I heard an interesting story on Radio 4 as I drove home tonight. Yes, I know! Me, listening to Radio 4. My I must be posh….
It was a story about a bag being found after it was lost 65 years ago in the Egyptian desert. After all this time it found its way back to a family member of the man who lost it. It was full of letters that he received from family and friends; pictures of his girlfriends (yes plural) and various other sundery items to numerous to mention.
The man’s sister was interviewed after she was tracked down via BBC Radio Lancashire. Sadly he’d died 3 years ago. It was found by an Egyptian amateur archaeologist who came across it lying in the Western Desert. He told an English friend of his who then searched for the man via the internet and discovered that his sister had written an article in conjunction with a Radio Lancashire presenter a few years earlier.
For those who aren’t good at maths the bag was lost in 1942 and the man concerned was a member of that bunch of adventurers known as the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), a forerunner of the SAS. Their job was to cross through the desert and patrol behind Axis lines, gathering intelligence, harrassing the enemy and having some fun. They were very independent and charismatic men – no, not in a hands in the air happy clappy way.
The gentleman concerned never spoke of his time with the LRDG after returning from the front in 1945. However a few years ago he invited his sister and her husband to a reunion at the Chelsea Barracks in London. Here they learnt that his nickname was the Baby Faced Killer – due more to looks than his murderous nature.
This reminded me of people I’ve met who have who’ve fought in wars for their country. They are invariably the most reticent people when it comes to their experiences in these situations. Where the majority would normally expect loud, bragging men who are only to willing to regale with their adventures in uniform, what you actually get is nothing. They brush over it and write it off as just something that happened.
I’ve always admired them for this. How could most of us possibly understand what they have been through, the dangers they’ve faced and the friends that they’ll never see again? Many wouldn’t even be able to understand what would lead them to voluntarily face such dangers. In the case of many people they had no choice as they were conscripted and had little choice in the matter.
This was preceded by the story of the Corporal in the Paras who had died in fighting in Afghanistan and awarded the VC, the first since the Falklands to win one posthumously. He was caught in the middle of a fire fight between his squad and the Taliban. He helped to save wounded comrades and hold off the Taliban. However it looks like he was killed in the crossfire by his own side, not their fault as they were fighting in maize fields and couldn’t see clearly.
During the fight he, and several others, kept going back to retrieve their wounded comrades, at great personal risk. After he was hit they still wnet back for him even though many of his squad were wounded. This is true bravery – knowing that you could be killed if you go back to help someone but you do it anyway.
Next time you hear someone criticising members of our armed forces as thoughtless killers, who enjoy killing, remember that they are doing a job that very few of us would willing do. They don’t choose to fight where they do; they do it because that is their job and your elected government have decided that they should be there. They may not agree with what they are told to do; they’re underfunded; poorly equipped and know that if they’re wounded they will not get the specialist care and support they need.
Yet they still go out there and put their lives on the line to protect us and preserve our way of life. They don’t expect your understanding or unquestioned support. What they would accept is your thanks and a small sign of gratitude.