5 August 2014 Clinic
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A warmish day
Scrabble Mary wins, but gets under 400. perhaps I will win tomorrow.
Obituaries from the First World War
The Telegraph obituaries of those who fought and survived tell the story of the war from a very personal angle, whether it is the ornithologist spotting birds in the middle of a battle or the captain who rose from the dead only to be captured by the Germans.
British troops newly arrived in France in the early days of the Great War in August 1914
7:00AM BST 02 Aug 2014
On November 12 1912, in the Hetzendorf Palace in Vienna, a boy was born whose string of forenames reflected the multitude of European royal bloodlines that mixed and flowed in his veins: Franz Josef Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius. The newborn was the scion of an all-powerful dynasty whose dominion encompassed 11 nation states. For Otto, as the boy was known, was a Habsburg, and third in line to a throne that had endured 650 years. One Viennese newspaper suggested that the baby boy would eventually be called on ‘to steer the future of Europe in the last quarter of the 20th century’.
Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary Otto von Habsburg
That moment never came. Before his second birthday, his great-uncle Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, and when, in 1916, his successor, Emperor Franz Josef, died, it was Otto’s father, Charles, who became the new emperor and Otto Crown Prince. In November 1916 he walked, clad in a white-trimmed tunic, between his parents as they followed the hearse of the late emperor. It was his first public appearance and he harboured memories of those monumental events all his life.
When he died, on July 4 2011 at the age of 98, we on the obituaries staff of The Daily Telegraph recounted these memories once more: memories born of personal experience, of proximity to the action, rich in detail, and suffused with the hopes and fears that we all feel, no matter what our station in life. Thus we learnt how, in November 1918, with the war only a few days from its end, Otto and his siblings found themselves trapped in a shooting lodge near Budapest, and how they were smuggled to Vienna. Of how, in 1919, when the Habsburg royals were eventually ferried to safety in Switzerland on the orders of our own King George V it was a certain Lt Col Edward Strutt who was given the task of making sure they arrived in one piece. Strutt managed to reassemble the imperial train for the journey. As our obituary of Otto von Habsburg noted, ‘Whenever he heard in later life complaints about British indifference to the Habsburgs’ fate he would reply, “Yes, but there was always Strutt.” ’
Such is the power of obituaries. They are lenses that focus events through the existence of one man or woman, and so render those events more immediate, more comprehensible and more human. If Otto von Habsburg’s life symbolised the vast tectonic shifts of power that played out during the conflict, there were countless individual tremors, no less important. And these stories too ended up in the obituaries column of the Telegraph.
Ian MacAlister Stewart (died March 14 1987, aged 91) was the first British officer to land on French soil on August 11 1914. He was 18, a platoon commander with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. When the young officer led his men in a charge he soon fell to the ground. His sergeant leant over his prostrate form and uttered the words, ‘Poor kid’ – only to receive Stewart’s caustic retort that he was perfectly unharmed, and had simply tripped over his sword. After the battle of Mons in August 1914 Stewart was part of the 200-mile Great Retreat, that valiant rearguard action that eventually halted the German advance and established the lines of the trench warfare that would play out until 1918.
Also in the thick of that retreat was Nigel Somerset, later known as ‘Slasher’ Somerset (died February 7 1990, aged 96). He was a platoon commander with the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment and had his first contact with the enemy just south-east of Mons. Shot crossing the Aisne river (though the bullet was safely stopped by his pack), he was less lucky the next day, when he was hit in the head by shrapnel. Far from the set-piece trench warfare of years to come, Somerset remembered that at that stage the gap between the defensive dug-outs of the opposing forces was only a few yards. His part in almost continuous action, on both the Western Front and Mesopotamia, saw him awarded the MC and DSO – he later served with distinction in the Second World War, too.
The next month Capt Bertie Ratcliffe (died 1992, aged 98) was left for dead at the Chemin des Dames. But when some German soldiers later picked over the battlefield they found that he was still alive. Ratcliffe was sent behind their lines as a prisoner-of-war – which entailed a three-day march with a bullet in his lungs. He was imprisoned in Ingolstadt Castle, where he was operated on and restored to health, before embarking on a series of escape attempts. He finally got away in 1917, making it first to Holland then England; the first British officer to make a ‘home run’, he was rewarded with an MC and a lunch date with the King, who wanted to hear exactly how he had done it.
Far away off the coast of West Africa Arch Clough (died January 5 1989, aged 100) was part of the Franco-British naval force seeking to capture the colony of German Cameroon. In August 1914 he was a sapper and surveyor attached to a party of Marines engaged in raiding coastal villages when, returning from one such trip, he and his men saw an open boat carrying the Senior Naval Officer from the government yacht Ivy capsize in heavy surf. With the help of a ‘clever coxswain’ Clough and his boat managed to rescue the SNO and four others. Though an Army officer Clough was awarded the Sea Gallantry Medal. The naval campaign was so successful that the Germans retreated to the interior, where most of Clough’s fighting came along a railway line. His job was to creep through the bush at night and ambush the German positions. He returned to the UK in 1916 but on health grounds was not allowed back to the tropics. Instead he was sent to the Somme, and survived two years in the trenches eventually ending up with the rank of brigadier.
Back on the Western Front the battle for control of the strategic lynchpin of Ypres was renewed in late April 1915. Harry ‘Hutty’ Hutson (died in 1991, aged 98) had been commissioned as an officer and was awarded an MC during the battle. A sapper, he continued to work at demolishing German barricades despite being wounded. The award stressed his sangfroid. Indeed, Hutty was almost bizarrely cool under fire. So composed was he that he was able to indulge his naturalist’s talents in the thick of battle, usually going in for a spot of bird watching. He later became the chairman of the British Trust for Ornithology. Such disdain for danger helped ensure that he was mentioned in dispatches on six separate occasions – three times in each world war, rising to the rank of major-general.
Cpl Ted Matthews was the longest surviving member of the Anzac troops who landed at Gallipoli on April 25 1915
At almost exactly the moment that Hutty was being awarded his MC (he would also pick up a DSO) Cpl Ted Matthews (died December 9 1997, aged 101) was splashing ashore at Gallipoli. He was the last survivor of the Anzac troops who landed there on April 25 1915, the first day of that disastrous invasion. He could count himself lucky: as he waded towards land, he was hit by shrapnel, only for it to lodge in his pocket book – a present from his mother. Many of his comrades were drowned in deep water by the weight of their heavy gear. ‘Nobody knew what was going on. Blokes were shot all around me. They were screaming out. Blood came spurting out everywhere. It was terrible.’
Offshore, AB Jack Gearing (died 1997, aged 102) was trying to reassure hundreds of green young reinforcements from the East Yorkshire regiment. ‘We knew that the 400 men of the East Yorks were mostly fresh from training,’ Gearing recalled, ‘and few had seen action. We gave them our hammocks, made sure they ate well, and gave them our rum. You see, we knew that where they were going would be like Hell on Earth, so we gave them all the love we could, because they were going to need it.’
From his warship, Theseus, Gearing was able to track the progress, or lack of it, of the campaign. By the autumn it was clear that it was failing comprehensively. ‘Each day when there was a lull we’d go in and collect the wounded. Some of them were terribly badly wounded, and all so young. We weren’t succeeding at all. All we were doing was losing a lot of men and ships. Every day we were bringing in different men, different faces, all tired, all beaten.’ In December 1915 and January 1916 Theseus took part in the two evacuations, which were about the only successes of the whole campaign, when more than 120,000 men, their guns, vehicles, horses and equipment were spirited away by night, with only a handful of casualties.
The scene at the Battle of Jutland, the only meeting of the two fleets, where Henry St John Fancourt fought.
But it was not until the end of May 1916 that the two fleets faced each other for the first and only time in the war. Henry St John Fancourt (died January 8 2004, aged 103) fought at the Battle of Jutland as a midshipman on the battlecruiser Princess Royal. His view through the gunsights of the ship’s 13.5in ‘Y’ turret was limited, and when he emerged during a lull in the firing he and others cheered when they saw men clinging to the bows of a wreck: only later did he learn that the men were British; the ship was the battlecruiser Invincible.
Henry St John Fancourt
‘We were firing as fast as we could,’ he recalled. That meant at two or three shells a minute, at ranges of eight to 10 miles. ‘No one really doubted the outcome of the battle. The Germans were good, and their gunnery was hot; but there just weren’t enough of them.’
A month later Monty Westropp (died 1991, aged 94) was preparing to go over the top at the Somme. Westropp was a 20-year-old 2nd lieutenant with the Devonshire Regiment. In the course of the attack all his senior officers were killed. Meanwhile he was confronted by a major from an adjacent unit who was fleeing, terrified, and causing widespread panic. As the man rushed past him, Westropp drew his pistol and shot him. Then ‘with the aid of my stick and my good sergeant-major, I readdressed the company’s attention towards the enemy.’ His conduct was certainly formidable in the line but it was equally vigorous away from the trenches. His favourite form of recreation was to perform Cossack dances on restaurant tables, accompanied by Olga, his Russian girlfriend.
Wg Cdr Gwilym Lewis in his single-seater biplane
High above these battlefields was ‘the cherub’, otherwise known as Wg Cdr Gwilym Lewis (died 1996, aged 99). Flying a single-seater biplane, he served with No 32 Squadron, having convinced his father to help him join the Royal Flying Corps by shelling out for private lessons. After four hours in the cockpit (all of them solo) he was issued with a Royal Aero Club certificate and immediately posted to France, where he went on to notch up 12 kills.His training appears to be just as haphazard as that of Bentley Beauman, who was commissioned in the Royal Naval Air Service in 1914, a day before the war began. Two days later, on August 5, he arrived on the Isle of Sheppey to report to one Cdr Samson, whose welcome left an indelible impression.
‘Can you fly a Caudron?’ Samson asked.
‘Do you know the way to Hendon?’
‘Very well. At dawn tomorrow you will fly a Caudron to Hendon.’
Beauman somehow did make it to Hendon (surviving a forced landing), where he reported to the director of the Air Division at the Admiralty, Capt Murray Sueter, who told him, ‘You are now the defence of London from Air Attack.’
‘I haven’t got an observer or any armaments. What could I do if a Zeppelin does come over?’
‘I leave that to you.’
Second Lieut Archie Binding (died 1992, aged 105) was up in the air but in an airship. He eventually logged 3,000 hours on convoy escort and anti U-boat patrols. ‘It was pretty hard work,’ he recalled. ‘Starting every day at 4am and lasting until sunset. We were in open cockpits and the only food for the day was Horlicks tablets.’
Away from Europe, in the shadow of the mountain where Moses received the commandments, Allied forces were pushing through Palestine and Egypt. The Battle of Rafa in January 1917 completed the capture of Sinai. Signals Officer Frank ‘Monocle’ Morgan (died 1992, aged 99) had initially enlisted in the Pembroke Yeomanry, but he subsequently served with the Imperial Camel Corps, which he described as being a union of aristocrats and complete ruffians. As evidence for this theory, he would tell the tale of asking for a volunteer bugler. A particularly blackguardly fellow stepped forward. ‘Oh no,’ he responded on being further quizzed about his musical talents. ‘I thought you said, “burglar”.’
For the most part, however, there was little to laugh about in 1917. Pte Arthur Barraclough (died August 25 2004, aged 106) arrived on the Western Front in January of that year, following only four months’ training. British dugouts, he said later in life, were ‘pigsties’ in comparison to their German equivalents, some of which had electric lighting and beds.
Pte Arthur Barraclough of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.
Barraclough, who enlisted on his 18th birthday and weighed only eight stone, was thrice wounded during his service with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, twice being repatriated to recover. On one occasion he was standing next to an officer who was struck by a bullet that passed through both cheeks, leaving a neat hole in each. Anxious to escape further shooting, they both made a run for it.
The war in the air was developing, too. In May 1917 Cecil Lewis (died 1997, aged 98) led his 11-strong squadron over the Channel to fight the world’s first mass air battle. Lewis’s initiation into the Royal Flying Corps had comprised 20 hours’ flying (without any map reading, Morse or formation training) before he was posted to No 9 Squadron. There he piloted BE2cs. ‘If ever there was an aircraft unsuited for active service,’ he wrote, ‘it was the BE2c.’
He was the first to admit that the life of a pilot was more comfortable than that of the men in the trenches, but he knew that it was no less dangerous. Life expectancy was measured in weeks, and in an era before parachutes a disabled plane could take an agonisingly long time to plunge to earth. Lewis had managed to survive eight months of flying in 1916 before being rested. Back in the fray by May 1917, he found himself in the mass air battle, facing an enemy ‘more than double in number, greater in power, and fighting with skill and courage [that] gradually overpowered the British, whose machines scattered, driven down beneath the scarlet German fighters.’ Only five of the 11 British aircraft in his squadron returned. It was an experience that made Lewis burn with indignation. As he wrote in his autobiography, the war ‘deprived me of the only carefree years’.
Pte Harry Patch (died July 25 2009, aged 111) felt the same. Patch was destined to become the last surviving British soldier to have gone ‘over the top’. For all his remarkably long life he remembered the constant danger, the noise, the rats, the lice – even the biscuits at Passchendaele that were too hard to be eaten. Most of all he remembered the fear of attacking, crawling through the mud because to stand up meant the certainty of being mown down by the German machine guns. As his battalion advanced from Pilckem Ridge, near Ypres, in the summer rain of 1917, the mud was crusted with blood and the wounded were crying out for help. ‘But we weren’t like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, we were the robbers who passed them by and left,’ Patch said. His unit came across a man lying in a pool of blood, ripped open from shoulder to waist, pleading to be shot. But before anyone could draw a revolver, the man died with the word ‘Mother’ on his lips. ‘It was a cry of surprise and joy,’ Patch recalled, ‘and I’ll always remember that death is not the end.’
Pte Harry Patch was wounded at Passchendaele and was the last surviving British soldier to have gone over the top
At 10.30pm on September 22 his five-man Lewis gun team was crossing open ground, single-file on the way back to the support line, when a shell exploded, blowing the three carrying the ammunition to pieces. Patch was hit in the groin by shrapnel, and thrown to the ground. Waking in a dressing station he realised that, although very painful, his wound was little more than a scratch. The following evening a doctor explained that he could remove a two-inch piece of shrapnel, half an inch long with a jagged edge, but that there was no anaesthetic available. After thinking over the prospects Patch agreed to have the sliver removed, and was held down by four men as it was extracted with tweezers.
Reinforcements only seemed to get younger. Staff Sgt Albert Alexandre (died January 14 2002, aged 100) was 16 when his regiment, the Guernsey Light Infantry, which had recently lost 700 men, moved back into the line at Passchendaele. The experience was worse even than the tales of his battle-hardened comrades had led him to expect. Even the elements seemed to conspire with the horrors of war to make life hellish. In icy conditions and under constant bombardment, with men being blown to pieces around them, Alexandre’s battalion lived in waterlogged trenches that regularly caved in, forcing them to take cover in mud-filled shell holes that were no cover at all. Respirators had to be worn for long periods against the persistent threat of gas attacks (whose effects Alexandre did not wholly escape).
Reinforcements were getting smaller, too. Sgt William Parkes (died October 7 2002, aged 106) was one of the last survivors of the Welsh Bantam Brigade, formed for troops between 5ft and 5ft 3in. The Bantams were often used for night reconnaissance patrols in no man’s land, because it was believed that their small stature made them harder to see. The toughest action in which Parkes was involved came during the taking of the ravine at Gonnelieu in 1917, by the end of which all of his officers had been killed, leaving him in command.
This was a war that witnessed the extraordinary military transition – from the age of the horse to that of the tank. In the Negev desert Lieut Darcy Jones (died January 11 2000, aged 103) was part of a combined force of the Worcestershire Yeomanry and the Warwickshire Yeomanry – a total of 181 men, in three squadrons – which charged and routed a 2,000-strong force of Turks and Austrians armed with machine guns and artillery. The charge, on November 8 1917, was an astonishing feat. Gen Allenby had decided that the ground in front of the Huj Ridge, 10 miles north-east of Gaza, was unsuitable for an infantry attack but that it could be crossed by cavalry, although there was no covering fire available. Trotting briskly in a flurry of dust, the Yeomanry saw the Turkish guns being wheeled round to face them. ‘Now then boys, for the guns,’ Jones remembered an officer calling out.
Cecil Lewis, who took part in the world’s first mass air battle in May 1917
Breaking into first a canter and then a full gallop, they rode down a steep slope of some 1,000 yards and then up another 150 yards under heavy fire. Shortly before his 100th birthday Jones recalled how he and his fellow Worcesters had split into groups of twos and threes to cut down the enemy gunners and machine-gunners with their sabres. He would forever consider it the most exhilarating experience of his life.But at Cambrai on November 20 1917 a short battle showed where the real power now lay. Basil Groves (died March 4 1992, aged 95) led his section of tanks through the vast pools of liquid mud (into which even huge tanks could disappear). To do so to best effect, he got out to direct the tanks on foot, exposing himself to rifle and machine-gun fire. The assault was a great success and the Immediate MC that Groves won was a Bar to an earlier award. He reached the rank of colonel.
To exploit the breach forged by the tanks a large force of cavalry had been kept in reserve. John Harris (died May 4 1996, aged 99) was ordered with his comrades in the 2nd Lancers (Gardner’s Horse, Indian Army) to charge. As they galloped down a shallow valley, the Lancers came under German machine-gun fire from right and left. After 3,000 yards, and more than 100 casualties, the charge came to a halt in a sunken road. Harris, a nephew of Maj Gen James Harris of Indian Mutiny fame, later won the Salmon Cup for pig-sticking at Gujerat and served in the Second World War before being ordained in 1946.
In August 1918 the future Air Cdre Freddie West was flying a two-seater Armstrong Whitworth FK8 reconnaissance machine in the recently formed RAF. Hedge-hopping over enemy lines he was hit by an explosive bullet, partially severing one of his legs, which obstructed the instruments and rendered the machine uncontrollable. West managed to extricate his disabled leg, regained control, and though wounded in the other leg too, manoeuvred so skilfully that his observer was able to open fire on surrounding enemy aircraft. When he died (in July 1998, aged 102) West was the last surviving holder of the Victoria Cross from the First World War.
Frank Morgan, who had been posted back to France after the major objectives of the Palestine campaign had been achieved, was the first man in the trenches to learn of the Armistice. He was an expert in communications and had overseen the laying of hundreds of miles of cable, sometimes using horses, sometimes using dogs with small drums on their backs. In November 1918 he intercepted instructions from the German GHQ, which ordered their generals to lay down their arms.
Cpl Ted Smount was one of the last surviving Australians who fought in the Great War, having lied about his age to enlist in 1915
When news of the ceasefire reached the men, joy was unconfined. Cpl Ted Smount, who had served with the Australian Army medical corps through the worst of the fighting in 1917 and 1918, drank himself silly and headed for Paris. But his heroism had come at a lasting cost. When Smount (who died on June 22 2004, aged 106) was chosen as Brisbane’s citizen of the year, he dived for cover at the sound of the artillery salute.
He was 100 years old at the time.
The ceaseless use of overwhelming military force on Gaza by Israel’s military in complete disregard for any reasonable interpretation of international humanitarian and human rights law is an outrage of unspeakable proportions (Outrage after third strike on Gaza school, 4 August). The massive loss of civilian life in the last four weeks includes over 400 children, over 200 women, over 70 elderly people, three patients killed in their hospital beds, and two severely disabled adults residing in a care centre.
An acutely abhorrent practice at the forefront of Israel’s brutally destructive military campaign is the deliberate targeting of family residential homes in apparent grave violation of international law. Since the launch of this Israeli military operation, it is estimated by the United Nations that over 900 houses have been totally destroyed or severely damaged, causing vast civilian casualties, including multiple members of the same families. By the end of 30 July 2014, at least 76 families had lost three or more family members in military attacks against family homes.
This deliberate and systematic targeting policy is an obscenity against humanity and clearly appears to amount to the commission of war crimes, and further to crimes against humanity, due to its apparent serious violation of the basic laws of war principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.
We urge the UK government to publicly condemn Israel’s policy of directly targeting family homes in Gaza, and indirectly targeting whole families, confirming such actions as being unlawful, given that no such homes constitute a legitimate military target. We further urge the UK government to lead the international community in ensuring that credible investigations and full legal accountability is secured for all serious violations of international humanitarian law during this horrific conflict. A thorough implementation of independent investigation and judicial processes is critically important to provide justice for innocent victims, accountability for grave criminal wrongdoing, and deter the types of atrocities which characterise this terrifyingly cruel conflict from being repeated.
Tareq Shrourou Director, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Daniel Machover, Michael Mansfield QC, Professor Bill Bowring, Rachel Waller, Andrea Becker, Charlotte Dollard, Hannah Rought Brooks, Claire Jeffery, Nusrat Uddin, Alicia Araujo Mendonca, Sumiya Hemsi, Laila Hamzi, Geoffrey Bindman QC, Tom Short
• Geoffrey Robertson is absolutely right (International law might yet punish Gaza’s war crimes, 2 August). In present circumstances, the crucial requirement is justice: a lasting peace cannot be established if justice is denied, and therefore taking the warring parties to the international criminal court is essential. The Rome statute – at article 8 para 2b (iv) – defines as a war crime “intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects … which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”.
Israel claims its response to the alleged storage and launching of Palestinian rockets close to or from UN-declared safe zones is justified but, as the Rome statute specifies unequivocally, the benefit to Israel of destroying a few Hamas rocket launchers must be sufficient to justify the civilian damage caused. Moreover, the reportedly highly effective Iron Dome system gives Israel a means of protecting Israeli citizens without any civilian damage. As Robertson points out, there can be no possible advantage to Israel that would justify the knowing killing of so many children. In the horse-trading that preceded the successful Palestinian application for statehood, it seems that the Palestinian Authority agreed with the US not to take Israel to the ICC: the subsequent horrific events amply justify abandoning that undertaking and the PA making a request to the ICC for an investigation of war crimes in the Gaza war.
Professor David E Pegg
• Nick Clegg’s article is accurate and even-handed (Israel has to talk to Hamas, 2 August). A political solution is the only answer, but what incentive does Israel have to enter such a process when the US provides $3bn worth of arms to it annually while posing as a broker of peace? Europe should make a combined effort to put pressure on America to stop being Israel’s arms dealer and rather to insist on Israel leaving all occupied Palestinian territory. Europe will fail, of course, but will be seen at least to have done what is right and may just strike a chord somewhere that will lead to peace.
Yarmouth, Isle of Wight
• “The Jews under siege in the Warsaw ghetto” did indeed “dig a network of tunnels” (Letters, 2 August), but the comparison with Gaza ends there. The Jews of Warsaw were not facing a siege, they were facing total extermination. They had no rockets to launch at German civilians. Hamas, by contrast, uses rockets and tunnels to attack Israeli civilians, both Jewish and Arab (Israeli Bedouin have come under fire) as part of its campaign to destroy the country whose very existence it refuses to recognise, hence the siege.
While a negotiated settlement is clearly essential and the suffering and loss of life deeply disturbing, it is difficult to see how any resolution can be effected so long as Hamas eschews the route of dialogue in favour of its stated objective of eliminating Israel.
Labour, House of Lords
• Ed Miliband is right to criticise David Cameron for not sending out “a clear and unequivocal message to both sides in the conflict” in Gaza (Miliband rounds on PM’s failure to condemn Israel, 4 August). Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of military force, and the terrible suffering of the people of Gaza, well documented in recent weeks, has been met with government silence.
Unlike many countries in Latin America, which have recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv to protest against the continuing slaughter of innocent people in Gaza, the UK government has not even summoned the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to express concern.
Surely the time has come for Britain to take more robust action. It should consider an immediate recall of Matthew Gould, our ambassador to Israel. Politicians might pretend his continued presence is necessary if Britain is to have any influence in securing a ceasefire. Surely the opposite is true. The withdrawal of our ambassador would send out a strong signal that would clearly demonstrate the disgust felt by the majority of UK citizens.
The tragic rise in the numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody is the most vivid of the warning signs of a prison service placed under unprecedented strain (Report, 1 August). Ministers must heed what the figures are telling them. Slashing prison budgets while warehousing ever greater numbers in larger prisons overseen by fewer and less experienced staff is no way to transform rehabilitation. Good people have worked hard to make prisons safer and more constructive places. In less than two years of thoughtless change and headline-grabbing policy, sharply rising levels of suicide and violence show just how far their work has been set back.
Director, Prison Reform Trust
• Laura Barton worries about driverless cars ruining the romance of driving (Comment, 1 August). I worry that they might not only ruin but entirely remove the manners of driving. Often the only way to cross a busy road is to rely on drivers slowing down and waving you across, while the pedestrians usually wave and smile in thanks. How can we hope to catch the eye of a driver who doesn’t exist?
• In relation to the anachronistic, and slightly ridiculous, Commonwealth Games (After the gold rush, 4 August), wouldn’t a European Games, in the same date slot, be altogether more relevant, and more respectful, to the 1914-18 tragedy we are currently remembering?
• War is organised murder (Harry Patch); sport is war without shooting (George Orwell).
Woodford Green, Essex
• Two writers meet in the street. One says: “I’m writing a novel.” The other says: “Neither am I.” (#mynovel and the art of literary procrastination, G2, 4 August). PS: I am working on my novel. Really.
• Here in Buxton we go down to London, down to Manchester, down to Sheffield, down to most places (Letters, 4 August). It is a question of altitude.
I am a great admirer of the work of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang but his claim that privatisation was halted under Labour (End this privatisation dogma, 1 August) is an over-simplification too far. True, Labour only sold 51% of air traffic control, but that means they privatised over half of it. They also continued Norman Lamont’s policy of private financial initiatives, using them to finance the London Underground, hospitals and schools. Most of these contracts turn out to be greatly in the favour of the private contractors, and we the public are lumbered with disproportionate repayments over as many as 30 years. Large sections of the work of the NHS were also “outsourced” to the private sector, and they even tried, but failed, to flog off the Royal Mail.
The truth is that the neoliberal nonsense that the private sector exudes efficiency and the public sector is inevitably a bumbling bureaucracy has been accepted by all three major parties and dominates the media. Ha-Joon Chang is right to attempt to expose the myth but wrong to claim that Labour is or was untainted by it.
Birstall, West Yorkshire
• Because of their incompetence, Joseph Chamberlain, mayor of Birmingham in the 1870s, forcibly purchased the privately run Birmingham Gas Company and the Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Company; his new municipal gas company made a profit of £34,000 in a year. He did the same with the privately run waterworks, creating Birmingham corporation water department, telling a House of Commons committee: “We have not the slightest intention of making profit … We shall get our profit indirectly in the comfort of the town and in the health of the inhabitants.” The new municipal company turned the city’s water supply into a healthy one, replacing the dangerous and expensive private ones that left the poor without clean, safe water. It took Thatcher to undo his good work.
• I am surprised that Ha-Joon Chang, who is usually so insightful about economics, did not realise that Network Rail was set up as a private not-for-profit company so that its massive liabilities, inherited from the collapse of Railtrack, and future borrowing did not count as national debt. Just like Gordon Brown’s fondness for unsecured PFI contracts, which allowed untaxed profits to be diverted into holding companies based in offshore tax havens. Naturally such debts are much more expensive to service than government bonds, and we are all paying the price.
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
• It’s no longer the public enterprises which Ha-Joon Chang lists that are privatisation targets. Everything we’ve ever had has already been sold, its future cashflows discounted to zero. Today, it’s the mega-corporations themselves – the ones that own everything – that are being privatised. Shell (Report, 1 August), IBM, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Starbucks, Microsoft are all frantically buying back publicly available shares so as to increase returns to the chosen few remaining shareholders. Capitalism is eating itself in a gigantic Ponzi scheme funded by the free money of quantitative easing. Welcome to privatisation, 2014-style.
The chancellor of the exchequer, meanwhile, is just hoping that the feast lasts until the general election and that enough voters mistake it for a booming economy.
As an obese GP (BMI 33.1) struggling to heave my enormous bulk on the sweaty coalface of the NHS, I was appalled to read Christina Patterson’s extremely unhelpful support for the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens’ decision “to take a stand” against all us chip-guzzling lazy lard-arses who go around telling people to stop doing everything we clearly do ourselves, while also rising to the challenge of diagnosing and treating illness in an obesogenic society (Nurses must be fit to fight, 2 August). All this with the ever present spectre of expectations continuously hiked up by politicians despite the reality of diminishing resources.
If she really wants the NHS to do better, perhaps she could put her undoubted talents to asking why food in hospitals is so poor, especially out of hours, or why people overeat or don’t do enough exercise, or maybe why the fast food and fizzy drinks multinationals have a seat reserved at any forum to protect their interests, or why poor people are so much fatter than rich people.
I know that when I am struggling with the difficulties and self-loathing associated with being regarded as lazy and greedy due to my weight, I would much rather have someone guiding me who has trodden that path themselves than someone with Christina Patterson’s obvious prejudices.
Dr Carolyn Lott
• Simon Stevens is right to say there should be fewer chips in hospitals. But chips – and burgers, and crisps, and cakes, and cookies, and fizzy drinks, and confectionery – are what staff in our hospitals are offered.
Why? Because the NHS is being forced to operate like a business, outsourcing services such as catering. And light-touch legislation, in the form of the voluntary “public health responsibility deal”, doesn’t require these companies to provide food that promotes healthy living. As Prof Terence Stephenson, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, has said, “asking the food and drink industry to voluntarily promote healthy living is … like asking petrol companies to encourage people to cycle and walk rather than use their car.”
If Simon Stevens is serious about tackling obesity and diabetes, he’ll need to challenge the notion that the NHS exists not to make people well but to provide business opportunities for private profit-making companies.
And then figure out how to pay the exit penalties written into catering contracts by exceedingly clever corporate lawyers.
I cannot believe I am alone in feeling outraged and appalled by Nicholas Lezard’s assertion (Review, 2 August) that dogs are inherently fascistic whereas cats are independently minded. Speaking as someone who has nearly always shared his life with both, it is unmistakable that dogs are community-minded, socialist, eager to make the world a better place. Now look at cats: smug, entitled and clearly interested only in themselves and their I’m-all-right-Jackery.
There will always be some dogs who are corrupted, misled and – like Stalin – born to the left but end up on the fascistic right. Just as there must be rare examples of cats who have abandoned their life of comfort – Che Guevara comes to mind – and given their lives to the betterment of others (though I am yet to meet one). Which brings us to the one undeniable truth shared by anyone, of any political persuasion, who has ever canvassed door-to-door: dogs vote Labour, cats vote Conservative.
It is encouraging to see Ruth Hunt, the new chief executive of LGBT charity Stonewall, calling on the Department for Education to tackle homophobic bullying in schools by teaching children about same-sex relationships as early as nursery.
It is perhaps equally reassuring to see your paper giving gay rights news prominence on the front page (“‘Teach preschool children to celebrate being gay’”, 2 August).
A recent survey by Teacher Support Network found that more than two-thirds of staff in schools (68 per cent) do not feel adequately prepared to teach same-sex marriage and LGBT-related issues. A similar percentage of staff said they had witnessed homophobic harassment in school, and just under half had been personally discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This is preventing an open and tolerant environment for teachers and students alike.
The focus on LGBT policy in schools has tended to be on students, but teachers need to be equally supported. It is important that schools have policies and training in place so that all staff are able to offer support to pupils and colleagues, and are able to talk openly about LGBT issues.
Teaching children as young as three and four about gay rights is a radical and welcome step to nurturing a non-discriminative society from the outset.
PR Officer, Teacher Support Network and Recourse
I write in the spirit of Stonewall. I was 14 at the time of the New York Stonewall riot, which is seen as a landmark in the pride and visibility of gay people.
The organisation that has taken that proud name is appointing as figurehead a practising Catholic, who passes as straight in church, and who admits that she and her civil partner uncouple their hands when they cross beyond London Transport zones 1 and 2. Hardly “Out and Proud”, as the T-shirts say.
On the website, they boast as at May 2014 “76 per cent of our staff were 34 and under”. There’s a long way to go before it represents the community it purports to serve. Valuable though the Stonewall charity has been, in my opinion, like the Catholic Church, it now exists to perpetuate itself.
Could the noise problem Ruth Hunt’s neighbours complain of be loud hypocrisy? I agree there is much to be done in tackling homophobia, but Stonewall should either change name or exemplify true pride and visibility.
Corrosive homophobia is all too endemic and remains so, despite many legislative advances. This is principally because of a series of legislative reversals, reinforcing and legitimising homophobia, passed with the active support, mainly, of the last Labour Government after lobbying by the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church in particular.
These favours pandered to a homophobic agenda and had the deliberate effect of condoning discrimination on grounds of actual or perceived (homo)sexual orientation by Christian and other faiths.
This state-sanctioned homophobia, limiting employment and equality rights, helps foster a legal and moral framework in many schools and faith-based bodies, including charities, whose sole aim is preventing lesbian and gay people being able to grow up, compete and live on equal terms.
Until Parliament revokes all the opt-outs and concessions granted to religions that feel the need to discriminate against us, there will always be entrenched homophobia.
Alternatively, if religion insists on maintaining the right to act homophobically, charitable status should be withdrawn. Then at least it would be clear that such faiths were not acting in the public interest or to the benefit of society as a whole.
Rev Richard Kirker
Dangers of denial and justification
When governments deny, justify, excuse or defend transgressions by their military or security services, it sends a message to the more extreme elements within their own forces that they can do whatever they think is appropriate, regardless of international law or human rights.
America did this over torture of prisoners, and Britain did it over extraordinary rendition, and both did it over the illegal surveillance practices of their intelligence services.
Israel is doing the same over Gaza, and Russia may be doing it over the actions of pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine.
I don’t believe the Israeli government directly ordered its tank commanders or pilots to deliberately target Palestinian hospitals or UN schools – any more than I believe that Putin would have ordered the deliberate shooting down of a Malaysian airliner.
However, by failing to immediately condemn and act against those responsible, but instead blaming Hamas, the Israeli government sends a message to its troops that such acts are acceptable.
In the frenzy of hatred being whipped up by the Israeli government against Hamas, it is inevitable that more trigger-happy elements of the Israeli armed forces will take this as a signal to do whatever they like to exact revenge.
The fallen might see more dark than light
It is of course hugely important that the First World War is commemorated, particularly the sacrifice of millions with the forfeiture of their own, usually very young lives.
Such commemoration is equally laudable in the case of all other wars of national conscience. The services and parades are apt and highly respectful, but I have distinct reservations about the dousing of domestic lights and their temporary substitution by myriad single candles as a method of symbolic sympathy.
If the religious beliefs of many of us are based on truth, and our fallen are indeed looking down on us from a place of serenity, it is possible that they will be momentarily gratified by the Government’s chosen symbolic display of condolence.
However, I cannot escape the feeling that their efforts and sacrifice would perhaps sadden them were they to realise that some of the legacy of hideous conflict has failed to progress our society in some rather important areas.
Examples that might seriously disappoint them would include the continued lack of justice for the victims of paedophilia in high places, the obscene wealth and income inequality that dominates our society, and the lack of a real and protected right of employees to speak out about wrongdoing in the workplace.
Perhaps a fitting commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War would be for the present leaders of the belligerents of 1914-18, learning from the failure of diplomacy in 1914, to commit themselves to work collectively and intensively, over the next four years, at the resolution of the world’s current conflicts, many of which, ironically, have their roots in the First World War and its peace settlement.
The Middle East – Israel/Palestine, Syria and Iraq – and eastern Ukraine might be good places to start.
Then we might be able to go on to address the urgent social and environmental issues that face us.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
I wonder how organised religion can take it upon itself to oversee commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War. All I have ever read shows that the churches (on both sides and each worshipping the same God) supported wholeheartedly their respective war efforts and encouraged their troops, throughout the four-year long butchery, to believe they were acting in accordance with God’s will.
Tribalism took over, as has happened in wars since then. Commitment to patriotic group loyalties easily trumped any commitment to the message of Jesus. It is a little late now to climb on the compassion bandwagon.
Howard, you do make us laugh
Talk about women’s laughter… Howard Jacobson (“A woman’s power is in her laughter”, 2 August) gave me the best laugh I’ve had in ages when he stated: “Is it not a matter of common observation that the partner wanting the quiet life is, more often than not, the man.”
That’s not been my experience nor that of most of my female acquaintances. I would say: “As a matter of common observation from the female perspective, the reverse is indeed the case.”
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Try a different field of battle
The Israelis and Palestinians should play a game of football.
Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Will there just be an angry silence?
If I’m involved in an incident with a driverless car, on whom do I vent my road rage?
Refugees in Ukraine. World leaders should learn from the failure of diplomacy in 1914
Last updated at 7:41PM, August 4 2014
Sir, Perhaps a fitting commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War would be for the present leaders of the combatants of 1914-18, learning from the failure of diplomacy in 1914, to commit themselves to work together collectively and intensively over the next four years to resolve the world’s current conflicts. Many of these have their roots in the peace settlement of the First World War. The Middle East — Israel / Palestine, Syria and Iraq — and eastern Ukraine might be good places to start.
Then we might be able to go on to address the urgent social and environmental issues which face us as we share this planet.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Sir, The denigration of Winston Churchill has begun. Dr John Cameron (letters, Aug 4) will doubtless be followed by many more. Could I refer Dr Cameron to your leading article of August 4, 1914 in which Churchill was referred to as the one minister “whose grasp of the situation and whose efforts to meet it have been above all praise”. It would also be fair to point out that The Times had not been one of his supporters.
There was also a little matter of some treaties between England and France to which we adhered.
Hastings, E Sussex
Sir, Is it feasible to add the names of those who died of their wounds to war memorials? (report, Aug 2). My uncle, Willie Hugh Skilling, was shot in the neck in the last week of the First World War while serving with the Black Watch. As a result, he died three years later but his parents had a struggle to have his name put on the memorial in St Columba’s Church, Glasgow.
Perhaps a small symbol, such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission tombstone, could now be authorised to be attached to the tombs of those wounded who died, to recognise their own sacrifice?
Sir, We Serbs had already been fighting for a week against the numerically superior Austro-Hungarian army, Austria-Hungary having declared war on Serbia on July 26, 1914. As an ally of Britain in the Great War, I think this needs to be remembered.
Anthony Shelmerdine Boskovic
Sir, I have just read an article in my local history magazine about holders of the Victoria Cross from the First World War. The article has a quote from an ancestor of someone who won the medal saying he had never seen his relative’s VC as it is held in the Guards Museum in London.
Would it not be a gesture, as part of the commemorations of the war, from all military services to allow the medals to be displayed in cities, towns and villages where the recipients live?
Sir, We were asked to extinguish lights last night at 11pm to mark the moment in 1914 when the British ultimatum to Germany expired and this country was therefore at war. However, in 1914 there was no daylight saving or summer time, so that the commemoration should have taken place at 10pm.
Sir, I read with interest the article headlined, “Don’t sack heads for low grades, exam boards plead” (Aug 2) The fact is that this government is determined to adopt a top-down approach, which is inappropriate.
One reason is that 52 per cent of children overall in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) gain a good level of development as they enter year one, with only 44 per cent of boys doing so. Consequently, such children are ill prepared to meet the demands of the next stage of their education, let alone for examinations later in their school life.
Tinkering with examinations is not the way to remedy this situation. It ignores the need to deploy our best teachers in the EYFS, so that children have the very best start possible.
It is essential that we recognise that we lag far behind our European counterparts at each stage of education and that we take the necessary steps to redress the situation. Blaming the head teachers at the penultimate stages of young people’s progress would point to yet another fundamental flaw.
Sir, On whose authority did the presenter at the medal ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games announce that Jerusalem was “the English national anthem”. It is not. We are part of the UK whose national anthem is God Save the Queen. As a gesture we could agree to not sing the fifth verse. The English medal winners looked as bemused and embarrassed as I am annoyed.
Dr Thomas King
Sir, I will concede that Jerusalem does have a good tune but how could the name of a foreign city be used as England’s anthem at the Commonwealth Games? And who in their right minds would even want to build the troubled Jerusalem in our “green and pleasant land”?
At least it’s not God Save the Queen, which the football and rugby authorities seem to think is the sole property of England.
Surely Land of Hope and Glory, which was composed here in the heart of England, would be far more appropriate.
Sir, Surely I am not alone in thinking it odd, sad and maybe macabre that Jerusalem was chosen as the “national anthem” of England for the Commonwealth Games at this particular time.
Sir, Ros Altmann (report, Aug 4) asks: “Why would you want to stop working, stop using your talents and have a lot less money to live on?” Perhaps because you’ve had enough of your boss, commuting, what you do, think you can use your talents elsewhere and manage on less income.
I was fortunate 20 years ago, aged 53 and after 35 mainly happy years with one company, to opt for early retirement, accepting the reduced pension for going early. One woman told me it was disgraceful to “pack up” so young, until I told her that my deputy was ready to be promoted. Thus I made way for a younger person. There are now numerous young people desperate for work, while older ones hang on to their jobs.
In the past two decades, I have worked for a number of charities, unpaid or for a small retainer. I now work unpaid looking after my grandchildren and love it.
Enjoy your job? Not keeping anyone back? Carry on by all means. There is however, a world beyond the workplace which no one should tell you is inferior or unsatisfactory.
Bushey Heath, Herts
Life in the slow lane: meandering along a country road in Normandy with the daily bread Photo: John Elk III / Alamy
6:58AM BST 04 Aug 2014
SIR – I am one of those women who enjoys pootling on a bicycle and am currently enjoying a leisurely ride down the banks of the river Loire (“Poo-pooing the pootle”, Letters, August 1).
The road surfaces are smooth and there are side channels for cyclists to avoid the speed bumps and chicanes in the villages as they ride through.
While I expect to be overtaken by packs of “lycrists”, it can be embarrassing to be overtaken by elderly Frenchmen on antique bicycles.
But then, they are not admiring the scenery at the same time.
Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, France
SIR – Some gentlemen cyclists also prefer to pootle. The problem is the choice of machinery and clothing.
I dream of a rent collector’s bike made of lightweight carbon fibre, a bowler hat and a pinstripe suit made of lycra. Thus, I look like a pootler, but without the annoyances of a heavy bicycle and a hot set of clothing.
Dr A W Taylor
Grasscroft, West Yorkshire
Crowds in the streets of Berlin following the declaration of war against Russia
6:59AM BST 04 Aug 2014
Let us mark this occasion with a day of prayer for peace.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
SIR – Many years ago we announced in The Daily Telegraph the birth of our daughter, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Shortly afterwards, we received a letter from a reader asking us to visit her husband’s grave. Having obtained directions from the embassy, we found a small, immaculately maintained garden with three or four Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones.
The old caretaker was so pleased to see us and insisted that we drink a small glass of very sweet tea with him. We sometimes wonder whether that restful spot has survived the local conflict.
SIR – Sir Robert Garran’s order to fire the first shot of the First World War (Letters, August 2) must have been one result of my father’s stroll up Whitehall through the crowds to the all-night Strand post office, where he handed some 90 cypher cables across the counter shortly after 1am on August 5 1914, declaring war on behalf of the Colonial Office. It had taken a couple of visits to 10 Downing Street to confirm this action, to allow for the time difference and any unforeseen delays, but eventually the ultimatum was considered to have elapsed. The first reply came from Fiji, where they were awake. So, it would seem, were the Australians.
He forgot to ask for a receipt.
Hatfield Peverel, Essex
SIR – My father, who died in 1975, only mentioned to me once his time as a soldier during the 1914-18 War. It was a Sunday and we were going to have roast pork for lunch with sage and onion stuffing, when he suddenly said to me, “Your mother has never understood that I do not like sage: it puts me off my lunch.”
I asked him why, and he replied, “During the war I was pinned down for two days in a field of sage, and the smell brings back to me the smell of dead bodies.”
I could tell this was not up for discussion, but he was an honest, uncomplicated man, not given to flights of fancy, so I believed him.
I would love to know where this could have been. Sage always reminds me of him and I wish now that we had talked more about his past.
A mother load
SIR – Taking pets on holiday is nothing new (Features, August 1). In the Sixties my father would load the following into his Humber Super Snipe: mother, four children, one dog, one tortoise, one budgie, several guinea pigs, two goldfish, some stick insects and, on one occasion, a ferret.
He would deposit us at our holiday home and then, very sensibly, would return home to seek the sanctuary of his bank in the City before collecting us at the end of the holiday.
Pipe down in front
SIR – In the driverless car (Letters, August 2), does the back-seat driver sit in the front?
SIR – The war in Gaza has somehow escalated into an international condemnation of not only Israel, but of Jewish people worldwide. This is exactly what the Hamas leadership wants.
The press and social media play a big role in this conflict, and have incited much anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish feeling. This is not only frightening, but also encourages a defensive position that leaves many Jews united in defending Israel’s actions.
The overused word “disproportionate” reflects the terrible human tragedy of so much loss of life. Shielding women and children from harm’s way should be a major priority for the Palestinians. A protected area that has been deemed safe by both sides must be initiated for women and children.
The annihilation of Israel must also rate as “disproportionate”. Until Hamas is ready to accept Israel has a right to exist the battle will never end.
SIR – The daily reports and analysis suggest that Hamas only has to stop hurling ineffective bombs at Israel, which Israel responds to with massive force, in order to enforce a ceasefire.
Israel appears to make huge efforts to protect its citizens. Why does Hamas consistently put the lives of civilians on both sides at risk?
Lower Penn, Staffordshire
SIR – Why cannot the Israelis focus on detecting and destroying the tunnel exits rather than destroying countless homes and families in Gaza?
Burn Bridge, North Yorkshire
SIR – Cinema-goers have too many options when deciding what to see, according to the British Film Institute.
Nonsense. Film-goers have hardly any choice unless they want to see the latest blockbuster, running in five cinemas for a month or more, while the remaining venues are showing teenage flicks. With so many cinemas, one would think it would be easy to find a lesser-known European, Australian or Asian film. No such luck.
Besides the problem of finding a film I want to see, when I get to the cinema, I’m surrounded by people who eat, talk, make phone calls and play games on their mobiles.
Preserving Britain’s architectural heritage for all
SIR – Two years ago, due to ill health, we sold our lovely Grade II listed cottage, which was built in 1642. We had cared for this building for 27 years, surrounding it with colourful cottage gardens, which we loved, but which could be enjoyed also by passers-by. We understood that we were just caretakers of our home and that it was a legacy for future generations.
Last month I was dismayed when I passed by to find that the cottage and gardens had disappeared from view, hidden behind 12ft-tall trees. It can now be enjoyed only by its occupants.
I feel there should be the equivalent of a CRB investigation into the worthiness of potential owners of our old buildings to ensure they will preserve them for the admiration of the entire community.
Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire
SIR – Jonathan Ruffer (Features, July 14) concludes that “the social benefits of heritage are not ancillary – they can be its purpose”.
Nowhere is this more true than with churches. By funding repairs and the installation of modern facilities such as kitchens, lavatories and disabled access, historic religious buildings which have been at the centre of Christian worship for hundreds of years also become community hubs.
Unlike other countries, in Britain neither church authorities nor the state directly support the upkeep of churches. We must work together to bring real social and economic benefit to communities and to ensure their survival for future generations.
Chief Executive, National Churches Trust
For more than a decade, motorists buying diesel cars have enjoyed tax breaks because the cars produce lower levels of carbon dioxide and are more fuel efficient Photo: Alamy
7:00AM BST 04 Aug 2014
SIR – The anti-diesel tax is yet another example of politicians claiming “it’s a green tax” to disguise unfair revenue-gathering from motorists.
They hit us all with “green” taxes to persuade us to buy lower-CO2 vehicles and now they are losing revenue because we’ve done that, while cars are also ever more economical and less polluting.
It is indefensible that someone in a petrol car that is so old it doesn’t even have a catalytic converter will pay less than someone who has invested in a new diesel, with a particulate filter, that complies with the latest emission regulations.
My biggest worry is that the tax won’t stay in the cities. In the past, one-size-fits-all attitudes have meant we rural dwellers, who don’t have the alternative of viable public transport and whose cars rarely sit in jams, usually end up paying vehicle taxes allegedly brought in to fight urban problems.
West Row, Suffolk
SIR – The only fair method would be to abolish the “road” tax and recover the cost through fuel duty, which can gradually be adjusted to favour petrol over diesel. Those that cover the highest mileages would pay the most tax.
Huby, North Yorkshire
SIR – I have just returned from a pleasant six-week holiday drive around Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg. In all of those countries there appear to be more diesel vehicles than petrol being used. Furthermore, all fuel stations sell diesel fuel at lower prices than petrol, thus encouraging the use of diesel-powered vehicles.
It is about time we found some leaders who can stand up to the European Commission rather than penalising their own citizens for any arbitrary transgressions the EC dreams up.
J G Prestwood
SIR – Boris Johnson seems to have forgotten that the capital’s buses and taxis are diesel-operated and have been for many years. Perhaps he intends that they should all be re-engined.
Barton Stacey, Hampshire
SIR – I turned to a diesel estate car because its fuel consumption was 40 per cent lower than the two-litre petrol equivalent I had been using. Even with higher diesel prices, it made more economic sense.
SIR – So diesel cars have joined statins, aspirin, butter, eggs and red wine on another bad today/good tomorrow cycle of uncertainty. It seems the more expert these government advisers get, the less they seem to know. Or is it that politicians just don’t know what questions to ask?
Sir, – John Bowman (“Time for us to remember first World War fallen”, Opinion & Analysis, August 2nd) restates the current orthodoxy with regard to the Great War. Despite widespread evidence to that contrary we are being asked to believe that nationalist Ireland somehow discarded all memory of that event for over 50 years.
This simplistic notion is playing its part in turning what should be an opportunity for reflection on Ireland’s role in the carnage of 1914-18 into a celebratory nostalgiafest. I agree with him when he states that it “remains the historian’s task to analyse the past with as open a mind as possible.” In that spirit it is well to remember that many Irish veterans of the war felt that they had been betrayed and drew the conclusion that their service had been a mistake.
Your article was accompanied by a photograph of the victory parade in Dublin during July 1919. Earlier that month 2-3,000 members of the Irish Nationalist Veterans’ Association gathered at the Mansion House in Dublin, where they voted to boycott that event. Speakers from the floor stated that they returned from service abroad to find in Ireland a “larger army of occupation than Germany found necessary to keep down Belgium”.
The veterans were addressed by Mary Kettle, whose husband, Tom, had died on the Somme in 1916. She complained that “soldiers were asked to march past College Green, their own House of Parliament, where their rights were bartered away, to salute Lord French (who) as Lord Lieutenant and head of the Irish Executive was responsible for the rule of coercion in this country and for the betrayal of every Irish nationalist soldier who fought and fell in the war …” She hoped “ in honour of her husband’s memory, not a single Dublin Fusilier would march in the procession. If it had brought about an Irish settlement they would march proudly; such was not the case; but, on the contrary, they were asked to join and unite with the army of occupation.”
Tom Kettle’s death is often held up as emblematic of Irish nationalist sacrifice in the war; his widow’s words help remind up of why memory of this conflict remains so problematic. – Yours, etc,
DR BRIAN HANLEY,
Sir, – Regarding the hoopla currently under way concerning our participation in the Great War some thoughts come to mind. Interestingly, this conflagration was not started by Germany, not looked for, not provoked. Neither was there any reality to the manias of the time about “poor little Belgium” or Germany’s wish to “conquer the world”. Both were mythical. Another curiosity was that the largest, most powerful, most feared army in the world at the time was not that of Germany but of France.
The fact is that during the countdown to August 1914 the “warmongering” Kaiser was frantically casting about among Europe’s chancelleries for any expedient that might head off the catastrophe he, more than anyone, could see looming ahead. In the Wilhelmine era, Germany had risen immensely in the world, artistically, scientifically, industrially, so much so that as early as 1906 there existed high up in His Majesty’s Government a group determined to have Britain declare war on Germany for the express purpose of crushing it the moment a suitable casus belli presented itself.
Poor deluded Redmond, crooning about the promised paltry bauble of “home rule”, can hardly be blamed here. It was of their own volition that large numbers of Irishmen flooded into Britain’s armies to further a cause as unworthy as any in history, ie to annihilate the finest, most active, creative and honourable people the world has seen since the fall of Rome, a people with whom we had never had any quarrel. Mark the event by all means, but, recalling Kipling’s words “should any ask you why we died tell them – because our fathers lied”. Mark it for the tragedy it was. Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was taken with the photograph of the Great War victory parade past the old Irish parliament house in Dublin’s College Green in 1919, a building used in many recruiting posters and and postcards addressed to Irish nationalists, who thought they would advance Irish self-government by joining the British forces.
I think it only fair to point out that on the morning of that parade, three members of Ireland’s first democratic parliament, and that parliament’s clerk, were arrested by British agents and later sentenced to jail terms for conducting an illegal assembly – Dáil Éireann. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – James Connolly saw the first war as one of imperialist rivalry and spoke and voted against it in the Socialist International. Many young Irishmen who joined up were seeking an escape from grinding poverty In some cases even those in employment were to go at the behest of their employers and to keep their jobs. I see nothing in this to justify military celebrations or indeed commemorations. In human terms WW1 was a dire failure for all sides. – Yours, etc,
MAIRIN DE BURCA,
Upper Fairview Avenue,
Sir. – I accept the worthiness of commemorating the many thousands of Irishmen who died in the first World War, but I am beginning to have doubts about the plethora of said ceremonies involving our Government. It smacks of retrospective embarrassment. Last week’s event at Glasnevin cemetery seemed to me to be a step too far. If the past 100 years has been characterised by a failure to pay tribute to the fallen, we are now perhaps going overboard now. This is especially true of your paper, although with your history as the voice of the unionist tradition this can be excused. I am not in any sense a rabid republican, but the pomp in Glasnevin made me uneasy. By all means have events to remember the dead, but so many? Yours, etc,
Sir, – Perhaps an antidote to the “imperialist” coverage of the centenary of the first World War might be a comparison of recruitment figures for parts of the British Isles during the war. According to JM Winter’s “Britain’s ‘lost generation’ of the First World War”, quoted in JJ Lee’s Ireland 1912-1985, 26 per cent of Scottish men of serving age joined the British army during the war and 24 per cent of Welsh men, but only 10 per cent of Irish men. A high of 43,000 Irish men who volunteered between August and December 1914 (half of them from Ulster) shrank to a low of 12,000 between August and March 1915 and figures fell further as the war progressed. Perhaps the war was not as popular here as some current studies would have us believe. Yours, etc,
Sir, – I welcome the inclusion in the Decade of Commemoration of those Irish who fell in the Great War, but object to the Cross of Sacrifice ceremony held at Glasnevin last week given the presence at it of members of the British army. It seems that decades of propaganda with the specific purpose of incrementally deconstructing the narrative of the Irish State and restoring a British dimension here are bearing fruit. While it is appropriate to honour the Irish dead, what is not acceptable is the persistent efforts to confer a new respectability on the British army under the guise of honouring the Irish war dead. Sooner, rather than later, Irish society must make fundamental decisions regarding its political identity, ethos and future policy directions. Will we continue along the path of nation-building, asserting a distinct post-colonial Irish identity or do we instead see ourselves as part of the so-called “Anglosphere”? Yours, etc,
Sir, – Now more than ever is the time to expose that 2000-year-old obscenity Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (it is sweet and dignified to die for your fatherland). There is no glory in luring naive young men and women to kill and be killed. A veritable deluge of commemorations of the first World War is upon us, politicians, aristocrats and bemedalled elites disporting themselves with pomp and ceremony to mark the beginning of that most horrendous sacrifice of the innocent youth that goes by the name of the Great War. It was wrong when Horace said it 2,000 years ago and it was wrong in 1914, 1916, 1939 and for all the “wars to make the world safe for democracy and freedom”. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Thank you, President Higgins, for your more than wise words. We have, as you said, a multilayered sense of belonging. Our Irish Defence Forces continue to nurture, give pride and service to our country. I will always stand to attention when they pass. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I have watched the reports from Gaza and on the demonstrations about the bombing. And now I need to speak out, as a supporter of human rights, as a Jew, a rabbi and a citizen of the world. I condemn the Israeli government for its treatment of Palestinians on the West Bank. I condemn the Israeli government for its incessant bombing, the death of children and the destruction of Gazan society. And I support those who are as heartbroken as I am over this carnage.
But I do have a question. Where were the demonstrators, the reports in The Irish Times, when thousands of Israelis and Jews were murdered through suicide bombings, missiles, guerrilla attacks in Israel, Western Europe and around the world? Where were the demonstrations, the calls for human rights, when every country in the Arab League expelled Arab Jews in 1948?
Where were the demonstrations when Black September blew up school buses in Kyrat Shemonah or the cafeteria at Hebrew University, or the cafes in Tel Aviv, or the 23 bus in Jerusalem? Nowhere.
To the clerics who have spoken from the pulpit about the war crimes committed against Gazans, my question is where was your church, your clergy during the terror attacks in Israel, during the murders in Munich, during the Shoah and, oh yes, during the Inquisition? Nowhere.
From the safety of Ireland it is easy to blame, to point fingers, to claim a righteous position when it isn’t your home, your children, your parents and relatives being bombed or dying in the IDF. It is easy to accuse without coming to terms with the situation in Israel/Palestine, a situation that is at once complex and deadly. And it is extremely naive to think that some of the rancour and anger directed at Jews (in France, Germany, the US and, yes, here in Dublin) is anything other than anti-Semitism.
The horror in Gaza is just that – horrific. It needs to stop. We need to make it clear that “never again” means never another Gaza, or Munich, or Rwanda, or Belfast, or Warsaw, or Darfur or Gorta Mór. It means that all human beings must be treated with dignity and respect. It is time to stand for all humanity … even for those whose homes are the targets of Hamas’s missiles. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Who could deny the righteous momentum that brought the Jewish people after the Holocaust and after almost two millennia of diaspora and persecution to seek a return to the old homeland of Palestine?
The dilemma was how to accomplish this justly and in a manner that did not deny the rights of the homeland’s perennial inhabitants, the Palestinians. In this Israel and the international community (who also bear massive responsibility) have sadly failed and in the process the Israeli state has, in its peripheralisation, dispossession and destruction of the Palestinians, perpetrated a fate similar to that which was unleashed upon Jews during the endless and centuries-old persecutions and pogroms of Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
People of goodwill across the world are watching the current situation unfold with great sadness given the appalling history of Jewish suffering, and therefore – and perhaps unrealistically (given the the developing aggression of Islam around them) – expected more evolved and humane solutions to be pursued by the Israelis in solving the problems of co-habitation in shared territories.
As for Eamonn Mc Cann’s naive belief (Opinion & Analysis, July 31st, in reference to Jon Snow’s conjecture about Hamas’a motives) that there would not be Hamas extremists willing to stand by and see the cause bolstered by the pile-up of Palestinian bodies, including those of children, I find his lack of cynicism difficult to understand given his age and our observation of similar strategies pursued in the past, eg the IRA’s ruthlessness in letting young men die on hunger strike, boosting the organisation’s position. Extreme situations breed extremism.The Palestinians have a just cause, corrupted by extremism. Likewise the Israelis. Will the human community never learn the lessons of history? Probably not. And in the meantime children are dying. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I see another letter describing Israel as “the only true democracy in the Middle East”. Perhaps we should pray that this model of democracy spreads no further: the undertakers would never be able to keep up. Yours, etc,
CAPT JOHN DUNNE,
St Georges Street,
Isle of Man
Sir, – Finally, with Karl Deeter’s excellent article (Pricewatch, August 4th), we have some insightful commentary on the current housing problems affecting Dublin. Media analysis of housing problems has unfortunately been very poor. While it is perhaps inevitable in Ireland that those with a vested interest in high house prices will dominate the airwaves, it is unfortunate that their views are subjected to so little analysis.
A case in point is the extraordinary amount of space that the Irish Mortgage Holders’ Association and New Beginnings are regularly given. Representatives of these organisations are rarely asked hard questions, nor are their interests questioned. Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of citizens who rent (at very high prices and often in very poor housing stock) and those who would like to buy a reasonable house or apartment for a reasonable amount of money have absolutely no voice and are largely excluded from the debate.
More robust pieces like that from Deeter will go some way to addressing this deficit. Yours, etc,
Seafield Road East,
First published: Tue, Aug 5, 2014, 01:10
Sir, – Breda O’Brien (Opinion & Analysis, July 2nd) once more highlights how underrepresented women are in politics and business, reminding us that we rank 60th in the world for women holding ministerial positions, a ranking just slightly altered by the recent reshuffle.
I agree with her that failing to put a financial price on the carer’s contribution can lead over time to feelings of lack of self-worth and erode confidence. The choice to be a home-maker needs to be valued and respected; choosing career and politics over being a home-maker is only possible for many women because other women are available to perform this role, allowing mothers like me the choice to work outside the home.
We need to encourage and motivate, we need more strong female role models (we have them but we need to hear their stories). We need more awareness as to how underrepresented the 51.8 per cent of women in Irish society are. Awareness, quotas, encouraging girls to be competitive at school, these are all positive first steps, but we will need more. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I welcome your editorial (August 2nd) highlighting the findings of the study conducted by the Clinton Institute at UCD that deals with emigration. This is an important study, as it officially emphasises what those of us involved with Irish emigration have been suggesting for years. At last, it is admitted that emigration is caused by dysfunctional institutions. Preparation is needed to deal with departure, arrival, culture shock, integration and the need to associate with networks at destination. To accomplish this, available objective information is essential.
It is mistakenly assumed that with the apparent shrinking of distance and effective modern communications emigration has changed.
That is so, but the pangs of loss experienced by the human heart remain, both for the left and the bereft. Migration breaks primary relationships. Unresolved loss lingers in isolation.
Emigration is the human heart on a journey of hope. It should be incumbent on states like Ireland, which cannot offer all their people work at home, to help make that hope a reality abroad and to facilitate a return if so desired. – Yours, etc,
SSC Migrant Rights
The exorbitant prices for Irish water will cost others their jobs, as householders cut back on other basic items to meet this extra cost – along with their property tax and increases in gas or electric bills. It will cost the bread man his job. It will cost the paper boy his job. It will cost the milk man his job. It will cost hotel and restaurant workers their jobs, along with local jobs in local shops as people cut back on all of these to meet their water charge payments.
So while ministers and politicians can afford to bathe in milk and champagne, we won’t be able to afford a carton of milk for our tea/coffee, at the same time I could not even drink the tap water during the very hot spell due to the amount of fluoride in it. The smell and taste was making me sick, so I had to buy better-quality bottled water to drink instead.
You can’t get blood from a stone. We are stone broke. Our well has truly run dry paying for the mistakes of others who left the Irish people with a thirst for the recent European/local election bashing of government parties. Water/property charges will finish them at the next elections. They are not waterproof.
Israel defends its people
Shame on Hamas. Shame on you for slaughtering the innocent Palestinian people, by provoking Israel.
Then again the ideology and fundamental ideas you endorse has no place for shame. I for one would not put money in a collection bucket for fear that Hamas might receive a single penny of it.
Hopefully Israel will go through every house in Gaza to get rid of the rats who are the real threat to the society we live in.
They have every right to defend their people and live in peace.
Medical card abomination
Hubert H Humphrey, a former vice president of the United States, once said: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those that are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the needy and the handicapped.”
If our current government had any aspirations to govern by this maxim, then they have failed miserably. Having witnessed, first hand, the injustices perpetrated by this administration on the sick and elderly, I felt compelled to pen this letter.
My mother-in-law is almost 90 years of age, has many physical ailments, advancing dementia and lives in a nursing home. She is about to lose her medical card. It’s an abomination and all so that our financial institutions and big business can be protected and safeguarded. I ask you, what sort of society have we become to allow such a thing to happen? It is obviously “no country for old men” or women either for that matter.
Respecting the anthem
Several letters have referred to the disrespect shown to the pre-match playing of the national anthem by GAA players. Surprisingly, none that I am aware of, mention the very same disrespect shown by GAA fans/supporters. The Gaelic Athletic Association, more especially in the North, deems itself to be the foremost guardian of all that is good (or bad, depending on how you look on it).
Yet their members repeatedly show disrespect for that prime symbol of nationhood, the Irish National Anthem.
Never yet have I heard it played out to the end without it being totally drowned out three-quarter ways through by spectators cheering for their respective teams.
So why solely blame the players? They are only doing as their supporters do so well.
It makes one wonder why players and spectators of “foreign” games as rugby and soccer can give total respect until the last note of the national anthem. Is it to much to expect the same level of respect from GAA players and supporters? I’m sure it would be a satisfying and uplifting experience for us GAA followers.
HSE drug payments advice
Many patients who recently lost their medical card were driven back onto the Drug Payments Scheme, and now have to pay at least €144 per month for prescribed medicines, an increase of at least €119 every month.
Some GPs only prescribe for 28 days medication each month, and medicines are often boxed in 28s, even though we have seven 31 day months, four of 30 days, and February has 28 days in three out of four years, with one 29-day month every fourth year.
Twelve months x 28 prescription days is only 336 days.
Patients should ask their GPs to prescribe monthly by the number of days in each month, to avoid having to pay 13 times instead of 12 each year.
Remembering the dead from World War I
Last week (Thursday, 31 July) Glasnevin cemetery had a ceremony for Irish service men and women in World War I and World War II and for WWI’s 100th anniversary. Some 4,500 Irish nurses worked in WWI. A special cross was unveiled near the graves of 200 WWI Irish servicemen by the Glasnevin Trust – with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which looks after the war graves and cemeteries worldwide of those who were in the British, New Zealand, Australian and Canadian armies and from other Commonwealth countries in both wars.
It represents all faiths and none.
President Michael D Higgins spoke of how we today eliminate all the barriers that have stood between those Irish soldiers whose lives were taken in the war, for whose remains we have responsibility, and whose memories we have a duty to respect.
We cannot give back their lives to the dead, he said, nor whole bodies to those who were wounded, or repair the grief, undo the disrespect that was sometimes shown to those who fought or their families, but we can honour them all now.
Patrick Arnold, whose father William J Arnold from Dublin was a career soldier with the Dublin Fusiliers in the British army in WW1 and WWII, said after the ceremony that, although his father died of natural causes, he was very psychologically and emotionally wounded by the war.
He never mentioned it, because the memories, noise and stench were too powerful. He lived with guilt that he survived. He hoped the cross will give a central point, spanning all religions and all classes across the island and he hoped in 10, 50, or 100 years, people will gather together in their memory. The Northern Ireland Secretary of State for Health also attended.
Ceremonies on WWI’s 100th anniversary in Ireland are seen as remembering Irish men and women who died or survived and returned to a different Ireland after the 1916 Rising and War of Independence.
They believed WWI was a moral one as they were told this with reports of atrocities in Belgium in 1914 invaded by Germany en route to France. Nine million men killed in four years sent by leaders not at risk themselves, with the exception of Russia’s Tsar and family tragically executed in July 1918.
They had thought the war would be a short one. It tragically wasn’t.