TIME TO REMEMBER THEM
Since the end of the World War Two,
16,000 servicemen –and women-Have
Given their lives for their country
Shamefully, there is no
to honour that sacrifice.
Now, with the help of the Mail’s generous readers, that can be changed.
this APPEAL was raised in November 2006 a National Memorial has
been opened by the Queen in Alrewas near Lichfield , Staffordshire,ENGLAND]
WORLD WAR II ended in August 1945. Millions of British soldiers, sailors and airmen gave thanks that their lives had been spared, that they could go home to their families having survived the greatest conflict in history.
Yet two month later, on October 10, in the depths of Indochina – as Vietnam was then called – Captain Peter Rollaston of the Royal Engineers was returning from inspecting a water pipeline with small party of Indian soldiers, when they suddenly came under fire from communist guerrillas, near a golf course out side Saigon, Rollaston was immediately wounded, his car wrecked. He boarded a truck and drove on, only to be ambushed and wounded again. As he tried to escape from the vehicle, he was hit fatally, along with three of his men.
The young officer died at the hands of people with whom he had no quarrel, part of a British army that was merely trying to secure Indochina until its French colonial rulers returned to take over. His passing was unnoticed by the World.
Rollaston was a victim rather than a hero, like many of almost 16,000 men and women of the British armed forces who have died while serving in their country’s uniform since the end of
World War II.
His fate can be compared with that of the first two British soldiers to die in Ulster in 1969 – not at the hands of the IRA, but instead from bullets accidentally fired by comrades, who in those innocent days were embarrassingly unfamiliar with handling loaded guns.
Think likewise of 17 men returning aboard two Wessex helicopters from an operation in Borneo in 1963. One pilot swung inwards towards a landing zone, failing to notice that a second Wessex beside him had not begun its turn. The two craft collided and plunged into the Baleh river, killing all those aboard.
Every one of the men and women who lost their lives in such ways had loved ones – parents, wives, and children. Their bereavement was as devastating as that suffered by families by families of men who died with the Paras at Arnhem or the Dambusters, the tank crews on D-Day or the destroyer men of the artic convoys, the front –page actions of World War II.
It was a hard thing for those left behind to feel that a father or brother died not in a great conflict everyone has heard of, but in some dreary, apparently futile little squabble which posterity is scarcely aware of. Every life is precious to every family. Every death deserves to be dignified and respected.
‘I still find myself wondering about two Royal Signallers who just disappeared while out checking phone lines.’
Lance –Corporal Bob Downie wrote long afterwards of his service in the Suez Canal Zone.
‘What did their parents think and to this day do they know what happened to their sons?’
The legion of such stories goes far to explain why the proposal for the new Armed Forces Memorial seems so very important. A couple of years ago, I sat on a small Ministry of defence committee, examining the case for awarding a campaign clasp to those who served with British forces in the Suez Canal Zone in the early 1950s.
We heard the evidence from a succession of veterans, about experiences which were – to be frank – Unglamorous.
They had taken part in no great battles, won no great victories. They had simply served at modest risk among our units then protecting the Suez Canal against local Egyptian nationalists, who killed and wounded a number of men.
But our view was that the tiny gesture of a clasp would cost the British taxpayer much less than the value of satisfaction which it would give to the old men who would receive it. They wanted a token to recognise what they had put up with in their country’s name
THEY SEEMED TO DESERVE IT.
Everybody hated the Canal Zone. Sergeant Chas Goulder of the Royal Engineers cynically described the ground rules for local duty, as laid down by his commanding officer:
‘Only return fire if your head has been blown off and only then if in the camp area. If being beaten up, lie down and cover your h4ead with your hands.
Do not haggle over prices in the Bazaar. This is provocative behaviour. Do not
swear at or call anyone a “wog”.’
One day in 1952, the general commanding in the Canal Zone decided that the time had come to take the initiative against Egyptian police in Ismailia, who were constantly sniping at British units.
On Friday January 25, British tanks and infantry assaulted a succession of local police stations, after their occupants refused to surrender weapons. A fierce firefight followed.
When the shooting stopped, in the words of Harry Whitehead of the Lancashire Fusiliers,
‘The town was a mess, with burning buildings and walls reduced to rubble’. Fourteen fusiliers had been killed or wounded’
The last British unit, the 2nd Grenadiers, left in June 1956. Six weeks later President Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, precipitating the ill-conceived Anglo-French invasion of which we are commemorating the anniversary this month.
Then too, British soldiers died to no apparent reason, like poor young Lieutenant John Moorhouse,
who was kidnapped by Egyptians and found dead just before their evacuation.
The loss of Moorhouse made bitter headlines in Britain in 1956. But who remembers him – or the manner of his death – today?
This is the sort of national amnesia which the new memorial is designed to set right: to highlight the simple truth that it is unjust to distinguish between the value of one sacrifice and another, between a human loss in famous big wars, or notorious little one’s.
I began this piece with a memory of the ‘first Vietnam war’, as historians call it, when in late 1945 British troops found themselves striving to contain Ho Chi Minh’s communist guerrillas. This was a vivid example of the confused, bloody little encounter which nobody today remembers save the diminishing number of veterans who were there.
In the years that followed, as Britain withdrew from its Empire, there were many such operations in which our soldiers’, sailors’ and airmen’s lives were lost.
During the Partition of India in 1947, most of the murderous violence which cost a million dead was between
HINDO and MUSLIM’
But British soldiers often found themselves fighting to hold the ring as they retreated from the sub-continent.
In Palestine between 1945 and 1948 British soldiers fought a most miserable campaign to
hold at bay both Jewish and Arab terrorists.
On July 29, 1947, the Irgun terrorist group – led by Menachem Begin, who later became Prime Minister – kidnapped two British NCO’s Sergeants Matin and Pain. They were hanged and left suspended in an orange grove.
‘We all saw the bodies,’
wrote another British soldier, Dennis Edwards.
‘They were booby-trapped and the officer who cut them down was badly injured. There was a lot of bad feeling about that.’
Few soldiers who endured the Palestine campaign left the country without bitterness, when the British government washed its hands of the
In 1950, British troops were committed to the Korean War. The Army was so overstretched that thousands of reservists – men who had been back home in civilian life since 1945 and never expected to hear gun-fire again – found themselves abruptly dragged from their jobs.
Through many letter boxes, unwelcome summonses fluttered:
‘In accordance with the terms of reserve liability, it has become necessary to recall you to active military duty. You are accordingly required to report to duty on 9, August 1050 to the OC 45 Field Regiment RA’.
or whatever the UNIT was.
One recalled Northumberland Fusilier had spent five years as a prisoner in Germany after being captured at Dunkirk. Now he went absent without leave. His wife had urged him:
’No one’s going to blame you’
But they did. The man was caught and sent to Korea.
There were extraordinary scenes at the depot: an enraged housewife pushed three snivelling children before her into the orderly room, shouting at the bewildered young officer:
‘You’ve taken their father – you can look after this lot!’
A few soldiers were naively keen. ‘We thought it would be like Europe in 1945 – lots of looting and women,’ said one of their number sheepishly, long afterwards.
In truth, however, Korea proved one of the harshest experiences the British Army has ever known, and cost the lives of more than
700 officers and men,
many of them National Servicemen or reservists such as described above.
In Malaya, British soldiers sweltered for years in the jungle fighting Chinese communist guerrillas until independence was granted in 1957.
Some 25 British and Commonwealth infantry battalions were deployed, and more than 70 military crosses were won.
‘I often felt we were not properly informed of the background,’ said Lt. Michael Radford of the Queen’s Royal Regiment,
‘When members of the battalion were wounded or killed, I was at a loss really to understand why they had to die and for what cause?’
MANY OTHER MEN LOST THEIR LIVES FAR FROM THE BATTLE FIELD.
Think of the 20 men from the Gordon Highlanders, who were burned to death in the Paphos Forest in Cyprus while hunting EOKA terrorists in June 1956.
A British mortar bombardment created a bushfire which consumed hundreds of acres – and some of the soldiers patrolling them.
On Cyprus, 156 British soldiers perished before agreement on the island’s independence was reached in 1959.
There were many more such campaigns: in Kenya against the Mau Mau; in Oman against nationalist insurgents; in Aden between 1964 and 1967, as the British strove to maintain order against rival insurgent groups in the last years of colonial rule.
In Sarawak in December 1962, Royal marine Captain Jeremy Moore – who later commanded British forces in the Falklands War -?
Won an MC for a dramatic action at Limbang, landing from the river to rescue the local British official and his wife who had been kidnapped and held hostage. Five Royal Marines of 42 Commando were killed, seven wounded.
Moore and his men found themselves street-clearing in the ramshackle town.
‘One colossal Marine fell through the roof of one house.’ Recorded Moore, and plummeted all the way down through various floors to the ground landing in a heap beside a bath containing an entire Chinese family, all of them peering at him worriedly over the rim.
If there were such moments of comedy, tragedy was never far away. British soldiers continued to die in the so-called ‘Borneo confrontation’ until President Sukarno of Indonesia admitted defeat in 1965.
From 1969 onwards, Northern Ireland inflicted a steady drain of fatal
Even with the Empire gone British troops were still deployed in strange places such as Belize in Central America, in the Trucial States on the Arabian Gulf –
Today’s United Arab Emirates.
Their lives and their tasks were not very dangerous, but there were al3ways occasional deaths because hazard is inseparable from military deployments.
The Falklands War cost the lives of 255 British servicemen, at least ten of these from ‘friendly fire’.
I have always believed that it is kindest to families to record such tragedies as ‘killed in action’ alongside those who fell to enemy bullets. Modern opinion, however, rejects such well –intentioned deceits.
Families are encouraged to insist on the truth. Yet so often in all wars ‘the truth’ is terribly sad, the death apparently futile.
One of the great merits of the Staffordshire Memorial is that it will bring together, without discrimination, those who fell in combat and those who became victims of accident and disease.
The sole criterion for inclusion for a name to be carved upon stone will be that a man or women was acting in the service of our armed forces when they perished.
This will redress a historic injustice. For the descendants of those who are listed, the Memorial will bring together victims and heroes, fighting soldiers and men of the often –forgotten support services, stars of Goose Green and the casualties of Bosnia or Kosovo, those murdered by terrorists bathing off Palestinian beaches alongside those killed in tank accidents in Germany.
ALL GAVE THEIR MOST PRECIOUS
POSSESSION FOR THEIR COUNTRY.
Some causes, some conflicts, were more noble than others. Yet all, the losses should be valued by us who came afterwards.
We enjoy our prosperity and FREEDOM
Because of what each of those who perished in some tiny degree contributed.
It is a fine thing, that we are now offered the chance to HONOUR those who did not live to see old age and grandchildren, nor became the stuff of legends.
WE OWE THOSE MEN AND WOMEN AS SURELY AS WE OWE THE DEAD OF PASSCHENDAELE-
D-Day and ARNHEM.
THROUGH THE MEMORIAL APPEAL
WE HAVE OUR CHANCE TO PAY A SMALL PART OF THAT DEBT.
[Font Altered-Bolding & Underling Used -Comments in Brackets
HAS one of your loved ones died in the line of duty since the end of World War II?
Tell us their story in a short letter or email including a telephone number we can contact you on. Write to: Forces Memorial, Daily Mail newsdesk,
2 Derry Street’ London, W8 5TT