A Bad Thing

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A bad thing happened last night. It happened in a bad place, just before bedtime. It came out of nowhere and completely knocked me for six. I wasn’t ready for it, I very much doubt anyone can be but it shook me to the core. While I am not one to inspect my working parts on an overly frequent basis I do happen upon the occasional spot check. Such was the instance last evening. And while I have, and I think regular readers will concur, greeted all the disappointments and indignities of middle age with sanguine equanimity I simply wasn’t prepared for what greeted me as I peered down below; a grey pubic hair. I stared at it with the same beguiling fascination that I did so many years ago when the first hair appeared. That one I welcomed with a smile, not so this aged imposter. Before it could exact any further damage on my ego I lunged for the snips and off it came.

Unfortunately, and I would caution that you will all experience this at some point in your lives, grey hairs are like ants; where there is one there are more of the little bastards. Closer inspection yielded more to be harvested. It was at this point when my workmanlike enthusiasm rather got the better of good judgement. I am now shall we say, somewhat more aerodynamic than was the case when I woke up in the morning. Vanity is never an endearing trait, much less so in the middle aged but I yield to no man in my defence of an Englishman’s God-given birthright to defend his pride and dignity with a pair of nail scissors. The tough truth though, as we all know, is that it is what it is. The experience has been similar to the six stages of grief; shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance all wrapped up in a 24 hour bundle. When your turn comes, perhaps you will handle it with more maturity than have I. Good luck chaps, stay strong.

Happy

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The Fighting 51st

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If you have not yet seen Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill in the Darkest Hour, it is worth making the effort to do so. It is a very good film rather than a ‘great film.’ Despite some ludicrous rewriting of history, such as a scene in the London Underground when an apparent indecisive Churchill is swayed by ordinary folk who he questions on the tube, and some obviously politically correct casting of minor roles and extras, it has value in the retelling of an especially trying period of our history. Similarly, Oldman’s craft is very good without, in my view, touching greatness but he nonetheless deserves the praise received. The Darkest Hour is certainly a better movie than was Dunkirk which anyway was probably aimed at a younger audience. It was good for example to see Admiral Ramsey at Dover, (the architect of the Dunkirk evacuation, receive some airtime although I think the screenwriters misjudged the Admiral’s character; specifically his resolve and bold, robust leadership throughout the crisis in France. One thing that both films have in common though is neither mention the 51st Highland Division at St Valery. Not a peep. What then happened at St Valery and why does it matter?

When growing up in the Highlands, events that led to the surrender and capture of the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in June 1940 were very real, almost visceral, in the collective memory throughout Scotland where hardly a village and certainly not a town were untouched by events. Certainly in the Highlands, there was scarcely a family or community that had not known someone who had been killed or captured during the retreat and fighting at St Valery. Most families were not to learn of the fate of their loved ones for many months, such was the chaos of the large area over which they fought and those captured were not to return home for five years.  That collective memory has become dimmed by time but where the candle still burns it burns with intense resentment over Churchill’s actions. The charge being that he needlessly abandoned the Division to their fate in order to put some backbone into the French fighting spirit, thereby buying time for the defence of Britain.

On the 22nd April 1940 the 51st Division was detached from the rest of the BEF to come under command of the French Third Army after Churchill assured the French that Britain would 'never abandon her ally in her hour of need’. The move was intended to persuade the French to fight on against Hitler as Britain withdrew from the continent.  The Division was stationed in front of the Ouvrage Hackenberg fortress of the Maginot Line and so was not encircled with the rest of the BEF during the Battle of France, and was not involved in the retreat to Dunkirk for evacuation. Instead, it was pulled back to a new line roughly along the River Somme, where it was attached to the French Tenth Army. The 51st Highland Division was charged with recapturing the Abbeville bridgehead on the Somme. The plan suffered from poor co-ordination between Allied artillery, tanks and infantry, and the attack on the 4th June resulted in heavy casualties. The Germans launched a counter-attack the next day, outflanking the Allies and trapping the 51st Highland Division and elements of the French 9th Army Corps. For some time, it was forced to hold a line four times longer than that which would normally be expected of a division. The first major attack initially fell on the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders before the other battalions of the 154th Brigade were enveloped. The Argylls' losses were heavy, the worst day for casualties in their history. Being overwhelmed, 154th Brigade was forced to retire to the west. During this period, the 154th Brigade was detached to form "Arkforce" and was able to escape the German drive into central France and Normandy. However, the 152nd and 153rd Brigades were trapped, with the French 9th Corps under Lieutenant General Marcel Ihler, at Saint-Valery-en-Caux, and surrendered on the 12th June, along with the Division's commander. 

General Fortune with Erwin Rommel

General Fortune with Erwin Rommel

Major General VM Fortune, commander of the 51st, had asked to be evacuated on the 11th June. But the Germans were determined to avoid another Dunkirk and four divisions were put into attack to prevent an evacuation. Despite fierce Allied defence, the 7th Panzers soon held cliff-top ground overlooking the harbour, making an evacuation highly dangerous. The Highlanders were conducting a desperate defence against advancing Germans while trying, without success, to eject the 7th Panzers from their positions. The night of the 11th June was the Highlanders' last chance to evacuate, but Fortune remained unable to contact the ships he hoped would rescue him and his men. That night, although Fortune was still hoping for evacuation and elements of the 51st were still counter-attacking, the French surrendered. By 12th June, Fortune realised that his position was hopeless and also surrendered. Dense fog had delayed the Navy's rescue attempt and, although they intended to arrive the next day, it was too late to save the men who fought at St Valéry-en-Caux from spending the war in a PoW camp. The long march to Germany to the camps was arduous and peppered with ill treatment from their captors. Many more men died before they reached the comparative safety of POW camps. More than 10,000 members of the 51st (Highland) Division were taken prisoner at St Valery. They were marched to Germany, via Belgium, following the route over which the Germans had advanced against them. Their destination was Stalag XX-A at Toruń, about 120 miles (190 km) north-west of Warsaw. Some were loaded into canal barges for part of their journey, but all eventually travelled by train in cattle wagons. There were some notable escapes, mostly in the early stages of the march. Of the 290 British Army POW escapers who had returned to Britain by the end of June 1941, 134 were members of the 51st (Highland) Division. Major-General Fortune was one of the most senior British officers taken prisoner in the war. He was knighted by King George VI after the war.From the British point of view, the defeat of the 51st (Highland) Division was the end of the Allied resistance during the battle of France.

After the war the 51st Highland Division held a special parade at St. Valery on the Somme to pay honour to those who fell in the rear guard action of 1940. 

For such a proud Division, defeat and surrender was a very bitter pill. Some of these men had fought in the Great War, most others were sons or nephews of those who had fought. Many came from generational regimental families and to be the guardians of their regimental lore behind a white flag was a crushing blow. Indeed, one group of Seaforth officers when surrounded and out of ammunition during the retreat had an intense debate about fighting on with bare hands and shovels rather than be the first in their regimental history to surrender. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and they went, 'in the bag.'

Incidentally, David Saul's book, After Dunkirk: Churchills Sacrifice of the Highland Division is a purchase I can heartily recommend as I can a perusal of the 51st Highland Division website which contains first hand accounts and maps of various actions during the period.

As a postscript, my favourite story of the whole Battle of France and the evacuations and surrender is a simple one. Stanley Allan, a British rating on HMS Windsor was embarking troops off Dunkirk. A file of Scottish soldiers wearing khaki aprons over their kilts and led by an officer with his arm in a sling approached the ship.

'The wounded officer called out to the bridge, "What part of France are you taking us to?" One of the naval officers replied," We're taking you back to Dover". The Scotsmen were disgusted and said they were not bloody well coming. They promptly turned round and went back to continue the war with the Germans on their own. It really was remarkable.'

Historical note: The Territorials of the 5th Gordons were much put out by the directive from the War Office to return their kilts to stores before embarking for France and had marked the removal of their kilts in January prior to embarkation with a symbolic ritual. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alick Buchanan-Smith, arranged a parade on the square at Bordon in which a single kilt was ceremoniously burnt as a symbol, so he said, that for 200 years the English had wanted to take away the kilt from the Highlanders and now they had succeeded. A little stone memorial to this effect was built on the spot, the inscription ending with the words: 'We hope not for long'.

Only one Highland battalion (not part of the 51st Division) managed to defy the War Office and go into battle wearing the kilt -the 1st Camerons. Some members of the battalion were still wearing kilts as they were herded off to prison camp. The men alluded to above were therefore very probably, Cameron Highlanders.

University Challenge

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British Universities are on the brink of a period of accelerated growth, driven by domestic and overseas, (Chinese especially), demographics. Over at Toscafund, my old colleague Dr Savvas Savouri and his research team have authored a piece on University growth which ought to have Vice Chancellors, Local Authority planners, developers and indeed investors thinking hard about it's implications. Westminster will as usual be last and late to the party but we can but prod them into some form of animated sentience rather than their usual reaction at the last moment usually that of a stunned halibut.

The executive summary is below followed by the full piece, (published with the authors permission). It is a very interesting read. It is positive and it is good news. Why isn't anyone telling the nation when we get things right?

"Within a handful of years UK university enrolment will begin to move sharply higher. It is only a matter of time before two-year undergraduate degree become commonplace, doing so in response to practical and commercial considerations for students, universities and tax-payers alike. Moving from three to two-year courses eases the overall cost burden on students whilst allowing universities to more intensely work their assets. For even with overall enrolment constant, universities could use accelerated degrees to shift the student mix towards those paying more lucrative fees. They could for instance increase the share of postgraduates and/or undergraduates paying 'premium' fees, notably those from outside the EU, and in particular those applying from China.
Using a combination of demographic and macro-economic data from within China since 2002, we predict that in 2025 there will be in the region of 117,000 applications from China into the UK’s higher education sector, increasing to 239,000 by 2034. For context the most recent figure for 2016/17 was 66,415. By 2034 there will be over half a million Chinese studying in UK-based universities, representing over half of all international students. For context the present share is just over one in five. Whilst other nations around the world will compete with the UK in meeting China’s educational needs, nowhere across Europe will come close to matching the UK’s role.
As a result of the rise in births post-2002 as well as other socio-economic factors the number of Britons enrolling at its universities is likely to reach 2.4 million by 2034, up 29% from the 1.9 million studying in2016/17.
The region which will experience the largest rise in student numbers is expected to be Southeast, whilst theEast midlands will enjoy the strongest percentage growth. Scotland and London are expected to lag most in capitalising on international student demand, albeit for quite different reasons.
When raising their capacity few industries have as voracious an appetite to consume real estate as education. It is for this reason that universities which have little space to expand around their existing campuses will have no other option than to find room elsewhere across the United Kingdom. They will take-up and regenerate existing real estate as well as creating new space on hitherto undeveloped ground, quite possibly traditional agricultural land.
We anticipate that employment across the UK’s universities will rise 30% to over half a million by 2034, the sharpest increases being recorded in the South East (beyond London), North West (around what is fast becoming Man-Pool) and Midlands (containing as it does a great many city-centre and campus universities), with the weakest increases in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland (because of its “outlier” approach to student funding). Growth in staffing and increased need for real estate will of course correlate strongly with where the increase in student numbers is comparatively strongest. This will in turn be closely connected to the rise in freshers coming from China. We estimate employment across the overall education sector willincrease by 830,000 reaching 3.9 million by 2034, section 1.16.
As overseas demand for their courses increases the names of British Universities will become metonyms for international campuses; a process in fact already underway. Some will also add a virtual presence to offer distance learning, again something which has already been seen, This accepted, and to repeat, the names of UK universities will ever more perceptively adorn campuses, teaching in the traditional way and away from their traditional centres, but still somewhere in the UK. Having seen this phenomenon come to London, “satellite” London brands will soon be seen beyond it. We are in short about to see the writing of an entirely new chapter to Britain’s regional real estate growth story, and a very educated one it will be at that."

Toscafund Discussion Paper - Growth of Britains University Cities by MentalCrumble on Scribd

A Good Start

Why bother? Let's revist the Snake Oil Willie Band for a reality check.

January is out of the way, done and dusted. For the many who chose to elevate their sense of sense righteousness in going dry for the month, February has dawned with perhaps, a sense of relief. Tomorrow, pious sobriety will be thrown asunder by most as we launch into the Six Nations with a veritable jamboree of rugby. For me, there is just one incy-wincy-wee-small flaw in the plan. I've done dry January for just about 30 years now and recently, have started a programme of giving up all the bad stuff for 3 months every two years. This is one of those years. I've dropped 16lbs so far and we'll be going for the usual 3st in 3 months on the Bloody Minded 1100 cal/day Crumble Mind-over-Matter Hard Core Diet. This year then, January represents a bloody good start to water and Green Tea for just another two months. 

This Is Belonging 2018

The furious and vocal critics of the first batch of adverts for the new 'This Is Belonging 2018,' advertising campaign for the British Army missed the target in two respects. One, last years 'Belonging' campaign was a success with a >30% uplift in applications and second, the new animated adverts are only part of a broader campaign and should be seen in that context. I can see where the agency luvvies are going with the campaign and I am warming to it. With my own boy sitting in a Med Centre after a ruck in IS training I see no evidence that the Army is getting soft. I know which side I'd rather be on.

Snowflake Soldiers?

This is what the fuss is about

Another week passes and one with yet another silly story about Defence. Following the spurious, ‘Queen Elizabeth Sprung A Leak,’ tale we had the '£1 per head for Christmas in Afghanistan,’ then the ‘Be The Best,’  slogan being scrapped nonsense and now we have the over-the-top criticism of the Army’s new inclusive recruiting campaign which has driven retired officers to pen letters and columns for newspapers in apoplectic rage.  We will be hearing more stories like this as more and more people become restless as the growing budgetary penny pinching bites harder. What all of this disguises though, is a real honest and open debate about the threat, what the government wants the Army to do, how it is going to man and equip it and how the Army will shape itself to meet its commitments. Quite frankly, I very much doubt if many in Whitehall can sensibly address that whether they be in uniform or not.

% of BAME recruits 2015-2017

% of BAME recruits 2015-2017

This though, is another storm in a teacup, just like the telephone answering thing last week that started up a whole convoy of Outrage Buses. My understanding is that the last 'Belonging' campaign is rated a success within the Army, (applications +34%). Capita, to whom the recruiting process is contracted, obviously, are not. The process is so designed, or ill designed, to present the potential recruit with so many obstacles most simply give up long before they enter any training depot. The scandal with Capita is that the situation does not appear to be improving year on year. Notwithstanding that, any effort to broaden the Army's appeal throughout society has to be a good thing given the pitiful representation of some ethnic groups. I discussed recruiting issues, and some modest suggestions in previous posts here and here.

breakdown, by Service, of the numbers of Armed Forces personnel by self-declared religion as of 1st April 2017, (Simple addition evidently leaves something to be desired at the MOD).

breakdown, by Service, of the numbers of Armed Forces personnel by self-declared religion as of 1st April 2017, (Simple addition evidently leaves something to be desired at the MOD).

Moreover, and this may come as a newsflash to some of my fellow retired brethren, the MOD has a Prime Ministerial, (David Cameron), target that 10% of all recruits to the Armed Forces should be from a Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) background by 2020. The Army meets this target, (as at April 2017), probably because of the Commonwealth intake; the other services fall well short. Additionally, the MOD has a further target of 15% of the services to be female by 2020 with women eligible for infantry and armoured roles from this year in a further crackpot farewell decision from Mr Cameron.

% of female recruits 2015-17

% of female recruits 2015-17

The armed forces face numerous headwinds, most of which we have previously discussed but in essence, may be summarised as follows,

  • Near record employment (currently the unemployment rate in the UK is 4.3%, the lowest since 1975). The drop in unemployment in the 18-24 year old bracket is especially dramatic.
  • Demographic change. The UK has an ageing population with those of military age declining as a proportion of the total. In addition, the proportion of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) members of the population is rising, a segment of the community which has, hitherto, shown a low propensity to apply for military service.
  • The ending of the deployment to Afghanistan in 2014 has removed the “recruiting sergeant” of active land warfare operations, a factor which has traditionally helped to maintain interest among young recruits, who have regularly seen footage of British troops involved in overseas conflicts relayed into their homes.
  • A shrinking military footprint. The MOD’s estate has been downsized in recent years, partly in order to meet other policy objectives, such as provision of land for housing. This has led to a situation where in many towns around the United Kingdom the only remaining military presence is provided by cadet units. 
  • These trends are exacerbated by other factors such as an increase in obesity in the United Kingdom in the past two decades plus an increase in post 16 year olds staying on in education (a factor which has particularly affected recruiting in the Army). The UK has the highest proportion of obesity of 27% in Europe, i.e. a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30. A further 36% are overweight (BMI of between 25 and 30).
  • Medical screening by Capita is bureaucratic, inflexible and has long time lines. 90% of individuals who are failed when attempting to join the Armed Forces do so on medical grounds.According to a “snapshot analysis” taken from the Army Recruiting Review in February 2017 over a twelve month period 14,269 applicants (both Regular and Reserve) were failed on medical grounds; as opposed to 575 who were failed for prominent tattoos; 262 for residency requirements and 182 for having unacceptable criminal records.
  • The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 (SDSR 2010) led to four rounds of redundancy in the Army and two in the Royal Navy, plus reductions in the Royal Air Force. This drawdowns have tainted the recruitment picture, with the Armed Forces still attempting to recruit new (younger) personnel whilst making more experienced personnel redundant. This created a perception that the Armed Forces were no longer “open for business”.
  • In 2013 the waiver of the 5 year residency requirement for Commonwealth Troops was terminated. This has led to a significant reduction in the number of Commonwealth recruits. In 2016, with Home Office agreement, a limited exception was made for 200 in restricted trades. Currently there have been over 13,000 applications for these places – the window for applying has been closed for the next two years as a consequence. Given the competition for places, the successful applicants are some of our physically fittest recruits but the resultant gap of over 500 recruits has had to be filled elsewhere.

Lower retention than expected and a failure to achieve recruiting targets means under-manning is deteriorating. The Royal Navy and the RAF are now running at around 10% short of their annual recruitment target, whilst for the Army the shortfall is over 30%.

The imaginative among you will already have figured out a variety quick fixes to the immediate manning problem which might include for example lifting barriers to entry for the Commonwealth and that traditional source of fine fighting soldiers for the British Army, Ireland. Capita also need to be gripped, low and hard. I hear and read much anecdotal evidence of their shortcomings but the systems failures are known and documented. A paragraph from the 2017 Tri Service External Scrutiny Report (published in July 2017) bears repeating at length, as it acts as a very good summary of the problems inherent in the current system. Although this relates to the Reserves, the problems are very similar for the Regulars as well.

“It is commonplace on every unit to hear that default referrals have been based on instances such as nonrecurring childhood ailments (brief use of an inhaler or a very minor fracture); precautionary prescriptions that were then never used; or emotional stability because of stress/counselling in the wake of, say, a family bereavement. Medical deferrals also receive a bad press from recruits, especially in the case of manifestly athletic candidates (in at least one case playing at national level) to whom a rigid Body Mass Index has been applied. As we say earlier, we acknowledge the grounds for a specific medical standard but it does seem clear to us that in too many instances it is being applied without adequate background knowledge or common sense. We are also told that the medical opinion being applied differs widely between locations. One unit which initially experienced a near 100% referral rate, went to the lengths of making their local Capita assessing GP an honorary unit member to address the problem – which it did. As medical assessments are now conducted under civilian contracts it is reasonable to assume that the assessing GPs and their staff have little Service background. If they are to deliver this Service effectively, they need better instruction/direction and we sense there needs to be better quality control across the regions. The single Services should review their recruiting medical contracts to ensure assessments are carried out with a greater degree of consistency and common sense.” 
evry picture.........

evry picture.........

Capita took responsibility for recruiting in 2012. They should hang their heads in shame at their performance. Regular solider applications, which were c70,000 in 11/12, fell to c45000 12/13 and has remained broadly at around that level ever since. Regular solider enlistments fell from c10,000 in 12/13 to 6,500 – 7,500 from 13/14 onwards.

Many of the comments following last weeks furore which I have read in the press and on social media show a lack of appreciation for the way in which life for the average student at school has changed over the years. Given the shrinking size of the UK’s Armed Forces since World War II and also the shrinking footprint of military installations around the country, unless they have served in a cadet unit, or already come from a military family, most people leaving school have very little, if any, experience of or exposure to the Armed Forces. Something which I have highlighted since the inception of this blog. Decision makers probably overestimate the degree to which young people understand the military and its ethos and in fact some surveys have shown that they have very little understanding at all. The annual PWC Forces for Change survey found that 18-34 year olds were less aware of the job opportunities provided by the armed forces with only 75% of respondents believing the Armed Forces were important to the UK economy in offering jobs and employment opportunities compared to the national average of 81%. 

Things though, are not quite as bleak as they might appear. While the institutional historical memory may be dimming, and the lights may have gone out altogether for the retired cohort, the Army has been here before. 

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I joined in 1978 which was not a particularly good time for the Armed Forces. Money was short. Training, ammunition, clothing and supplies were all rationed, (unless units were heading to NI). Recruitment was challenging and it wasn't at all unusual for battalions to do an operational tour with a platoon seconded from another regiment to bring it up to strength. Indeed, my CO at the time offered £20 a head to anyone who brought new recruits to the regiment. Observers fretted about 'society going down the tubes,' with the advent of punk rockers and political instability saw soldiers clearing up rubbish in the streets and on fire duty in place of those then on strike who anyway were paid more than the soldiers brought in to do their work. It all changed when Mrs T was elected the following year. For my part, and those around me, we didn't enjoy our soldiering any less and it did have it's lighter moments. On arriving at the QM Stores to exchange my well worn plimsolls on one occasion I was sent off at the high port by the QM with the classic, 'bugger off ya chancer; there's another 3,000 miles in they gutties.'

3 SCOTS deploying to Iraq last week on Op Shader.... not a snowflake in sight.

It is of course entirely normal for one generation of soldiers to look out of the window and think things have changed for the worse. It was ever thus. Back in 1980, after many hours waiting on standby in some side streets in Lurgan during the Hunger Strike riots, we got the order to move in and take over from the RUC who were taking a bit of a battering. As we moved forward a more experienced Corporal turned to me and said, 'Dinnea sweat it, this is nothing like as bad as the Ardoyne in '72.' I thought to myself, 'well a brick in the face or a sucking chest wound probably feel just as bad whichever postcode and time you happen to be in.'  That Corporal, 'Annie' Oakley, was incidentally, one of the best infantry soldiers I ever came across. He moved like a cat and had a natural understanding and affinity for his environment, whether on the streets or in rural areas. 

Moreover, I have been deeply impressed with those of the current senior NCO cadre in the Army who I have met. If the Army has that right then it has grounds for optimism. The years spent in Afghanistan should and are yielding significant rewards in the quality of training output. The training itself may be a shade less 'gritty,' but it appears to me, with my limited knowledge, to be more thorough. The past aggression and 'grittiness,' of training has anyway been overplayed by critics over the past week. Even at the Scottish Infantry Depot in 1978, which was no lay-up, NCO's were ordered not to swear at recruits. This was a challenge for many of them given few could complete a word never mind a sentence in normal conversation without inserting some slice of profanity.

Frank - Army advert from 1992 containing two of the things you rarely see as an infanteer; helicopters when you need them and pretty girls.

In summary, the MOD is doing what it has been mandated to do to address BAME recruitment. With limited manpower, budgets and real estate the Army is constrained in its outreach to its traditional recruiting base which is filling with young men and women who don't actually know much about the services, don't come into contact with them and who enjoy higher career aspirations and education attainment than perhaps did previous generations. The recruitment process is a complete clusterfxck and acts as deterrent to recruitment which should be timely, transparent, informed and engaged. The two scary aspects to the entire debate is a seeming absence of political will to confront and solve what are hardly intractable challenges. The lack of interest from the Prime Minister herself is worrying. The second, as I alluded to earlier, is a complete vacuum in the mainstream press with regard to the higher level defence debate. It is 2018 but in that regard we could easily be in 1938. In respect of those currently serving, I think we can have every confidence that they meet or exceed any standard laid down by their predecessors. We just need more of them.

British Army; Faces - It takes all sorts....

A Good Man

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I note from posts on the Facebook that one of the great heroes of the Falklands War, Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly has passed away. 

Rick Jolly arrived in the Falklands in May 1982 where he was Officer Commanding Medical Squadron of the Commando Logistic Regiment Royal Marines. As such he was Senior Medical Officer of 3 Commando Brigade RM and commanded the field hospital at Ajax Bay. Jolly wore the green beret, having passed the Royal Marine Commando course and while offered a weapon, chose not to carry one on the basis he was there to save lives. At the hastily set up ‘MASH” style field hospital, in a disused slaughterhouse in Ajax Bay, he did just that. 

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The hospital was situated next to an ammunition dump, as those were the only roofed buildings available of any size fit for purpose. Therefore, due to its position, Brigadier Julian Thompson ordered they were not to paint a Red Cross on the buildings to highlight the hospital due to the terms of the Geneva Convention. At the height of the battle of Goose Green four bombs were dropped in the area, killing five people as the hospital was swamped with severely injured soldiers. Two of the bombs actually got stuck in the ­hospital roof, but failed to ­detonate. Yet Dr Jolly and his team continued to operate despite fears that they could have gone off at any moment. “Then the casualties from Goose Green started streaming in. We treated 47 casualties, some with terrible injuries, but they all survived. After most had been treated I said, ‘By the way, we’ve got two unexploded bombs in the back. They could be on 37-hour timers, but we’re on 46 hours now so we’re all right’. Everybody roared with laughter.” Should you feel some frustration next time you find yourself sitting waiting in the local A&E for four hours you may care to reflect on that story. 

Rick Jolly interviewed

The conditions in the field hospital were poor and despite the dirt, poor lighting, air attacks and the presence of two unexploded bombs, only 3 of the 580 British soldiers and marines wounded in action were to die of their wounds and none while under the care of Dr Jolly. Days after it opened an Argentine Sky Hawk aircraft scored a direct hit with two bombs, which failed to go off and remained partially exposed in the building throughout his time there. To save lives the 120 military medical staff at the field hospital knew they had to act fast, cleaning wounds, amputating limbs, treating dreadful burns, removing bullets and patching up the walking wounded before they were transferred to a hospital ship, the SS Uganda. After the Sir Galahad was hit, killing 48 soldiers and crewmen, the tiny field hospital was deluged with more than 120 injured men.

“I was very proud to work with a great team I had trained," said Commander Jolly. “We lifted morale among the fighting soldiers because we were their friends and they knew it. Word got around that if they arrived alive at the field hospital they would leave alive. We had some brilliant successes. We treated many Argentine special forces as well and we even persuaded Argentinian soldiers to give blood to help us save their injured."

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Jolly wrote the book 'The Red and Green Life Machine' about his experiences, later republished as 'Doctor for Friend and Foe: Britain's Frontline Medic in the Fight for the Falklands.'  He was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 1983 in the South Atlantic Honours List and was given the Orden de Mayo (Order of May) by Argentina, 17 years after the conflict, in recognition of the treatment given to the country’s wounded soldiers. Being a foreign decoration, Jolly had to write to Her Majesty the Queen for permission to wear his Order of May award with his other medals, to which she personally authorised him to wear the award "on all occasions" on behalf of the three hundred British Naval, Royal Marines and Army medics involved in the war. However, he has been nominated for this award for co-founding the South Atlantic Medal Association, a vital organisation for Task Force members who put their lives on the line or were part of the huge support operation for the conflict.

At a subsequent lecture after the war he described being invited to the Pentagon to speak to the heads of the medical branches of each of the US armed forces. He described telling the Americans that each soldier had a syrette of morphine, issued because British forces weren't numerous enough to stop and give first aid to their wounded comrades. There was a stunned silence among the Americans. One of them pointed out that, had morphine syrettes been issued to US troops, there would have been none left by the time the troops landed.....

I recall that both during and after the war, the achievements of Rick Jolly and his team were rightly, a source of great national pride embraced by all. Good people, led by a very good man.

CrumbleCoin

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Bitcoin, and the rest of the cryptocurrency universe, continues to enthral and entertain some while befuddling and bewildering others. No prizes for guesses which camp I am in. Here in the UK it’s all a bit of a fairground sideshow with few other than true apostles taking it seriously. That is beginning to change and like all central banks, the Bank of England is alert to the young upstarts and is taking steps to increase its institutional knowledge of this digital phenomenon which has gripped the attention of markets, entrepreneurs, organised crime and law enforcement across the world, (although the extreme volatility is likely to deter criminals from trusting it).  Expect growing regulatory interest in cryptocurrencies to be a theme for 2018. Cryptocurrencies are the Wild West of the investment universe with zero regulatory oversight, high cyber risk, no deposit insurance and no central clearing body. Notwithstanding the fact that criminals have the potential to run rings around money laundering legislation

It is said that about 40% of Bitcoin is owned by around 1,000 people, most of whom live in the San Francisco Bay area. But, the dominant forces in Bitcoin are in Asia. In Japan for example, there are roughly 1 million Bitcoin day-traders and somewhere in the region of 300,000 shops who accept Bitcoin for payment. South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, which until this week accounted for 20% of daily volume in Bitcoin, has three of the largest Bitcoin exchanges but has recently banned trading in Bitcoin futures. The justice ministry there is considering banning Bitcoin completely. Expect more regulators to toughen their stance.

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Examples of the ‘Madness of Crowds,’ are not hard to find. In December Long Island Iced Tea Corp, a soft drinks maker, changed its name to Long Blockchain Corp. Its shares rocked 350% higher in three days. Then, the company announced it would sell shares to raise $7.74m saying in its filing that “it was shifting its primary corporate focus towards the exploration of and investment in opportunities that leverage the benefits of blockchain technology.” Moving quickly the company then announced it had entered into a purchase agreement to acquire 1,000 ‘mining rigs,’ to be used to ‘mine bitcoin, bitcoin cash and any other cash using SHA256 algorithim,’ for $4.2m. So, in two weeks the soft drinks company which incidentally intends to continue to manufacture soft drinks has changed its name, raised an improbable amount of cash and now ‘is focused on developing and investing in globally scalable blockchain technology solutions. It is dedicated to becoming a significant participant in the evolution of blockchain technology that creates long term value for its shareholders and the global community by investing in and developing businesses that are “on-chain.”

LBCC though, is in the nursery compared to others out there. How about UBI Blockchain Internet who filed with the SEC to sell 72.2m shares owned by management? Back in 2016 it acquired a shell company called JA Energy and changed its name. In the December mania the shares rocketed 1,100% in just 6 days from $7.20 to $87 giving it a market cap of $8bn. 3 days later the shares plummeted 67% to $29. Still though giving it a market cap of $3.6bn, not bad for a company with no revenues and an operating loss of $1.83m in 2017 and a disconnected telephone number in its filing. Proceeds from the share sale were destined to go to management, not the company. Unsurprisingly, the SEC suspended the shares on Monday.

Oh there is more, much more. Longfin listed in December in the US. In its filing it said it had revenues of $298,000 last year and $75 in cash. Two days after listing the shares soared 2,700% giving it a market cap of $7bn after making an announcement with the word ‘blockchain,’ in it. The shares have more than halved since but still sit at a numbing $45.65 with a market cap of >$4bn.

Digital Power, which makes power supplies for computers, saw the afterburners light up behind its share price when it announced it would aim its services at cryptocurrency miners. That was worth a near 900% share price rally. The shares subsequently lost about half of the rally but have still massively benefited from just one announcement mentioning cryptocurrencies.

So, what is blockchain and what is bitcoin?

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Blockchain is the clever bit. Simply put, it is an ever growing record of all the transactions ever done in bitcoin. It is the grand (digital) ledger which cannot be retrospectively altered. There are though, thousands of copies of the grand ledger, all of which are updated when a transaction takes place checking for consistency to confirm you have the bitcoins you claim to have. When it all checks out the new transaction is added to all the ledgers simultaneously. Because all the ledgers have to reconcile to confirm someone’s ownership  no central entity, (like a bank), is needed. The problem, or the advantage, with blockchain, is that it is free.

While there is a limit to the number of bitcoins that can be created there is no limit to the number of cryptocurrencies that can be created. Yep, just a cute name and a few hours at the PC with some moderate skills and you too could be off and away. Something not lost on the creators of Dogecoin. It was started as a spoof (Doge-coin) and now has a market cap of $1bn, one of more than 1,365 crypto coins out there.

OK kid, you win this time.

OK kid, you win this time.

Some, including Goldman, Citi and indeed one of the Crumble kids believe that cryptocurrencies are viable as an alternative to traditional stores of value. Perhaps they will be but certainly not until government enforcement through regulation dampens their volatility.

The coins though have no intrinsic value. Bitcoin itself is simply an electronic receipt listing a line of transactions and is backed by fresh air…… and there are another 1,364 in a growing list of other coins out there. Of course, it has market value, for the moment but that is simply a supply and demand equation that can evaporate with fickle fashion driven users as quickly as it arrived. The valuable asset is blockchain technology but you are not buying that technology when you buy bitcoin. Blockchain is free, absolutely free which is why the barriers to new coin entrants is non-existent. It is also where the value lies. When the coin mania subsides, and a bunch of people are counting their losses and a smaller number their winnings, new ways to use blockchain with positive social and economic utility will emerge, some of which will properly benefit our daily lives.  

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Before that happens, I am joining the party. The launch of CrumbleCoin is just around the corner.