Approach of Nov 11 sees ‘last surviving veterans’ story shocker!

Every year. Without fail. November 11 comes round, and those veterans still compos mentis enough to be exploited by the media (and particularly by ‘historian’ Max Arthur) are wheeled out to remember their war. Today it was the Grauniad.
Now I like and respect those who fought for their country as much as the next man. In fact, probably more than the next man, since at least I’ve made an effort to learn about their lives and treat them as I’d treat any other human being. But I do feel a bit uncomfortable about the uncritical acceptance of their stories as the truth. And I feel rather more uncomfortable about their use to readers a story that they already essentially know about the First World War (and to sell books). It was horrible. We were victims. ‘Veterans – General Purpose’ as I think Richard Holmes calls them. I also find it irritating that any sort of critical process is completely removed when it comes to those who read (or write) this stuff.
It’s fascinating, for example, that Harry Patch, one of the veterans, feels the need to emphasise that he and his number one on the Lewis gun always fired low with the aim of wounding, not killing Germans. His desire to put the point across deserves analysis. But it probably also requires somebody to point out the inconvenient facts – firing low to account for recoil or trajectory, for example, so that he actually hit the target. Or that there were quite a lot of Germans who might have chosen to operate at ground level – bit of a bugger for them, that shooting low. Or that, in the grand scale of things, shooting someone in the head might be equitable to nicking their femoral artery (let alone plugging one through their knackers). Of course, no one is about to start sounding off about this sort of thing…. oh – I just have. Let’s see if that sparks some comments.
Now, if you thought that was a rant, we could start talking about the campaign to win a pardon for Harry Farr
Or, if you really want me to become incandescent, let’s turn our thoughts to World War One expert Ben Elton’s new book The First Casualty. Actually, better not until I’ve read it. Although I am willing to make a small bet that the ‘first casualty’ isn’t the self-respect of a so called alternative comedian when he starts getting offered vanloads of cash to write crappy rock musicals about Queen.


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