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The English language is wonderfully vigorous and alive. It is constantly changing. The rules and usages I was taught at school were regarded as major blunders and indications of ignorance only twenty to thirty years earlier. In the time it takes you to read this, several nouns will have become the basis of new verbs. But a complete free-for-all leads to a proliferation of gibberish. I wrote following example down, heard on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, because it makes so little sense that it would be impossible to remember: "Little or no negligible impact". I don't expect to understand everything I hear on the BBC World Service these days and that's OK. For example, I take it when a presenter says he or she will be "across" something it means they are monitoring the situation. But the English language needs some kind of agreed framework to within which to continue to evolve. In the 1960s educators in Scotland decided that children should be encouraged to express themselves without feeling strait-jacketed by the full application of correct spelling and the rules of grammar. A good idea, perhaps; especially if the spelling and grammar tools were eventually supplied by a future teacher. But it turned out to be a slippery slope. How can teachers teach what they were never, or inadequately, taught themselves? There needs to be some push-back, some rearguard action to keep the barbarian horde from splintering the English language into umpteen mutually incomprehensible factions. As one American writer put it, we still need "a gentle foot on the brake and a guiding hand on the steering wheel".

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Most British military histories heap praise on the supposed skillful final evacuation from the Dardanelles in January 1916. There are tales of successful ingenious devices and ploys which fooled the Turks into failing to realise that the British and their allies were departing. There's nothing the British like better than a successful evacuation and apparently we like to believe that we are very good at them. But the truth is that it is highly probable that the Turks knew exactly what was going on and decided that interfering with the withdrawal was not worth the blood of a single Anatolian peasant. After all, the British were doing exactly what the Turks wanted. 

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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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