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All the British veterans of the First World War are gone, and Brits who saw frontline service in the Second become scarcer with every passing day. What is a TV documentary producer to do without all that eye-witness footage? But the fact is that perhaps that first-person testimony is not as valuable as we'd like to think. Memory is fickle. People constantly re-write their past to creative a more comfortable and comprehensible narrative. Old men come to genuinely believe that things happened in a way that they didn't. They are not lying, they are just mis-remembering with the best of intentions. Though sometimes there may be a bit of cynicism from both the TV people and the veterans. I remember when I was a reporter that the colleagues who decided what the story was before they'd spoken to a single person involved and who never let the facts get in the way of their preconceived narrative seemed to be great favourites with the bosses. Truth is stranger than fiction and the unexpected can disconcert gentle readers. Most people want their prejudices confirmed rather than challenged by messy truth. TV documentary makers have a good idea of what they want their talking-head veterans to say. Queue veteran talking about the horror of the trenches.  Blah, blah, rats as big a dogs, blah blah, the generals were butchers, blah blah, mud, blah blah, mud, blah blah blown to pieces. And there were some old veterans were wise enough to know that if they deviated from the expected script then they won't get their couple of minutes of fame. These guys, some of them badly damaged in one way or another during the First World War, were thrown to the wolves by their betters in The Depression and then saw their own sons marched off for Round Two in 1939. They had a tough life and it's hard to grudge them their 15 minutes of fame in their twilight years. Perhaps the veterans could be forgiven, but the TV people can't.


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