Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Our Honoured Dead

However dark the cultural wars appear in the Elder Dominion, we may take bleak solace that other parts of the Commonwealth have fared worse. One of these places, we are grieved to note, is Mother England herself. After nearly a half century of increasing jacobin tendencies (note I say jacobin not jacobite) many of Her Majesty's Loyal Canadian subjects (though since 1947 we are technically "citizens," that hateful republican word) feared for the soul of Our Lady of the Snows, as Kipling called her. Our recent efforts in Afghanistan have put paid to these fears. Our leaders are weak but "...the blood a hero sire hath spent, still nerves a hero son." The people themselves have not been lacking. As this article in the Daily Mirror notes, the returning bodies of the fallen are meet with honour guards of citizens and soldiers. A portion of one of Toronto's main highways has been renamed the "Highway of Heroes," which is a touch bland and sentimental but expresses a genuine wish among Canadians to honour our soldiers. This same honour is not being shown in Thames Valley.

The spectacle was so striking that the highway, part of which was known as the Queen Elizabeth Way, has now been renamed the Highway of Heroes. Since then, every body travelling along the Highway of Heroes has been greeted by hundreds of ordinary Canadians who often wait for hours in the bitter Ontario winter to show their respect and support. Lieutenant Colonel Jim Legere, Provost Marshal for the 1st Canadian Air Division Headquarters, wrote of one such journey in a letter to a Toronto newspaper. He said: "Although words cannot possibly do justice to this heart-wrenching experience, I thought it important for you to be aware of the overwhelming – and I mean overwhelming – support provided by law enforcement, fire services, ambulance services and, indeed, the public at large, for this very solemn occasion. "I could not believe my eyes as we made the solemn journey from Trenton to the coroner's office in Toronto. Every on-ramp had a police vehicle blocking traffic, with members standing by the vehicles saluting. Entire police detachments stood along the route, saluting in front of their vehicles. "

[...]

Highways for Heroes have been designated in other Canadian cities and many people pay their respects when a fallen soldier returns. Police escorts are the norm. The spectacle contrasts strongly with the progress of a British cortege which The Mail on Sunday was given special permission to follow earlier this month. Lieutenant John Thornton, 22, and Marine David Marsh, 23, both of 40 Commando Royal Marines, were killed in a vehicle explosion while patrolling in Helmand Province. Their two black hearses and an empty spare hearse accompanying them were initially escorted by Wiltshire Police. The cortege first passed through the village of Wootton Bassett where locals, forewarned by the RAF base, gather at the war memorial to pay their respects.

But for much of the rest of the trip to Oxford – where the bodies undergo post mortems before being returned to their families – the hearses are on their own, led only by an undertaker's car. They were cut up by impatient motorists at roundabouts, stuck in traffic and generally ignored by the public, their significance lost because of a lack of the gravitas that a police escort would provide.

The problem has arisen because the Wiltshire Constabulary escort – normally three motorcycle outriders and two patrol cars which stop other traffic along the route – has to "peel off" at the Oxfordshire border where the Thames Valley force area begins. The corteges then have to fend for themselves on Oxford's notorious ring road. Inspector Mark Levitt of Wiltshire Police has taken up the matter with Thames Valley

[...]

But Thames Valley Police defended their failure to provide an escort. They say that even before April last year, when RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire rather than Lyneham was used for repatriating war dead, the force provided escorts only if there was an "operational need", such as large numbers of vehicles, families or people involved. Assistant Chief Constable Brian Langston claimed that "most of the time" escorts were not required or requested.

"I've spoken to my counterpart at Wiltshire Police and I understand they provide escorts because of the people involved at the Wootton Bassett events. We try to provide what people say are their priorities, and so far that's been to focus on community safety rather than ceremonial roles."

The fertile imagination of Dante Alighieri would falter in devising an appropriate punishment for this bureaucratic entity. "Ceremonial roles," does he imagine he's escorting the President of Bulgaria for a bit of hunting in Berkshire? How bereft of spirit does a man have to become, not merely to dishonour the men who defend his realm, but to imagine that the ceremonial is not vital to life, to life as men. The Thames Valley police are notoriously incompetent at maintaining "community safety," and the great increase in crime in Britain in recent decades stems, in part, from these utilitarian tendencies. Communities that honour the good and right, that perform ceremonies to remind the people of their allegiances and values, are ones that tend to keep themselves safe.

8 comments:

Beaverbrook said...

I salute the sentiment and the spirit, however improvised and non-traditional. The Canadian lad holding his hand to his heart is a case in point. We have been so starved of our own traditions and ceremony for so long, the void is filled with all he can think of - an instinctive call to American style patriotism.

There is also the fact that repatriation is historically un-British. In wars past we never repatriated the bodies because there were too many, so there is no public awareness for what is the proper thing to do, other than patriotism on the fly.

In terms of a fitting heroes welcome, what I would like to see are more tributes like THIS. The public apathy and lack of police escort is indeed shameful, but nobody, and I mean nobody, does ceremony better than the British and the British Monarchy.

Stauffenberg said...

Thanks for your commendable and enlightening comment, Beaverbrook.

When reading the article and while sharing the sentiments expressed in the original post, I felt that part of the relative public indifference in Britain may be due to the fact that the losses of servicemen's lives during the post 1945 imperial retreat as well as in Northern Ireland peacekeeping could be rated as occuring continuously and routinely, for want of a better word.

Beaverbrook states: "We have been so starved of our own traditions and ceremony for so long, the void is filled with all he can think of - an instinctive call to American style patriotism."
Very well put, sir. In a recent and most favourable feature about a detachment of the PPCLI serving in Afghanistan (in a German broadsheet, the Frankfurter Allgemeine), a picture showed Canadians rendering military honours to a fallen comrade. Their salute looked rather U.S. and quite un-Commonwealth land forces in style. How or when did that change come about?

Splendor Sine Occasu said...

"How or when did that change come about?"

I believe this occured around 1965 when the three services were unified under Hellyer, Pearson and Trudeau *ptooi*. All services adopted the naval salute and green bus driver uniform. Drill has since become more and more Americanised.

Beaverbrook said...

Actually the tri-service Canadian Forces was instituted in 1968. The new ‘salutes’ made by all ranks in the CF are indeed fashioned after the model shown in the last American war movie; some are up, some are down, some are flat, some are stiff, some are soft, some have fingers curled and some look like those done by America’s school marching bands but none of them are Navy, Army or Air Force. While the official Hellyer-ordered unified salute is practically and physiologically impossible to easily execute, the result has degenerated into a ‘make up your own’ style.

Those of the RCN (palms down), the Army and the RCAF (palms up) are simple, dignified and demonstrably uniform throughout the Commonwealth. In the past each service asserted itself with its particular salutes and manners, among other things, and, if you didn’t do it properly, you paid for it. The RCN naturally inherited its salute from the RN that, according to tradition, was established after Queen Victoria, upon reviewing a ship’s crew, thought the sight of the blackened palm facing out quite unsightly so she gently turned the sailor’s hand down.

Similarly, I have cringed when having heard young Canadian soldiers yell out the American ‘Hoooah’ just like in the movies like ‘Black Hawk Down’. Like the habit of placing helmets on rifles for the fallen, in imitation of our American friends, it seems that the men and women of our forces, by all accounts are thirsty for a tradition with which to identify. Yet, whilst it is clearly permissible for CF personnel to adopt customs that are not of our tradition, even in popular culture from the USA, it seems ridiculous that it is not allowed to restore the naval, military and air traditions of our own country...

Splendor Sine Occasu said...

Thank you for the correction. I was going from memory, which is less than perfect.

Stauffenberg said...

These explanations have helped me to get a wider picture, thank you. I would certainly prefer the original traditions to be kept as opposed to following the pace set by the most recent American war movie. I only hope official Canada still pronounces 'lieutenant' with an 'f', because that's what I'm teaching my students over here!

Beaverbrook said...

I speak from direct professional experience that the 'f' in lieutenant is indeed the current correct pronounciation.

'Lord Beaverbrook', Esq.
Lieutenant (Retired)
Her Majesty's Canadian Navy

PS. I'm entitled to the post nominal letters not because I am a lawyer, but because all naval officers in the Royal Navy (and by consequence, their Commonwealth brethren) who have attained the rank of Lieutenant or above are entitled to it. For those who do not know, Esquire is an old social rank one notch above that of Gentleman and one below that of Knight.

Splendor Sine Occasu said...

But the media pronounces it "loo-tenant".

*rolls eyes, feels slightly nausious*