Three years ago I joined other school parents for a trip to Krakow. We spent time at Auschwitz-Birkenhau and at Schindler's factory. A clip of my stills from the trip are above. No further words required.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
For reasons I won't bore you with I found myself trawling through the obituaries from the Second World War of old boys from my children's school. The most famous of them was the indomitable Roger Bushell, remembered for his exploits as Big X at Stalug Luft III in what became known as the Great Escape, (although at the time of publishing in 1949 it was more modestly known as the great break away). Bushell though is only one of many old boys who gave their lives.
The forward to the Wellington College Roll of Honour, said this,
"Perhaps it was this feeling of the inevitable which was responsible for a greater forbearance in the attitude of boys to each other in the years immediately preceding the war-and it was this generation which suffered most. In this brief period of spring before the autumn storms, the tree blossomed with the promise of abundant harvest. Games, though still holding pride of place, ceased to be the only passport to success. Scholarship, music, art, literature and drama, claimed and secured recognition and a devoted following. Yet in all this there was a feeling of frustration and unreality. Boys talked little of their future, and we hesitated to speak of it to them. They knew, and we knew, the road along which destiny pointed the way. They were neither boastful nor morbid. They turned the gifts they had acquired to the stem uses of war and went forth, without any heroics, to play their part in securing the freedom of mankind. Their lives in epitome are a record of men and boys, confident in themselves, confident in their cause. They did not live to see the triumph."
The short obituaries tell of success on the sports field and in the classroom at school and of heroism and fortitude in battle. From the Boer War and Great War veterans who pushed and pulled to get into uniform again to the youngest eighteen year olds, straight into service from the Upper Sixth. Of them all, this simple obituary of a 2/Lt Money left the deepest impression. Still waters run deep.
Second Lieutenant ROBERT COTTON MONEY, The Cameronians, was in the Hardinge from 1932 to 1937. He was a quiet boy, wrapped up in his books and field sports. On May 27th, 1940, during the retreat on Dunkirk, he heard that a friend in the Hardinge had been left behind seriously wounded. Towards dusk against advice and orders he set out to look for him and from that journey Roy Money did not return.
A clip from a trip to the Western Front with the kids school a few years ago. Again, no further words required.
A visit to any of the camps is always going to be emotionally challenging. It does though, give pause for moments of reflection on many things, the current state of Europe and “could it happen again?” amongst them. Of course genocide has indeed continued to be inflicted on people across the world since 1945 and there seems to be no end, or sense, to the steady stream of racial, religious and ethnic murder and cruelty in the world. Growing divisions in Europe will not take us back to the 1930’s but the shadow of the Second World War is never far away and traditional cross border suspicions are again bubbling under the surface and are not helping; not one little bit.
Angela Merkel took office ten years ago in 2005 when Europe was enjoying the pinnacle of its success. German integration was complete, the Russians were picking themselves up off the floor, Europe was united with a queue of new entrants to the EU project and the global economy was blazing. The world though has very much changed. Europe is in crisis with many members blaming Germany for their problems. Few countries now want to join the EU and the EU doesn’t want any new members. Ukraine is plunging deeper into the abyss and fear of Russia is growing. US politicians are discussing arming the Ukrainians and storing arms for US troops in the Baltic States.
The combination of economic and political stress has led to an increase in nationalism. Those flames are being fanned by the actions of extremist Islamic terrorists. Germany then, finds itself in the unwanted and uncomfortable position of being forced to take a leading economic and political role. The good thing about that is there is no other country more unlikely to change a political problem into a military one. The bad thing is that institutionally, Germany is not experienced or adept in the handling of cross border crisis.
Playing in the Russians backyard and encouraging demonstrations was never going to have an elegant end. As is often the way with liberal minded democracies when shots were fired the Germans backed off and instead of supporting the Ukrainians they joined in with sanctions. Germany will not ever get involved in military action in the East but is now being forced because of its earlier political engagement to seek compromise and to cool the situation down, much to the chagrin of a number of US politicians.
Merkel’s US visit was designed to persuade the US to soften its approach to Ukraine but a deep rooted suspicion of the Russians and their intentions does not easily change in Washington and Putin meanwhile, has his own constituency to serve which will not easily accept Russia backing down without significant concessions.
Equally, the Greek situation is creating unease in Berlin. The Germans have massively benefited from free and open markets with more than 50% of GDP going to export. Growing nationalism and protection may come to threaten Germany’s dominant export position, especially if the Euro is threatened by a Greek default and expulsion with others following. Germany has been forced to adopt a tough public stance with Greece yet the new Greek government was elected specifically with a mandate to challenge Germany.
From a German perspective, they’ve been doing all the right things, including lowering their leverage ration from 80% to 76% of GDP in the last four years. The rest of Europe though has its foot on the floor and is accelerating toward the fiscal cliff edge. Of Greece’s $350bn debt, a mighty $210bn is owed to the Eurozone bailout mechanism. Germany’s share of that is some $57bn. The problem is not the burden which may be placed on German taxpayers, it’s the share which other countries have signed up to and their ability to pay. Italy for example has a debt to GDP ratio of 132.6% and so is borrowing to pay interest. But Italy’s share of the Greek liability is $37bn while France is on the hook for $42bn. France is well down the road of becoming a financial basket case with the state taking 60% of GDP and with a debt to GDP ratio of 92%, (Maastrict supposedly limited debt to GDP at 60%). The problem with these stats is that a Greek exit will be met with a storm of protests from voters when they figure out what the bill means for them and there is little doubt the political map of Europe will undergo further rapid change.
None of this is good for markets. Increasing numbers of strategists are going underweight US equities and overweight European equities. These people don’t learn quickly. In fact, they probably don’t learn at all or are so glued to their valuation models they just don’t see the storm clouds rolling in. True and transparent price discovery of debt instruments in Europe is currently non-existent. That will happen when a central bank quadruples its balance sheet over ten years as the ECB has done. This of course was a necessary requirement to save European banks which had become insanely leveraged into the 2010-12 peripheral debt crisis, (DBK @ 56x for example with $1.9tr of assets and only $36bn of tangible equity).
As I wrote at the time, the unwillingness to force speculative investors to take losses and to underwrite them would simply store problems for the future. The future has arrived but paying the piper is now going to have a political cost and not just an economic one. Of the two alternatives, allowing Greece to go and watching the whole experiment unwind at great cost to the German taxpayer, or appeasing Greece, and subsequently other countries, at great cost to the German taxpayer neither is particularly palatable. The problem with both is that Germany probably ends up stronger and that is as unwelcome in Berlin as it is outside. Germany will probably allow Greece to go, if only because the domestic political cost will be lower than allowing them to stay.
It will however, set in train a sequence of events that none of us can know the outcome of. According to a new McKinsey study, global debt has grown by $57tr since the crisis. Government debt has grown by $25tr and only in the UK, US, Ireland and Spain has domestic, (but not government), debt deleveraged. China meanwhile went postal and increased leverage by 4x and now has a debt to GDP ratio at a stomach churning 282%. Zero interest rates will not hold the wall forever and disruption from FX markets resulting from political breaks are one likely route to what we refer to as real “price discovery.” You could though, just call it an almighty crash, harsh bear market and economic depression and it’s that last word, depression, that haunts historians and anyone else who has had a reflective thought at any one of the camps.
It's that time of year again, the British Military Tournament kicks off tomorrow with four performances over two days in aid of service charities. Obviously, we all miss it's big brother, The Royal Tournament, but this show is a cracker nonetheless.
Frankly, as long as the Field Gun and Kings Troop are there then that's all the value proposition I need.
Of course over the years there have been many amusing incidents at Earls Court, not least of which was in the "Last Run," in 1999 when the Field Gunners, against the express and explicit instructions of General Evelyn Webb-Carter, (top man incidentally), wore black armbands for the run creating a bit of a to-do in the Royal Box.
That didn't quite drive General Evelyn to the level of apoplexy that the pipers of the Scottish Division drove Montgomery to in 1967 though which I described here.
and another charming anecdote above......
If you're going enjoy and if not............................ it won't be the weekend it could have been for you.
Having got Crumble back up and running I have a few odds and ends to post by way of catch up and simply for record purposes. The most memorable event of my summer was Speech Day at school, my oldest boys last. Three moments, each very different, struck home.
Next up, among other performers, Samantha Quillish gave a beamer of a performance of Dvorak's "Song to the Moon." A haunting but beautiful piece, it left me strangely affected and reflective. Not a usual outcome for me I can assure you. You can enjoy it above although unfortunately, not with young Samantha singing.
The best however, was a blinding record run by the Field Gun team who eviscerated the previous record, and by a margin. Given the skipper and Flying Angel was my boy it was, of course, a proud father moment. Easily the toughest team sport in the world. The teams will again be at Earls Court for the British Military Tournament later this year.
Don’t we all just love Monday’s? I trust your weekend was less nerve jangling than was my own, mostly spent watching the boy do his thing in the Field Gun competition at Earls Court. Fortunately, he still has all his fingers and he emerged relatively unscathed. I took the liberty of making a little movie with my iphone but repeated attempts to get it on to youtube have driven me to utter distraction and almost to the point of tearing my own fingers off.
Anyway, it's finally up there in the ether somewhere. I’m hoping to go viral by this evening in at least one and a half of the Home Counties. Broadband is ridiculous at home; you could teach one of the dogs calculus in the time it takes to download something and I’m sure my internet orders from last Christmas are only now pinging into Amazon’s server. When the government talks about infrastructure spend they could do worse than to make a start with buying a few thousand miles of optical cabling and bringing us somewhere close to catching up with our competitors. They won’t though; just for as long as there is a better photo opportunity with a bypass road or a bridge.
Back to the BMT which was entertaining, although there was too much audio visual and definitely not enough humour which has been a traditional characteristic of such shows. The deaths slide at the beginning was dull, get the booties in who do it every which way you can including upside down, and dispense with the political rhetoric at the end. It sounded like a propaganda call from North Korea; its not the job of a charity to justify our presence in Afghanistan. It simply cheapens it in the eyes of the better informed. Star turn of the show for me went to the RAF band drum major who is flat footed and can't march although it was a close run thing with the Guards bandsman at the rear who looked as if she'd been left outside in the rain and shrunk. It's a different Army now. All the young kids I saw enjoyed it though and that, really, is all that matters.
Anyway, enough rambling, here it is and congratulations to both crews on an immaculate effort; take yesterday off......
The streaming cold that I've manfully endured all week and which has felt like a heavy dose of the Ebola Virus, will be swept aside with contemptible disdain this evening as I stroll into Earls Court for the opening performance of this years British Military Tournament.
The successor to the 100 year old Royal Tournament, (which was stopped in 1999 by Tony Blair and his verminous Labour government), was launched to great success last year by, and in aid of, the Army Benevolent Fund.
All the traditional acts are back this year and include the White Helmets Motor Bike Display Team, The Kings Troop with the Musical Drive, the US Army Drill Team chucking their rifles around with carefree abandon and the de rigeur Afghan reenactment shoot-up among others.
Obviously, all these warm-up acts are to give the audience an enjoyable run in to the centre piece turn; the Command Field Gun Run. Described as the hardest team race in the world, boys from Wellington College will again be running in place of the teams of Naval gorilla's from Portsmouth, Devonport and the Fleet Air Arm who ran up until 1999 when HMG stabbed them squarely between the shoulder blades. Grown men could have cried to see a hundred years of fine tradition go down the pan.......... and they did.
The Wellington boys, aged between 14 and 18, run with half sized guns. Nonetheless, with 200 lbs of gun barrel landing on your leg there is only going to be one outcome and they do seem to pick up the kind of injuries that make your eyes water.
Not that I'm a proud father or anything, but one of the Crumble Kids is running. I asked him what the appeal of the Field Gun is. He said, "It's the hardest but most enjoyable thing I've done. Everything depends on the team, there are no stars. It only takes one person to slip up and everything comes unglued and bad things happen. You have to do your own job but rely on and trust everyone around you to do theirs."
Oddly, I'll be back tomorrow and Sunday...... perhaps I am a proud, if nervous, Dad ....
The last 1st XV before war broke out, all of whom served. Those circled were KIA.
Last night I went to the boy’s school to watch a performance of Journey’s End, the play by RC Sherriff set in the trenches in 1918, (oddly enough, in the same area where my great grandfather died, somewhat carelessly, only a month before the Armistice). Sherriff himself served on the Western Front at Vimy Ridge, Ypres and Loos.
The play was all the more meaningful given it was performed by boys the same age as those in the picture above and, because of the medium. We are so digitised in today’s life that when emotive stories are passed through the oral tradition the impact is all the more powerful. Some 725 former pupils and teachers of the school didn’t come home.
That the Great War is so deeply embedded in the nations DNA is clear but also puzzling in some ways, given just about every vestige of post Edwardian life has long since been abandoned. Perhaps we are all drawn to remembrance exactly because it remains one of the few collective high ideals we have along with, perhaps, the monarchy.
It was a sombre and stark way to begin the week of remembrance.
Good marriages need to be nurtured, they don’t just happen. Ever conscious of this I occasionally take Mrs Flashbang away for a romantic weekend and last week was one of those special times. Now, I’d be close to an untruth if I suggested that a weekend spent swapping one battlefield for another and visiting the battlefields and war cemeteries of the Somme and Passchandaele would be her first choice, but I’m sure it’s right up there. And, given there were 40 other parents from school on the trip, there was plenty to talk about.
Interestingly, battlefield tours have never been more popular, (not just with Mrs Flashbang), with coaches from British schools, regiments, British Legion branches and battlefield tour companies criss-crossing the countryside all over Flanders. At the Menin Gate each evening, you can easily expect to see 1400 people present to watch the Last Post, whereas a generation ago there might only have been a slack handful. The internet is impacting aspects of our lives in the most unexpected ways and interest in history and our forebears is one of the more meaningful. If you have yet to make the pilgrimage, then do. You won’t regret it. Visits are though, inevitably charged with many emotions. That though, is exactly how it should be.
To make any judgement about the British Military Tournament, held in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund last weekend, we must suspend misty eyed memories of the Royal Tournament, for the two are on a different scale and financed differently.
The Royal Tournament enjoyed sponsorship from the resource rich MOD, a hundred years of tradition and service chiefs keen to outplay one another each year. Successive shows were bigger and better than the last, right up until Blair and his acolytes decided it had no place in his Cool Britannia vision......... which makes him, a weapons grade prat.
So, after an eleven year gap the ABF took the courageous gamble to stage a scaled down Tournament which they financed themselves with any profits benefiting the charity............... and it worked.
Whilst somewhat smaller, it absolutely didn't matter for the BMT is tight enough and entertaining enough to stand on it's own without regard to the past. The public turned out with great enthusiasm in their thousands, with parents and grandparents bringing their offspring of all ages to enjoy the pageantry, just as they had been brought by their own parents in years past.
Most of the military programme was provided by ceremonial troops based in London, the Household Cavalry, The Kings Troop and the HAC. That's a lot of horses, which went down well with all the little girls in the audience. I long ago lost any affinity that I might have had with horses when a nasty brute called Paddy gave me a shoeing when I was doing mandatory equitation training as a young Gunner officer at Larkhill. I would never have made the cut for the Kings Troop, (who anyway seem to be full of big girls who like horses these days), but I never cease to swell with pride when the bugler calls the Troop into the arena. If there are seven wonders of the millenium, the Troop is on my list.................... and the idea of big girls who like horses manning the guns is a concept that I find is strangely growing on me.
The wander through three hundred years of military history also brought us the "RAPTC Edwardian Demonstration Team." This comprised of a bunch of PTI's doing a mildly amusing routine vaulting over a box. Don't misunderstand me, most of the audience loved it. I however, was catapulted back to yet another humiliating experience in the gym when such was my inability to execute a spring jump, tumble, somersault thing on those wretched boxes that the PTI shoved me inside it for the duration of the lesson. I never quite understood what part in modern warfare the ability to vault over a wooden horse was going to play, unless I suppose one were to accidentally fall through the time space continuum and end up imprisoned in a German POW camp.
The biggest cheer of the day though, came when the boys of Wellington College marched on to "Heart of Oak," to do the Field Gun run. I felt the same wave of emotion run through the audience when the boys marched on that I felt at the “Last Run,” eleven years ago. Indeed, the two big hairy old field gunners sitting next to me had tears in their eyes when the boys numbered off. So carried away with the moment were they that they spent the next 15 minutes shouting for Pompey!
Moreover, having been to something in the order of twelve Tournaments’ over the years I can’t remember a run more closely contested, or as exciting, as was the blistering one I watched on Sunday afternoon. While the average age of the boys is sixteen, and their guns are half size, weighing in at 700lb rather than twice that for the Navy when they did the Run, the obstacles are full size and the courage, commitment and pride demonstrated by the crews is the match of any of their illustrious forbears. Indeed, the highest praise seemed to come from former Field Gunners themselves.
The sad thing here, is the people who won't acknowledge and support their heritage are the Royal Navy themselves. Whilst former Field Gunners turned out to train and support the Field Gun teams, and others provided the arena teams for the Tournament, the Navy didn't want anything officially to do with it. Nothing commercial involved here but the Navy wouldn't even allow the teams to compete under their CCF title. Perhaps some pen pushing box ticker was worried about Health & Safety? The point is though, if the Admiralty can't be bothered to demonstrate support for those who are in effect the caretakers of their own traditions, what future do they have? The Navy has gone to great lengths to shake off the reputational hit from the "ipod," incident in the Gulf when some ratings showed a lack of backbone, but they've let themselves down again.
Obviously, as has become the norm at any "event," these days, be prepared to have your eyes ripped out when you buy a bottle of water and a snack. Actually, you'll find that for only the cost of a monthly mortgage on a small country house you can easily buy the whole family a quick bite to eat.
Notwithstanding that, I had a thunderingly good day out. I suspect that given the success of the weekend the BMT will be back with us next year.................. and so shall I.
I spoke with a friend the other day who suffers from severe PTSD and he told me a quiet story.
"I was in town yesterday and saw a Salvation Army guy collecting money on the street. Suddenly, I was back in the middle of Lockerbie and I could smell the AvGas all around me. I started shaking. The Sally Anne were great there; handing out sandwiches, tea, cigarettes and so on. I started talking to him, he was a Scotsman too and believe it or not, he was there at Lockerbie. It's an awfy small world............... I've had the flashbacks all night though and I'm still shaking.."
With holidays4heroes we've helped my chum out with a few small issues; mostly where he's been abandoned by the benefits system at the behest of petty bureaucrats and left with only a few pounds a week to live on. We also have eight families in Spain this week and another ten going out next week. All either with a Dad who has been wounded in action or sadly bereaved. We also have some single soldiers going who are also in recuperation from their wounds. We have some good stories to tell though and I'll have a full update next week.
In the meantime, the boys at Wellington College in the Field Gun teams will be running tomorrow in aid of our little charitable efforts.
If you were minded to throw a tenner our way you could do so here. The boys have so far raised £600, it would be nice if we could make it to a thousand - that should get 2 families or 4 single soldiers out for some respite from rehab. As you know, we have no admin costs and holiday properties are kindly donated.