Another hot and fairly humid day that didn’t start well; we found we were sited on a dangerous road with vast lorries whirling towards us winding round hair pin bends. What looks like a dainty and harmless little B road on a map can turn into a big bastard of a road in reality. And then there was the clever sod with piggy little eyes who drove his ghastly little white van straight at me, daring me to move. I didn’t and at the last minute he zig zagged out of the way and then we started to swear at each other.
Long stretches of gorse strewn plain with occasional lines of riders to cheer us on our way. We finished at the delightful Brockenhurst church which used to be surrounded by a WW1 hospital for New Zealand trench casualties. Then again with English troops in WW2.
What did they think they were fighting for?
A Land Fit for Heroes
Anyone visiting the war graves of the First and Second World Wars is surely profoundly moved by the courage of the hundreds of thousands who died, and the sheer witless waste of it all.
What did the fallen think they were fighting for? What British “values” did Stan Hollis VC – the hero of my favourite war story – think were worth preserving when on D-Day he charged German positions alone with a Sten gun and grenades, and killed or took the defenders prisoners? After the war, Stan’s company commander remarked, “Hollis was the only man I met between 1939–45 who felt that winning the war was his own personal responsibility”. What was his spur?
I have had the privilege of talking to many Second World War veterans over the last 15 years, both in the UK and in Zimbabwe, and I’ve noted their views. Many of those who emigrated in the late 1940s to the then Rhodesia left the UK because of profound disappointment with that they found at home after the war.
Of course, defeating Hitler was vital. But let’s face it: the country they returned to was not exactly a “land fit for heroes”. That was a land where pre-war values of honesty and respect for the rule of law co-existed alongside decent wages and housing. It was a reasonable and perfectly attainable hope, and perhaps for a time it came to fruit. And then it was eroded in the name of “progress”, “improvement” and “enlightenment”, which meant the destruction of much of what many had fought for and held to be valuable.
Veterans must have wondered if the material and spiritual degradation – the pornography, the drug culture, the violence and the greed that all grew like Topsy in post-war Britain – were worth the life of a single soldier? Many simmered with anger at the way their precious and costly victory was squandered by weak politicians. They saw the loss of familiar things that were held dear and cherished. To the vapid-minded, these things may seem absurd and trivial, but they had symbolic value: things like county names; ancient regiments with noble histories; the King James’ Bible; and yards, inches and feet (not metres). These things matter to a nation and they were soon lost.
Nor did these warriors fight for a Britain that would be dishonestly railroaded into the EU on a false prospectus – they were told it was a free-trade association, only to discover that there were ambitions to erode the nation state and create a European superpower based in central Europe. They didn’t expect the values of churches and schools to be hollowed out by fashionable reformers, where freedom of choice would be classified as “discrimination”; and they did not fight for a country where the stifling culture of political correctness would make freedom of speech a rarity, and where to hold views that had been thought honourable and worthy for a thousand years would be labelled “bigoted” and “fascist”.
What’s more, they did not fight for a Britain where the planning authorities would gut our city centres and communities in the name of modernity – just take a look at Aylesbury – and place meanly conceived, box-shaped, grey concrete structures smack in the centre of our ancient and well-loved towns and cities. I was given many examples of this sort of vandalism. How about the Bristol “town planners” who left St Mary Redcliffe, one of the jewels of English ecclesiastical architecture, simply stranded on a roundabout?
These young men did not fight for welfare provision that would become a pig’s trough for a few well able to fend for themselves and a web of confusion for others, thereby robbing the needy of self-respect. Nor did they fight for a country where a succession of weak politicians would allow millions of people from alien cultures – in terms of religion, language, lifestyle and outlook – to be dumped, with little thought for the wishes of the existing citizens – into our cities. It seems nobody thought to ask whether the NHS, schools or housing stock could cope, or whether the immigrants would integrate easily?
However, I wonder what they would now say – the very few who are still alive – after learning that amongst Muslim wives who entered Britain on marriage visas from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Somalia in 2016, 44 per cent, 36 per cent, and 27 per cent respectively are unable to speak English? And that in light of current immigration rates and the higher birth rate, Britain’s Muslim population may treble to 13 million, almost 17 per cent of the UK’s total, by 2050?
I don’t believe they fought for any of this. But being realists, they probably would have accepted what they cannot alter – and with a sigh, dusted down their medals and yellowing photographs, and stored them under the bed. Then they would have reserved their protests for the rising pollution of litter in the streets and fields.
Apparently, when the late film director Billy Wilder was in Paris making a film in the 1950s, he discovered the bidet. Soon, it became an essential accessory in all must-have bathrooms in the US. The then Mrs Wilder instructed Billy to buy one and ship it back to Los Angeles.
Sadly the demand for bidets had become so great that Wilder was unable to lay his hands on one.
He wired his wife with the sad news: “Unable to find bidet. Suggest do handstand in shower!”