Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ask Mr Lawrence

Westgate Sunset
A poignant and moving ceremony at St Peter's church in Broadstairs, this afternoon, for the funeral of  David Chamberlain, attended by friends, family, colleagues and well-wishers from as far as Afghanistan. I was pleased to see the church packed to capacity for this memorial service for another tragic victim of a war, which reaches out and touches so many lives.

I'm reminded that my own uncle was fighting with his Ghurkas against the tribesman in Afghanistan, as far back as 1947. He told me that every Friday, their holy day of rest, each side would call a truce and play cricket. Watching, the very powerful documentary 'Our War' on television this week, the conflict has changed so much that he might has well been there, a century before, with Rudyard Kipling; a lesson we don't yet appear to have learned.

Readers may recall that I'm a great fan of TE Lawrence, having followed his path by car and bicycle, across the deserts of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Lawrence wrote of a different war with an almost prescient redolence which lingers on:

"The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster."

The private view of the politicians and army officers I know, is that once we withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the struggling nation will swiftly fall back into the state in which we found it, squeezed as it is by the interests of the superpowers, regional conflict, the influence of Iran and the unimaginable influence and wealth of the heroin trade controlled by powerful organised crime networks.

All that said, the role and personal sacrifices, of all our men and women serving there, is often unappreciated and unrecognised by the general public, perhaps because it's so distant and it's not on the news every day, unless perhaps a politician drops in for a photo-call or another soldier's name is added to the growing list of casualties.

However, today's very moving service at St Peter's in Broadstairs served as a reminder that Afghanistan is much closer to home than many of may think and I'll finish with those same famous lines from William Shakespeare that were read during the memorial service:

 "From this day to the ending of the world, 
But we in it shall be remember'd; 
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, 
This day shall gentle his condition: 
And gentlemen in England now a-bed 
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here"

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