Archive for November 11, 2018

Private Arnold Ridley

Posted in History, Television with tags , , , on November 11, 2018 by telescoper

You probably recognize the elderly gentleman in the photograph on the right as Arnold Ridley who played Private Godfrey in the TV comedy series Dad’s Army. You might not have realized that the person on the left is also Arnold Ridley, photographed shortly after he enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in 1915. You also may not know that Ridley fought with great courage in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during which he was very badly injured.

After being ordered to go `over the top’ near Gueudecourt as part of the Somme offensive, many of Ridley’s battalion were killed by machine gun fire as they advanced towards the enemy lines, but Ridley was among those who survived long enough to reach the German trenches.

In the desperate hand-to-hand struggle that ensued as he and the rest of unit fought their way along a trench, Ridley was knocked out by a blow from a rifle butt that turned out to have cracked his skull, and was bayonetted in the groin. His legs were riddled with shrapnel and he received a further bayonet wound to the hand, which left him permanently disabled. Somehow he survived, though for the rest of his life he suffered from blackouts and recurrent nightmares. He was discharged from the army on medical grounds in 1916, at the rank of Lance Corporal.

He never told anyone – not even his family – how he sustained his wartime injuries, and the facts only became known long after his death (in 1984, at the age of 88).

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A Suspension of Hostilities

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 11, 2018 by telescoper

Among all the images produced during this weekend’s commemorations of the centenary of Armistice Day, this image of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron struck me as particularly moving.

Part of the reasons is that it reminded me of this photograph, of President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl, taken in 1984:

Exactly one hundred years after the truce that effectively ended the First World War, these images remind us how much suffering took place before Europe reached a point at which war between France and Germany became unthinkable. That peace now looks increasingly fragile as the forces of nationalism, spurred on by populist demagogues, and funded by greedy disaster capitalists, threaten to tear apart the institutions that have brought Europe together in a spirit of mutual cooperation for so long. All that has been achieved could so easily be lost.

As Fintan O’Toole has written in a long article in this weekend’s Irish Times, the First World War is, in many ways, still being fought. The Second World War was certainly very much a continuation of the First, after a break of just over twenty years, to which the short-sightedness of Western governments in their treatment of Germany was a contributing factor. The end of the First World War saw not only the disintegration of the German Empire (and the abdication of the Kaiser), but also the collapse of Tsarist Russia, and the end of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to boot. We are still living with the consequences of that upheaval.

All this reminds us – or should remind us – that the word `armistice’ means `a truce’ or `a suspension of hostilities’ rather than a lasting peace, and it is by no means impossible we could be sleepwalking to disaster once more. As President Macron put it in his speech today

Les démons anciens resurgissent : des idéologies nouvelles manipulent des religions, l’Histoire menace de reprendre son cours tragique. Faisons une fois de plus ce serment des Nations de placer la paix plus haut que tout, car nous en connaissons le prix.

Frankly, I fear very much for the future and take solace only in the fact that I am no longer young.

I have found the pomp and ceremony of this year’s official Armistice commemorations very difficult to endure. Perhaps there are some people, including some in high places, who have learned the lessons of history, but it is also clear that there are very many who have not.

Which brings me to the poppy. I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but I decided last year to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. Even at Friday’s concert to mark the Armistice I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this creature, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism. Enough is enough. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.