Saturday, 22 February 2014

My letter to the paper about Jarrett's "Hitler" comment

Here follows my unedited letter to the Medway messenger regarding Councillor Jarrett's "Hitler" comment at the last Full council meeting published on 21st February 2014:

Gillingham Bus station after the July 1940 air raids that rocked the town
It has been several weeks since Councillor Jarrett made his ill-judged comments about the last Labour
government's handling of the financial crisis as comparable to Hitler's efforts to bring the country to its knees and many people like me are still offended.

Although he retracted the comment at full council, the damage was already done.  
I was no fan of the last Labour government and its policies and was disappointed by their failure during thirteen years of office to keep their promises to sort out the mess left by the Thatcher/Major Conservative administrations.  

Many Gillingham residents would argue that without Libdem policies that have reduced the amount of income tax they now pay and granted them 15 free hours a week of nursery for children, they would be faring little better under Cameron than they were under Brown. 

However you cannot compare the political failings of any government to the Second World War with the bombing of British cities, the U-boat blockade and the deportation of British citizens in the Channel Islands to concentration camps. Indeed on 18th July 1940, Gillingham was bombed and people killed across the town, including Beatty Avenue at the end of my street. Many other residents lost friends and loved ones fighting the Nazis. 

I would implore Councillor Jarrett to apologise publicly for his ill thought out words in a public forum such as this newspaper.  

Chris Sams 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Keeping Politics out of World War One Centenary

German War graves in France
On 28th July this year the World will begin to commemorate the beginning of World War One, the
invasions of France, Russia and the Balkans by the Central Powers as well as the Allied invasion of the Middle East and Gallipoli.

The First World War claimed 22,477,500 Allied KIA, WIA and MIA as well as a further 16,403,000 Central Powers KIA, WIA, MIA. One of those was my Grandmother's Uncle Donald Homersham MM who was killed instantly by a German shell on the 16th October 1916 on the Somme.

With Michael Gove's recent posturing on the subject as well as recent comments about German aggression basically blaming them for starting the war, which has riled them somewhat, the whole centenary is looking like it could become mired in baseless "facts" and arguments.

This is not what it is about.

The centenary of the First World War is not about who won what, whose fault it is, Historical revisionism, patriotic tub thumping and for reliving past Imperial glories (that's all of the nations) - it is about the suffering and death that was caused, it is about the soldiers, sailors and airmen who paid the ultimate sacrifice of death or wounding, for the many who are still missing or lay in unknown graves.

This is their war, their centenary. It is about the human aspect and experience, the stories and fighting that once read will turn your hair white and put you off the notion of War.

We were attacking the very last German trench. We were all knocked out, Their machine guns were waiting for us. We didn.t get through. None of us, There was a big shell-hole full of dead and dying and blinded. Tall men got it through the jaw, shorter men through the eyes. I was five foot ten and shot through my cheek. I was walking along, and a bullet blew all of my teeth out. I fell forward and spat all my teeth out. I collapsed and, hours later, I came round. My left eye was closed, I couldn't talk. I could breath, that was all. I got my field dressing out and wound it round m face and left eye. I could see through my right eye and I could see one of my Corporals who'd been shot through the foot. I took off his boot, bandaged it up, put his boot on again and he used his rifle as a crutch and together we went back. there was nobody around. Just the dead
We saw a man. A shell had come over and hit him and knocked off his left arm and his left leg. His left eye was hanging on his cheek, and he was calling out "Annie" I shot him. \I had to. Put him out of his misery. It hurt me. It hurt me. - Sergeant James Payne 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the first day of the Somme.  (Forgotten voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine p.133)

Men blinded by mustard gas
Any browse through books written from the Soldier's point of view and of their experiences throws up similar experiences like the Drill Hall massacre in Chatham in 1917. My Great Grandparents never spoke of the war or their experiences. Walter Sams was only at war for a year having been a Police officer and in a reserved occupation. Albert Bone had been in the artillery but, despite being wounded, was co-opted into the Blackwatch following  a quick inspection by a RAMC officer who threw a rifle at him which he caught with his off hand.

I saw a Tweet yesterday from Rural Labour that read the following:

I can't help but wonder what the status of Union membership has to do with anything? My Great Grandfather Walter Sams was a Police officer so could not join a union - he still fought in 1918 as a Grenadier Guard, I am forced to wonder how many others in my family were union men and does it actually matter. Union, non-union, rich or poor, British, Canadian, French, German or Austrian they all spilled the same blood in the same mud in horrific circumstances and it is this, and the men themselves that we should be remembering.

We should be remembering and talking about what our ancestors went through, talking about conditions, the death, the trenches, the gas, the endless futility not who was right and who was wrong or how it started - ultimately those things don't matter and have been long forgotten by the collective memory.

What will be remembered is that the First World War was ultimately an act of futility as massive Empire's  battled using Nineteenth century tactics with twentieth century weapons. The scale was unprecedented and saw scenes of war never seen before or in some cases since. The men who died did not die for Politics or governments but for their friends and comrades (and Kommeraden) for it was Politcs and governments who got them there in the first place. This is not the time for one up manship and the sort of Jingoistic attitude that got everyone into that mess but for quiet reflection and remembering who fell for their country and not why they fell.