These little critters are the Desert Rats that my father carried on his shoulders throughout the time he spent with the Royal Corps of Engineers under Montgomery in North Africa. He entered the service in '39 and fought his way across the desert as a sapper, watching his friends die only to wake up the next day and keep fighting until Rommel was defeated. From Africa he fought north through Sicily, then Italy and back to England, mustering on the southern coast in preparation for D-Day. He and thousands of his fellows climbed into liberty ships and vessels of every sort to cross the channel, to fight the Germans and liberate Europe. His war took him into the very gates of hell as he was among the first to witness and to help liberate the camps.
Below are the medals he was awarded for his service and above his medals are those of his father, from the first great war. He left the forces after close to twenty years in uniform following his release as a political prisoner in the Suez Crisis. Everything my dad saw and experienced, everyone he lost and all of the fear, concussion and trauma he suffered throughout his time in uniform left him a deeply damaged man. He almost never spoke of his experiences though they haunted him to his grave. He was part of the greatest generation and his suffering went unseen. His was a time before diagnoses of post traumatic stress, we could have been the poster family for that disorder. Despite all of the damage done to him and the damage he inflicted, there was never any question or doubt that what he had experienced had value, honour and merit. His anguish, his losses were small next to the terror of those who lost their lives, their families, their worlds. He and his generation fought the fight of their lives with a clarity of purpose, with an ideal to preserve. They fought to save and protect everything that we have grown up with, that we have come to take for granted. When the old man was willing to talk a little, he let it be known that chief amongst the motives that he and his friends risked their lives for was that you and I would never have to experience the terror and pain that he had endured. The highest purpose for which he was asked to lay down his life was that of peace.
I know without a scintilla of doubt that the ignorant cartoon and the sentiment behind it being posted at Dust My Broom would have infuriated him. Had he encountered anyone in a military uniform behaving in such an unprofessional manner, he would have intervened with all of the ferocity and tenacity that my sisters and I feared when it was directed our way. I hope I would have the courage to do the same. There is no comedy in that cartoon, it is a depiction of criminal violence and assault being perpetrated by a trained warrior against a civilian, a civilian whom that officer has sworn to protect. There is no laughter to be had in Conduct Unbecoming. It is the laughter of weaklings and pissants, childish partisans vomiting up their ignorance and spitting on the memories and sacrifices made to keep their worthless hides safe.
Before he passed, he had some very bitter words for George Bush and for sending young men and women into a war of choice. Having spent years of his life in the Middle East and North Africa he knew something of the character of the people and of the land and he was disgusted by the combined ignorance and arrogance that were in plain evidence as America wound itself up to invade Iraq. Born in Northern India to an army nurse, herself born in what is now the Afghan/Pakistan frontier, he had an understanding of the hellish task facing the coalition going into Afghanistan. He did not predict success. But he did view all of our troops as younger brothers and sisters in arms and he wished them godspeed and safe returns from their tours. I remember.