Courage

For the casualties; the Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards and Pipes and Drums of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons) play the beautiful Sands of Kuwait.

It’s Book Club night so the Coven are getting together elsewhere to stir their potions and compose some new spells against a backdrop of suitably windy and wet weather. The dogs are dozing and I am sitting in that lost space between finishing supper and waiting for the post 10pm exit poll for the first indications of how went the day. I can’t say I am too exited. The election campaign has been a missed opportunity for so many to present a challenging and interesting, vibrant and exciting platform for the future. Instead we have had slow-and-steady or being exulted to believe in fairies. Kind of like a choice between school dinners or blowing all your money in one mad night at the casino. Utterly forgettable the lot of them. If that is the best we can come up with as a country then something has truly warped and ruined our usually imaginative, if occasionally cranky, national DNA.

So, my mind has been wandering as it often does. I can’t help dwelling on the extraordinary courage and tenacity of a small number of individuals last Saturday night on London Bridge and in Borough market. The Aussie nurse who ran headlong into danger to help, the journalist who strode over to take on the terrorists, the London Transport police officer who stood in the shoes of so many before him, the bar manager who struggled to keep the doors of the bar closed against the attackers, the young Spaniard swinging his skateboard to defend others, the bloody minded Millwall fan who wasn’t having any of it. Brave, brave people who in an instant, were confronted with life threatening danger. Up close and personal and through instinctive self preservation, training, selfless courage, anger, belligerence, selflessness; who knows, something clicked in. They saved lives. In some cases at the cost of their own. Others amongst them suffered grevious wounds. We will remember that day for many reasons.

John Bamford GC. Awarded the George Cross in 1952 at the age of 15 after rescuing his two brothers from a house fire despite suffering terrible burns

John Bamford GC. Awarded the George Cross in 1952 at the age of 15 after rescuing his two brothers from a house fire despite suffering terrible burns

We don’t give awards for bravery away with Lucky Bags in this country. The starting premise, certainly for those in uniform, is that everyone does their bit. That is, you have to do something a bit special, above and beyond to be recognised. When recognition is due though, the system is usually unstinting in recognising it. There are occasional omissions. It has often been the case that acts of bravery have not been witnessed, some people have been better at writing citations up than have others but as a general rule, the right thing happens. The hurdles to recognition are unashamedly high. For example, as a rule of thumb, it is said that for the George Cross Committee of the Cabinet Office to recommend the award of a George Cross, (awarded to civilians and the equal of the Victoria Cross), there should have been a 90% probability of the recipient being killed. You can see some examples on the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association web site here. Members of Army Regiments and Corps mostly all know the names of their Regiments recipients of the Victoria Cross and all recruits are taught in their Regimental history lessons the stories of days when their forbears won multiple awards in the same action such as the Lancashire Fusiliers ‘Six VC’s before breakfast,’ at Gallipoli. 

I believe the actions of those brave individuals on Saturday night will, in time and after an appropriate period of mourning for the dead, be seen in that light. Their fighting spirit and sacrifice will come to have some meaning for us all and they will be remembered for a very, very long time, not just for their individual actions but for what collectively it signifies. A medal is not worth a life, it just isn’t. But embracing what they did, and remembering them, might save lives. I genuinely do believe we ought to start treating the dead and wounded of terrorist actions as war casualties and give the memory of their actions the dignity they earned.