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I was disappointed to see a book by a well known military historian claim that the Australians suffered "the bulk" of the casualties at Gallipoli. The Australian and New Zealand casualties were indeed heavy, particularly when the population of the two countries is taken into account. But by a wide margin the bulk of the casualties were British troops. The British commanders were no more careless with Antipodean lives than they were with those born in the British Isles. In fact there are a couple of arguments which point to the Anzacs being regarded as far from cannon fodder. The British Government had to be careful not to be accused by the home governments in Australia, New Zealand and Canada of sacrificing their military contingents unnecessarily. British generals were not allowed to order the execution of Australians as a result of accusations that Aussie soldiers had been scapegoated and shot during the 1899-1902 conflict in South Africa. Secondly, the "colonials" proved to be the crack troops of the Empire during the First World War. Casualties are always high in such formations but commanders are reluctant to unnecessarily squander the lives of such valuable troops. The colonials also proved far less prone to kow-towing to their supposed betters than British-born troops and British commanders often found themselves bending over backwards to avoid upsetting them. Dominion troops, as they were known at the time, were more likely to be treated with kid gloves than their British-born counterparts.  

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I hope that former top ranking British soldier Sir Richard Dannatt was misquoted when he said Afghanistan was not a malarial zone. Dannatt was quoted in the media as saying he would not take the anti-malarial drug mefloquine after seeing the psychological damage it had done to his son Bertie in the late 1990s. But British soldiers headed for Afghanistan were being prescribed the drug while Dannatt was head of the Army between 2006 and 2009. Dannatt was quoted as saying that looking into the possible side-effects, which can include depression and suicidal thoughts, had not been a priority at headquarters because neither Iraq nor Afghanistan are malarial areas. I know before I went to Afghanistan in 2002 I was advised by medical experts in Canada to take anti-malarial medication. Medical experts in Scotland also advise that Afghanistan carries a high malarial risk. I'm fairly sure I opted for mefloquine as an alternative to malaria. I'm not sure how much choice the British military personnel had when it came to anti-malarial medication. As I say, I hope Dannatt was misquoted. I would hate to think that lives were being trusted to someone ignorant of the realities of life in a country to which he was sending them.

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The Gordon Highlanders are now a thing of the past, rolled firstly with the Queen's Own Highlanders into a regiment unimaginatively dubbed "The Highlanders" in 1994 and then absorbed into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. But I wonder what the soldiers of that proud Highland regiment would have made of  civil servant Miss A Adams at the Foreign Office referring to them in a memo as the "Gay Gordons" and noting to their "prancing" at public events. Adams raised no objection to a request for the Gordons to take part in a 1984 ceremony to mark Nelson Mandela being given the Freedom of Aberdeen. But a Foreign Office superior did object. Margaret Thatcher and her cronies were worried about offending the racist thugs who ran South Africa. Westminster could not stop Aberdeen giving a man they regarded as a Communist terrorist the honour but the London Government could stop the Gordons being part of the celebrations. It's hard to know what is the most disgusting facet of this tale: - a civil servant who suggests a British Army battalion was prone to prancing around and who links homosexuality to mincing behaviour, the thinly disguised pro-Apartheid stance of the British Government or how badly informed that government was about Nelson Mandela. At least the Adams was, one presumes, trying to be funny. But I wonder if she had met a couple of members of the regiment in a pub whether she would have referred to it as the Gay Gordons and discussed their supposed predilection for prancing. Although the regiment's officers before the First World War may well have delighted to be known by the debutantes as the "Gay Gordons", I suspect by the 1980s there was less pride shown in the appellation. 

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Many many years ago I went to party in Billericay in deepest Essex. It may have been a Christmas party. I was working in Inverness at the time. I think this was the time that my boss told me that if I failed to show up at the office at the usual time on following Monday morning I would be fired. And of course, several trains failed to show up at Billericay Station that evening and I only managed to get on the late night London to Inverness train by the skin of my teeth before it pulled out of the station. I'd spotted a panicky-looking guy on the tube ride from the London  railway station where the Essex train came in to whichever station my train north left from. It turned out he was also running late thanks to the cancellation of so many of the trains from Essex but he knew a short-cut from the tube station across the rail yards to the platform the Inverness train was still, luckily for me, sitting at. Anyway, long diversionary story short; I got to work on Monday morning in time to save my job. Back to Billericay. The thing I noticed about the Essex residents at the party was the divide between those whose families had lived in the county for generations and those who were the children of recent arrivals. The long-established Essex folk were charming and seemed genuinely interested in Scotland; though I cringed when they called it "Bonnie Scotland" in the same way they probably would have if I'd kept referring to "Merrie Englande". The loud-mouthed and frankly obnoxious "No Civilised Life North of Watford Brigade" all turned out to be the children of people from North of Watford. Interesting, 'least I thought so.

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The time has come, I think, to remind folk that there are no authorised free downloads of any of my books on the internet. If you come across one, something very fishy is going on. If the people behind the site offering the "free download" are nasty enough to steal from me, do you really think they are not going to do something pretty unpleasant to you too? The chances that you are downloading more than a pirated book are more than excellent. In much the same way as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free pirated book download.  Book pirates are not noted for their generosity of spirit.  I cannot credit  that any sane or sensible person could believe that someone would let them download a book for free, even if that book is pirated, without taking something in return.   

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