, God had decided to switch the weather off.
That’s the thing about the August we’ve had … lots of not quite anything in particular. Warm and muggy, an occasional chill wind, the sun peeping its head out just long enough to get your hopes up, then the traditional grey English roof being closed for the next day or week or so. Sigh.
The Lockies must have had more barbecues in June and July than we’ve had in the past 10 years. August? Not one.
It hasn’t been a washout, I accept, although unfortunately the weekends have been the worst of it. But to compare 2018 with the legendary summer of 76? Sorry, no. Miles off.
Still, it’s not all bad news. The nights are drawing in and it will soon be Christmas...
It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going, you know.