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 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.
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."