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I recently finished reading a book which had something like five pages of author's acknowlegements. Getting a book into print is seldom a solo effort. There are certainly some people who go above and beyond, and possibly deserve some extra recognition. But five pages would seem to be taking it too far. This author stopped just short of thanking his primary school dinner lady. Nearly everyone the author went to university with got a mention. I wasn't clear how they had contributed to the book in question. But I could see how they might contribute to his future career. In fact, a lot of people named in the acknowledgements might come in useful at some future date. And that was surely what this exercise in excessive gratitude was all about. Most people like to see a favourable mention of themselves in print. Author acknowlegements are becoming more and more like Hollywood Oscar acceptance speeches. Such cynical careerism must erode the value of the thanks supposedly being expressed.

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I hate it when this happens. Most of you will not have read what I am apologising for. And very few will care. But when I get something wrong, I like to put the record straight. In my blog Second Flodden I said that General Ian Hamilton had sneered at the 8th Battalion of the Scottish Rifles as being from "the lowest slums of Glasgow" shortly before it was almost wiped out at the Battle of Gully Ravine on 28th June 1915. It was in fact Major General Granville Egerton, commander of the 52d Lowland Division, who denigrated the battalion before adding that it was "well officered and will fight well". I say "denigrated" because the inference is that those from the bottom of the economic scale cannot be expected or trusted to fight well. We can't all be born with silver spoons in our mouths. I've said before that I get really annoyed when it turns out that many people, particularly Americans, when they refer to the Lost Generation from the First World War are talking about the officers. The rush to volunteer to fight the Kaiser in 1914 attracted many of Britain's brightest and best from all sectors of society. That was why we had conscription in World War Two.  It realised too late during the First that most of the talented and skilled men in the country had volunteered for military service and there were very few good men left behind to work in crucial war industries. Anyway, so, apologies to Sir Ian Hamilton, of the Gordon Highlanders, and a big "boo" to Granville Egerton of the Seaforth Highlanders. 

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I first encountered war journalists en-masse in 1999 and I was not impressed. Along with Brendan Dlouhy, a photographer colleague from the Edmonton Sun, I'd just arrived in Macedonia, where Canadian troops were mustering as part of a NATO force planning to go into Kosovo. No sooner had we arrived at the Canadian base than we were told the move into Kosovo was happening next morning and we had turn around and return to Skopje to get some NATO press accreditation. We arrived at the hotel which served as the NATO media centre to find a long long line of mainly men waiting to be issued with NATO press IDs. Not only was the line-up mainly male but in my memory a lot of them seemed to wearing sleeveless multi-pocketed vests and the latest boutique suede Australian ankle boots. Looking back, I think my memory has exaggerated the uniformity of the costume. But what I'm certain of is that many of them seemed to know each other. And that was why the line was hardly advancing. Guys kept joining "friends" in amongst the gaggles of journalists lined up ahead of us. I was a newcomer and jet-lagged. What I really wanted to do was grab some of these ignorant bastards and get them to join the queue properly - at the back. But, I didn't. After a couple of hours Brendan and I had moved about seven feet forward in a line that stretched, seemingly, to the far horizon. Then a saviour appeared in British camouflage. A solidly built and moustached British Warrant Officer climbed onto a table. He announced in a thick Brummie accent that he would personally break the legs of the next person to cut into the line. After hours the apparently stagnant line finally began to move forward at a fair clip. Twenty minutes later we had our ID cards. All it took was one decent bloke, a British Sergeant Major.

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Is it just sloppiness or something more sinister that the Scots contribution to Britain is being air-brushed out on the wireless? I recently heard a BBC programme about the ground-breaking Somersett court case in which Lord Mansfield ruled in 1772 that slavery could not be enforced in England. The Lord Mansfield on the radio spoke like a stereotypical English judge. But I happen to know Mansfield was born and educated in Perthshire. Of course, we have no recording of Lord Mansfield speaking. But it turns out his Scottish accent was so thick when he enrolled to study law in England that the clerk recorded his place of birth as Bath rather than Perth. I somehow doubt that he sounded like your typical English Law Lord. We do have recordings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speaking. I was surprised to find that even in the 1930s he still retained a distinct Scottish accent. And yet television and radio almost always have him speaking like Nigel Bruce playing Doctor Watson in the old Sherlock Holmes movies. As I say, sloppy research? Here in Canada I heard a dramatised version of the Seven Oaks Massacre in 1817, on the site of present-day Winnipeg. Most of the main characters involved in the real life event were Scots. But the Canadian actors thought "Brits" and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. I did some checking. Lord Selkirk, who had sent the Highland settlers to what is now Manitoba, was educated in England, so he probably did have an English accent. Ironically, the only Scots accent was a attributed to a character who though of Highland descent was born and raised in the United States. As I say, it is hard to know how someone who lived before technology was capable of recording the human voice actually spoke. But a little research might give some good pointers and avoid the impression that the man who effectively outlawed slavery in England was an English toff. 

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I read recently that the British administration in Malaya before the Second World War was reckoned to be one of the worst run in the British Empire. As many of the same people were almost certainly back in the driver's seat in 1948 when a Scots Guards platoon massacred 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers, I find it very easy to believe. The whole affair is laced with a feeling of second-rate seediness. The facts behind the killing remain a state secret. Until very recently pompous former Scots Guards officers were quoted as insisting there had been no massacre. The High Court in London, ruling that Her Majesty's Government could not be forced to hold a public inquiry into the killings, said there was plenty of evidence that the rubber plantation workers had been murdered in cold blood. The official British version to this day remains that the men were shot while trying to escape after being rounded up for questioning about Communist banditry in the Batang Kali area. Only a fool would ever have believed that none of the suspects would have only been wounded rather than killed in the supposed mass escape. There was one survivor, who claimed he escaped death after fainting. Some have suggested there may be another reason that he alone among the adult males was not executed. The unofficial British line has long been that a mistake was made and the blame has been put on the soldiers in the patrol, mainly National Servicemen. It was some of these squaddies who confessed in the 1970s to being present at the massacre. The regular soldiers present stuck to the official version. The sergeant in charge later became a Regimental Sergeant Major and when quizzed about the killings appears to have been very confident that he would not be held to account for the massacre. What did he know and what is the British Goverment to this day so afraid of us finding out? I suspect that it is more than just that so many of the civil servants and senior military officers serving in Malaya at the time were such a bunch of sad-sack second raters.  
See Batang Kali Revisited

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